The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new, completely redesigned David H. Koch Plaza recently opened to the public, after a major two-year reconstruction effort. The massive outdoor space – which runs along Fifth Avenue for four city blocks – features new fountains, paving, lighting, and trees leading to the Museum’s entrances from north and south, and seating areas for visitors. Landscape architecture firm OLIN led the design to prioritize the pedestrian experience and create a welcoming urban destination. The plaza is named for David H. Koch, a Museum Trustee, who contributed the entire $65 million cost of the project.
The new plaza offers a contemporary yet contextual response to the museum’s iconic façade, designed by Richard Morris Hunt and Richard Howland Hunt in 1896, with later wings by McKim, Mead and White. The grand stairs, a beloved New York City landmark, designed by Roche Dinkeloo and Associates in 1968, were preserved. Two new fountains have replaced the former deteriorating ones and are positioned closer to the Museum’s front steps, improving access to the street-level public entrances at 81st and 83rd Streets. The plaza also features tree allées and bosques, more than doubling the former tree population and weaving in the verdancy of nearby Central Park. Numerous permanent and temporary seating areas are positioned around the plaza, some featuring parasols for shade. Seasonal plantings have been added along the base of the building to provide color and visual interest throughout the year. An intricate and energy efficient lighting palette highlights the beauty of the museum and dynamism of the fountains, and allows visitors to enjoy the plaza well into the evening hours.
At the far north and south ends of the plaza, where the architecture steps forward toward the street, two allées of large Little Leaf Linden trees have been planted, continuing the shaded route along the Central Park wall and aligned to the rhythm of the windows along the Museum’s façade facing Fifth Avenue. As they grow, the trees will be pruned in the form of two aerial hedges, similar to the trees at the Palais Royal in Paris. The presence of the trees is intended to create a pleasant experience along the street. Hedging the row of trees reinforces the central plaza’s volume and ensures the trees do not detract from the monumentality of the Museum’s façade.
Within the central plaza, pairs of bosques of London Plane trees have been planted, flanking the 81st and 83rd Street entrances. Planted on a square grid turned at a 45-degree angle to the street, the lines of these tree trunks will guide pedestrians toward the doorways. Beneath the bosques, shaded seating is provided, using lightweight movable chairs that allow users to arrange them as they please. These casual seating areas offer clear views of the plantings and water features of the plaza, with the activity of Fifth Avenue in the background. Additional benches adjacent to the allées of trees provide further options for seating with shade provided by a series of cantilevered parasols.
The new granite fountains, designed by Fluidity Design Consultants, will be operational year-round, bracketing the grand stairs to create an energized connection between people sitting on the steps and those at the fountains, while punctuating the long plaza with attractive water elements. Each fountain is a quiet square form inset with a circle that provides seating on long stone benches along the north and south edges of the pools. Evenly spaced nozzles, mounted around the edge of the circular basin, orient glassy streams toward the center of the feature. The streams will be individually size-controlled to display geometrical figures and innovative, self-generating motion patterns conceived to connect with the Museum’s historic architecture and the City’s contemporary spirit. In winter, the water will be warmed by recycled steam for year-round use.
The evening ambiance of the Museum plaza will be enhanced by the hierarchy of light on the landscape, water features, grand stairs, and façade. The previous lighting, which illuminated the façade unevenly by light poles across the street from the building, has been removed. The new elements, designed by the lighting design practice L’Observatoire International, are mounted on the Museum’s façade and the plaza itself. This treats the building like a work of art, highlighting the shape and form of its cornices, molding, decorative statues, and pillars.
The plaza design attempts to reconcile the physical need for a significant area of paved plaza with the desire to employ sustainable strategies regarding stormwater management and the urban heat island effect, two goals that are often at odds with each other. To accomplish this, the trees and parasols that have been installed significantly increase the square footage of shade in the plaza, thereby reducing the surface temperature of the paving by as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, a suspended paving system allows for extensive subsurface tree pits that now collect and utilize onsite stormwater that would otherwise have drained into the City’s sewer system. Excess stormwater that is not captured by the subsurface tree pits or the ornamental planting areas will be collected and directed into underground detention areas that hold and slowly release water into the City’s stormwater system. This gives significant relief to the extreme demand put on the City’s aging system.
David H. Koch Plaza at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York, USA
Landscape architects: OLIN
Fluidity Design Consultants – water feature design
L’Observatoire International – lighting design
Spatial Affairs Bureau (formerly Rick Mather USA) – parasols, stone benches, new guard booths
Gorton & Associates – project and cost management
Sam Schwartz Engineering – vehicular and pedestrian traffic flow plan
Kohler Ronan – MEP, fire protection engineering
WJE Engineers & Architects, P.C. – building façade consulting
Langan Engineering and Environmental Services – civil, geotech, traffic, surveying
AKRF – environmental consulting
Jacobs | Doland – food service operations
Robert Silman Associates, Inc. – structural engineer
Northern Designs – irrigation
Milrose Consultants Inc. – code consultant, permitting
Urban Arborists – arborist
Urban Trees & Soils – soils consulting
Entro – signage design
RCDolner – general contractor
Text credit: OLIN / The Metropolitan Museum of Art