Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art
After two years of reconstruction, one of New York City's greatest unofficial theaters - the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art - now has a new stage. State, city, and Met officials gathered yesterday in the museum's Temple of Dendur to announce the completion of the new David H. Koch public plaza, which spans the building's entire four-block-long facade. While a triumph for both the Met and for the city, the happy news comes amid recent allegations that the plaza's benefactor, tycoon and climate change denier David H. Koch, uses his generosity to exert influence on programming at the public institutions, resulting in omissions and misrepresentations of climate science in exhibitions.
The beautifully redesigned David H. Koch Plaza opened to the public today, giving New Yorkers and tourists a new outdoor space where they can lounge, work or just people-watch. About the size of three football fields, the plaza boasts 106 new trees, dancing fountains (Fluidity Design Consultants), new pavement, an LED lighting program (L’Observatoire International led by Hervé Descottes), shade canopies, and seating areas. Landscape architecture and urban design firm OLIN was the lead design consultant for the project.
“Finally, more than a century after the completion of the Met’s grand Fifth Avenue façade, and more than 40 years after its last plaza renovation, the Museum has created a truly welcoming point of entry,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Here now is a cityscape that is environmentally friendly and will please our visitors as they come to experience the unparalleled breadth of masterpieces on display inside.”
In addition to bringing a massive new outdoor gathering area to Museum Mile, the plaza was designed with environmental consideration. In order to reconcile the space’s large paved area, trees and parasols were used to maximize shade, reducing the project’s contribution to the urban heat island effect by decreasing the surface temperature of the paving by as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit. To address the issue of proper stormwater drainage, a suspended paving system was installed, allowing for sub-surface tree pits that will collect on-site stormwater to be directed into underground detention areas that will slowly release it into the city’s stormwater system over time instead of flooding the system all at once.
The plaza project was made possible by a $65 million donation by David H. Koch, who is also a museum trustee. While Met officials expressed their gratitude to Koch during Tuesday’s ceremony, the billionaire’s well-documented political activities and climate change views elicited skeptical glances from others in the audience. Koch and his brother Charles G. Koch have faced media scrutiny as a result of their active support and funding of organizations that contribute to Tea Party candidates and lobby against climate change legislation.
Speakers at the plaza unveiling ceremony included Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, David H. Koch, Met Director and CEO Thomas P. Campbell, and Museum President Emily K. Rafferty.
The subtextual conversation surrounding the situation continued after the opening, trickling into a press conference later that day announcing Archtober, a city-wide architecture and design festival, at the Center for Architecture.
The design of the mechanism Koch used to activate the new plaza fountains may not have been an ideal choice considering his political reputation.
“It was so interesting because there was a red big lever [Koch] pulled [to activate the fountains],” said Cynthia Kracauer, Managing Director of the AIANY, at the event. “And all I could think about was how it looked just like one you might pull in a voting booth.”
All politics aside, the David H. Koch Plaza is a vibrant new public space for everyone in New York to enjoy.
Photos: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yuka Yoneda for Inhabitat