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Troubling changes planned for Citicorp’s plaza

March 25, 2017

On March 21, the Landmarks Preservation Commission reviewed proposed changes to the recently designated Citicorp Center aka 601 Lexington Avenue. The application, presented by global firm Gensler on behalf of the owner, Boston Properties, sought approval for the reconfiguration of the center’s atrium entrances on 52nd and 53rd Streets, a change widely agreed to be innocuous enough. However, it is another modification not included in the application but discussed at the hearing that troubles preservation groups, including DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State.

Renderings presented by Gensler showed the center’s signature sunken plaza, designed by Sasaki Associates, with a reconfigured staircase and bereft of its cascading fountain, prompting questions from commissioners. Agency staff explained that the owners had been granted the required work permits prior to the building’s December designation, precluding review by the commission as preapprovals are typically considered grandfathered. The plaza, original to the 1973 building by Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates, affords a dramatic perspective of the underside of the cantilevered tower and offers a rare respite from the clamor of Midtown. Central to the experience is the calming effect of the fountain, designed by Sasaki principal emeritus Stuart Dawson, who has issued a public statement against the change. At this time there does not appear much if anything that can be done to reverse this approval. Review of all future changes to the plaza will be coordinated between the LPC and the Department of City Planning.

Sasaki fountain at Citicorp Center may be demolished,” The Architect’s Newspaper, March 21, 2017

Rendering of Sasaki plaza as presented to the LPC. ©Gensler
1980s photo of the plaza showing the fountain. Courtesy Friends of San Diego Architecture.