Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building Plaza
Urban Technical Assistance Project (UTAP)
Client: Manhattan Community Board 10, NY State Office of General Services, and Harlem Community Development Corporation
Project Team: Lionel McIntyre (Principal), Kovid Sexton (PM), Jason Pugh & Oswaldo Ortega (Designers), and Glen Smith & Glesian Hermanu (Consultants)
The Plaza that sits in front of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Bldg. has served as a cultural crossroads within the Harlem community throughout the last quarter century. The open space has functioned as both the communal focal point and spiritual pulpit to all Harlem residents, stretching back with nostalgic roots to the unforgettable days when large crowds would gather on the site and listen to the powerful words of great men like Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. as they stood on top of soap boxes preaching to the masses. Located in the heart of Harlem and situated along one of the busiest pedestrian and vehicular arterial streets in Manhattan, the Plaza rhythmically booms with energy and life almost 24hrs a day.
Approaching such a historically influential site required us to first begin with analyzing the surrounding context area against the climatic cultural shifts that have taken place in Harlem during the last 40 years. This allowed us to better understand the progressional transformation of the existing organization of space, which is simply the result of continued development along 125th street. Through a series of field surveys and collected GIS data, a thorough site analysis was conducted which carefully examined the catchment area for all users of the State Office Building that extended well beyond all five boroughs of NYC. A detailed analysis of the existing circulation flows, main access points, and lighting soon followed, which gave efficient support for the overall design concepts.
The design for the Plaza offered a unique opportunity for Harlem residents to take ownership of the historical legacy embedded in the site. Thus arose the idea of a new Plaza which celebrated the communities’ collective memory by interpreting it in brick and mortar. And since the intersection of 125th street and 7th Avenue has always been known to Harlemites as African Square, the idea of grounding the Plaza’s design in the principles of traditional African public spaces took root, while telling the story of the community throughout. Building from historical memories and African roots, the Plaza will once again become a relevant historical marker, quickly restoring the State Office Bldg. as the formal civic and cultural center of Harlem’s public life.
The African Square design builds upon the concepts of the African village as an interactive space that enhances the cultural richness and history of the community. The design introduces new activities to the plaza, it improves the environmental condition of the site, it increases the flexible usable space for various activities, it improves communication with wireless accessibility, and it becomes as spatial history of the crossroads and the community. All of the new programs introduced into the Plaza were anchored by one unifying gesture, the URBAN WALL, which encircles the entire Plaza. The form was intended to counterbalance the large scale of the towering State Office Bldg. above while simultaneously revealing the story and history of African Square and the Harlem community through a series of time-lines, etched engravings, and electronic LCD screens which recap historical events and speeches. The 100 linear foot Cortin metal wall provides new seating on either side, while also creating pockets of intimacy as it wraps around the base of the State Office Bldg.
Location: Harlem, NY, US