American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2005 Professional Awards
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Plan view (credit: Thomas Balsley Associates).
Movement follows the curving walls (photo: Michael Koontz).
Entrance from 27th Street flanked by picnic table and bar table seats (photo: Michael Koontz).
Raised bar tables with revolving seats along the narrow retail frontage are perfect for conferences and laptop work (photo: Michael Koontz).
Sunny picnic table area enclosed by bamboo but with visual connection to walkway (photo: Michael Koontz).
The urban picnic tables are the first choice for coworkers to lunch and conference (photo: Michael Koontz).
Raised terrace with feature wall and bamboo scrim (photo: Michael Koontz).
The feature wall is washed with light to attract attention in the off-evening hours (photo: Michael Koontz).

Capitol Plaza, New York, NY
Thomas Balsley Associates, New York, NY

"Very well used . . . unconventional seating ideas that work well . . . a lot of environments in a very small space . . . affordable and budget-minded."

— 2005 Professional Awards Jury Comments

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 boards.

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 its serenity.

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 and theatre.

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.



The terrace edge of wall mounted benches and stair are perfect for watching and interacting with the passage traffic (photo: Michael Koontz).
The 100’ long orange wall defines the raised terrace architectural edge (photo: Michael Koontz).
Boulders and grasses contribute to this urban sanctuary (photo: Michael Koontz).
“Tablettes” have been added to the custom wall mounted bench for laptops, sandwiches, or elbows (photo: Thomas Balsley).
The feature wall is softened and given depth with perforations of bamboo from behind (photo: Michael Koontz).
Visual sight lines guarantee a sense of safety and security within the contemplative environment (photo: Michael Koontz).
The sound of water contributes to the calm and serenity in the city (photo: Thomas Balsley).
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