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50 years later, reassessing Albany’s Empire State Plaza

June 21, 2015

In addition to the NYC Landmarks Law and the New York World’s Fair, this year marks the 50th anniversary of another major initiative in New York state—the building of the Empire State Plaza in Albany. Fifty years ago this June, the cornerstone was laid for what would become a monumentally-scaled ensemble of government and culture buildings, the design of which borrowed heavily from Brasilia, Versailles and Chandigarh. Largely the grandiose (and costly) vision of then Governor Nelson Rockefeller that was executed by architect Wallace Harrison, the Plaza was, and to some extent still is, a polarizing urban renewal project.

There remains much to assess in considering the Plaza’s legacy. To help with that are several new resources:

– A recently published in-depth article in Albany’s Times Union is an excellent starting point for learning about the massive project.

– The State of New York has launched a commemorative website that highlights a series of events organized this summer to explore the history and design of the Plaza, including an exhibition at the New York State Museum, which opens June 21.

– “The Neighborhood that Disappeared,” a documentary that aired recently on the local PBS station, takes a critical look at the project and its impact on the existing community. A preview can be viewed here.

The State of New York is commemorating the Plaza’s 50th with a series of events in Albany. FYI, the lecture and panel discussion take place in The EGG.

Through September 4: Twice daily walking tours of the Plaza 
September 16: Plaza at 50 festival 
September 16: Lecture. “Power, Politics and the Plaza” Details 
September 23: Panel Discussion. “An International Capital: The Architecture and Construction of the Empire State Plaza” Details

Empire State Plaza with a view of the EGG, named for its unique shape and used for performances and concerts. Photo: Matt Bisanz, Wikimedia Commons.
Rendering of the Plaza from the New York State Archives.
The Cultural Education Center, home to the New York State Museum. Photo: Matt Bisanz, Wikimedia Commons