Capitol Plaza is located in the emerging residential neighborhood
of Chelsea Heights amid weekend antiques markets and Flower
District shops. This new public open space, which connects
26th Street and 27th Street just east of Sixth Avenue, features
garden seating areas, a promenade, and cafes. In an area of
Manhattan with too few public open spaces, Capitol Plaza’s
goal was to offer people a place to pause among lush bamboo
groves and ornamental grass plantings, distinctive contemporary
seating and adjacent cafes and shops—all in a synergistic
composition that will ensure long term success.
Normally mid-block open spaces in the city fail to live
up to the expectations of the public they are meant to serve.
Careful demographic research revealed a young, creative class
working in design and technology, as well as affluent pioneers
moving into the emerging neighborhood. It became evident that
the small one-quarter acre space had to offer an artistically
provocative design alternative to nearby Madison Square Park.
The designer’s outreach and thoughtful analysis helped
secure approvals from the City Planning Commission and community
Curved, battered planter walls slice through the plaza,
organizing it into distinct areas with varying degrees of intimacy and
enclosure. Custom designed stainless steel furniture, such
as bar tables with revolving stools, benches with attached
cafe tables, and elliptical picnic tables, provide a multitude
of seating options; a proven component to successful urban
spaces. A 100-foot-long corrugated metal wall painted a vibrant
orange is intended to draw attention from Sixth Avenue’s
pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Elliptical cutouts animate
the wall and the reveal bamboo foliage behind helping to blur
the line between the landscape and architectural treatments.
One of the cutouts frames a stainless steel waterspout whose
sounds add quality to the bamboo glade environment and reinforce
The northern shady area is dedicated to picnic tables, perimeter
seating and a narrow, 100-foot-long retail space that activates
this end; the sunnier southern zone is raised slightly to
provide a more intimate garden setting for an outdoor café
that immediately became the neighborhood’s favorite.
The two curving walls imply passage and support edge seating
for those “voyeurs” of the pedestrian movement
Scattered throughout downtowns in cities across the country
are small urban spaces—some public, others privately
owned—that have not lived up to their potential, but
that have the power to enhance urban living by touching our
daily lives in ways that larger destination parks can’t.
Capitol Plaza clearly and emphatically answers the question,
“How can the landscape architecture profession make
a difference in the city?”
With each small gesture like this, we collectively make city
life so compelling that we help stem suburban sprawl and the
destruction of our natural environment. This space is not
a shallow gesture of form and color. Beneath its visual appeal
lies a careful analysis of neighborhood dynamics and a deep
understanding of the design principles that determine the
success of small urban spaces.