client: rockefeller university
Stretching along nine blocks of New York City’s Upper East Side, Rockefeller University is a world-renowned medical research institution with an impressive roster of Nobel Prize winners -- and beautiful river views. Once a harmonious urban oasis of 19th century buildings and 20th century modernism stitched together by a renowned Dan Kiley landscape, the campus was brutalized in the 1970s by the erection of three towers that resulted in a series of left over and barren voids in the most active zone of the campus.
To remedy this plight, the University sponsored an invited competition that Thomas Balsley Associates won with this crisp yet contemplative design, a respectful update of the iconic allees and white marble paths of Dan Kiley.
The designers resolved the disparate geometries, staggered topography, and programmatic requirements with one strong, simple move: a circular ginkgo grove and its concentric fountain -- a low wall slotted with cooling waterspouts -- around which the other spaces revolve.
These other spaces become multi-level outdoor rooms offering varying degrees of intimacy, from a quiet garden bench to a large, open performance lawn. The character of each space is defined by a rich palette of paving, planting, and furniture: robust planters and walls of Ashlar stone. Custom-designed circular metal “Vortex” shade sculptures divert attention from the ‘70s towers and provide shelter for a new river overlook terrace. For its precision, thoughtful details, and clean, crisp lines, the plaza takes its cue from a Swiss watch.