Empire State Plaza

Empire State Plaza

The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza (commonly known as simply the Empire State Plaza and less formally as The South Mall) is a complex of several state government buildings in downtown Albany, New York.


After obtaining the land using eminent domain, the 98-acre (39 ha) complex was built between 1965 and 1978 for 1.7 billion dollars. The plaza was the brainchild of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and Wallace Harrison was the principal architect. Rockefeller was inspired to create the new government space in 1959 upon the visit of Princess Beatrix. The Corning Tower and Agency buildings were completed in 1973, the Cultural Education Center in 1976, and the Egg in 1978. Today, over 13,000 state employees work at the complex.


The Plaza consists of various marble and steel buildings, seated on a six-story marble platform along the Hudson River. They are similar in style to the World Trade Center towers, which were completed around the same time. The buildings comprising the Plaza include:
* the four Agency buildings (numbered "Agency 1" through "Agency 4")
* the Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd Tower
* The Egg
* the Cultural Education Center (State Museum, Library, and Archives)
* the Justice Building
* the Legislative Office Building
* the Swan Street Building (sectioned into "Core 1" through "Core 4")

The Plaza also features a skating rink and fountains. Several memorials are located on the Plaza, including the New York State Fallen Firefighters Memorial as well as memorials for World War 2 and the Vietnam War.

The scale of the buildings in the Plaza is impressive, and the complex is the most easily recognizable aspect of the Albany skyline. The Corning Tower is the tallest building in New York state outside of New York City; the Swan Street Building is over a quarter of a mile long and inspired by Pharaoh Hatshepsut's Temple at Deir el-Bahri, Egypt.

The Plaza tends to be windier than the surrounding city. There is also a limited amount of shade. These factors can make winters feel colder and summers feel hotter.

The Concourse

The Concourse is Albany's "Underground City" with food courts, a McDonalds, banks, a YMCA,a post office, a visitors center, and many retailers such as Hallmark Cards. The Concourse connects all buildings in the state plaza. Many state workers spend their lunch hour here. The Concourse features various works of art and sculptures.

About the buildings

The buildings are laid around a row of three reflecting pools. On the west side are the four 23-floor (310-foot/94 m) Agency towers. On the east side is the Egg (Meeting Center) and the 44-floor (589-foot/180 m) Corning Tower, which has an observation deck on the 42nd floor. On the south end is the Cultural Education Center, set on a higher platform; and on the north end sits the New York State Capitol.

The Plaza itself is actually the largest building of all.

Art at the Plaza

The plaza has a large number of modern art paintings and sculptures at various locations. Most are works of the New York School and were created in the 1960s and 1970s. Artists represented include Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Alexander Calder, Robert Rauschenberg, and Chryssa. Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, has called the Plaza's collection of American art "...the most important State collection of modern art in the country."


Not unexpectedly, the complex was a significant controversy around the time of its construction. It was criticized for displacement of the former landowners (about 9,000 people were displaced, mostly from working-class and poorer sections of older Albany which was home to ethnic communities of Jews and Italians), the cost of its lavish architecture (the towers are covered in marble so that one cannot see the individual floors), its sheer size, and its period architecture. In "The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change", Thames & Hudson, 1991 (ISBN 0-500-27582-3), Robert Hughes refers to the buildings as being in "The International Power Style of the Fifties", comparing the buildings to those built by Fascist governments.

Crossing through the plaza is the South Mall Arterial, a short highway artery connecting to the Dunn Memorial Bridge. Construction of this highway destroyed many buildings in Albany's downtown. In the initial proposal, the highway was to go from Interstate 90 in North Greenbush (current exit 8 to NY 43), through Rensselaer, under the plaza, and connecting to the also-cancelled Mid-Crosstown Arterial, which would have run from I-90 Exit 6, through the city, travelling underneath Washington Park, meeting with the South Mall Expressway in the process, and continuing on to the Thruway at Exit 23. The current South Mall Arterial ends abruptly in a loop at Swan Street, with both eastbound and westbound lanes using the two outer portals of the four portal tunnel leading under the plaza. (The inner two were to be express lanes to the Mid-Crosstown Arterial/SME interchange underneath the park.) The only evidence of the original Mid-Crosstown Arterial is the four level stack interchange for I-90 at present day US 9.

Photo gallery

External links

* [http://www.ogs.state.ny.us/visiting/cultural/defaultplaza.html Visiting the Empire State Plaza] (official website)
* [http://www.emporis.com/en/wm/cx/?id=100528 The Empire State Plaza] at Emporis Buildings
* [http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/empiresp/empiresp.html Images of the Empire State Plaza]
* [http://www.lofaber.com/albany/essaymaking.html The Making of the Empire State Plaza]
* [http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node=Empire%20State%20Plaza Empire State Plaza] at Everything2
* [http://cityguide.pojonews.com/fe/Arts/stories/art_albany_empire_state_plaza.asp "Albany's Empire State Plaza delivers art and history"] - "Poughkeepsie Journal"
* [http://www.pps.org/great_public_spaces/one?public_place_id=760 Web page criticizing the Empire State Plaza]

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