Empire State Plaza
The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza (commonly known as simply the Empire State Plaza and less formally as The South Mall) is a complex of several state government buildings in downtown Albany, New York.

The plaza was the brainchild of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who was inspired to create the new government space after Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands visited Albany for a celebration of the area's Dutch history. Riding with the princess through a section of the city known colloquially as the Gut, Rockefeller was embarrassed and later said, "there's no question that the city did not look as I think the Princess thought it was going to." Rockefeller conceived the basic design of the complex with architect Wallace Harrison in flight aboard the governor's private plane. Rockefeller doodled his ideas in pen on the back of a postcard, and Harrison revised them. They looked to the vast scope and style of Brasilia, Versailles and Chandigarh for inspiration. The massive scale was designed to be appreciated from across the river as the dominant feature of the Albany skyline. Paying for the construction of the plaza presented a major obstacle, since a bond issue for an Albany project would almost certainly have been voted down by the statewide electorate. Despite the displacement of thousands of loyal machine voters, Albany Mayor Erastus Corning worked with Rockefeller to engineer a funding scheme that utilized Albany County bonds instead of state bonds. During repayment, the state covered the principal and interest payments in the form of rent for a plaza that was officially county property. Ownership was then to be transferred to the state in exchange for regular payments in lieu of taxes. Control of the bond issues gave Corning and party boss Dan O'Connell leverage when dealing with the Republican governor. The bonds were paid off in 2001 and the state took over ownership, though it took years to do the paperwork to officially change title. After obtaining the land using eminent domain, the 98.5-acre (39 ha) began construction in 1965 with an initial cost estimate of $250 million. The project was plagued by delays. Unrealistic schedules set by the state forced contractors for various parts to work on top of each other, even interfering with each other. The poor working conditions led some of the contractors to later successfully sue the state. The plaza finally opened in 1978 at a total cost of $1.7 billion. The Corning Tower and Agency buildings were completed in 1973, the Cultural Education Center in 1976, and the Egg in 1978. Today, over 13,000 state employees work at the complex.

The Empire State Plaza consists of various marble and steel buildings, seated on a six-story marble platform, reflecting Rockefeller's view of architecture as sculpture. Their exterior columns and narrow windows make them similar in style to the World Trade Center towers, which were completed around the same time. The buildings comprising the plaza include:
  • the four Agency buildings (numbered "Agency 1" through "Agency 4")
  • the Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd Tower
  • The Egg
  • the Cultural Education Center ( State Museum, Library, and Archives)
  • the Robert Abrams Building for Law and Justice (previously known as the Justice Building)
  • the Legislative Office Building
  • the Swan Street Building (sectioned into "Core 1" through "Core 4")
The plaza is connected to the Times Union Center by a pedestrian bridge and the New York State Capitol by an underground tunnel.

The plaza also features a skating rink and fountains, though the skating rink season has been shortened in recent years due to state budget issues. Several memorials are located on the plaza, including the New York State Fallen Firefighters Memorial as well as memorials for World War II and the Vietnam War. The scale of the buildings in the plaza is impressive, and the complex is the most easily recognizable aspect of the Albany skyline. The Corning Tower is the tallest building in New York state outside of New York City; the Swan Street Building is over a quarter of a mile long and inspired by Pharaoh Hatshepsut's Temple at Deir el-Bahri, Egypt. The plaza itself is actually the largest building of all. The plaza has shade trees on the edges, and in the side gardens and memorials. It has been closed to traffic for the past several winters, as of 2010.

The Concourse
The Concourse is Albany's "Underground City" with food courts, a McDonald's, banks, a YMCA, a post office, a visitors center, and many retailers such as Hallmark Cards. The Concourse connects all buildings in the state plaza. Many state workers spend their lunch hour here. The Concourse features various works of art and sculptures.

The buildings are laid around a row of three reflecting pools. On the west side are the four 23- story, 310-foot (94 m) Agency towers. On the east side is the Egg (Meeting Center) and the 44-floor (589-foot/180 m) Corning Tower, which has an observation deck on the 42nd floor. On the south end is the Cultural Education Center, set on a higher platform; and on the north end sits the New York State Capitol. While the Capitol predates the plaza, it is connected to the Concourse by an escalator which allows underground access to the rest of the plaza, most notably (to the New York State Legislature, at least), the Legislative Office Building.

Art at the Plaza
The plaza has a large number of modern art paintings and sculptures at various locations. Most are works of the New York School and were created in the 1960s and 1970s. Artists represented include Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Alexander Calder, Lyman Kipp, Robert Rauschenberg, Clement Meadmore, Ronald Bladen, Herbert Ferber, Forrest Myers, Dimitri Hadzi, William T. Williams, Ellsworth Kelly, Claes Oldenburg, George Rickey, James Rosati, Tony Smith, George Sugarman and Chryssa. Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, has called the plaza's collection of American art "...the most important State collection of modern art in the country."

The complex was the subject of significant controversy around the time of its construction. About 9,000 people were displaced, mostly from working-class and poorer sections of older Albany which was home to ethnic communities of Jews and Italians. The construction of the plaza followed the rapid decline of Albany's downtown shopping scene, and the massive displacement of population allegedly hastened the process. Numerous restaurants, specialty shops, two major department stores, and downtown's last movie theater had shuttered by the end of construction. The majority of the displaced residents had not owned cars, which forced them to shop locally. The elevated plaza separates the largely residential neighborhoods surrounding Washington Park and points west from the largely commercial streets between the State Capitol and the Hudson River. The plaza has also been criticized for the cost of its lavish architecture (the towers are covered in marble so that one cannot see the individual floors), its sheer size, and its period architecture. The 1991 book, The Shock of the New, refers to the buildings as being in "The International Power Style of the Fifties", comparing the buildings to those built by Fascist governments. Crossing through the plaza is the South Mall Arterial, a short highway artery connecting to the Dunn Memorial Bridge. Construction of this highway destroyed many buildings in Albany's downtown. In the initial proposal, the highway was to go from Interstate 90 in North Greenbush (current exit 8 to NY 43), through Rensselaer, under the plaza, and connecting to the also-cancelled Mid-Crosstown Arterial, which would have run from I-90 Exit 6, through the city, travelling underneath Washington Park, meeting with the South Mall Expressway in the process, and continuing on to the Thruway at Exit 23. The current South Mall Arterial ends abruptly in a loop at Swan Street, with both eastbound and westbound lanes using the two outer portals of the four portal tunnel leading under the plaza. (The inner two were to be express lanes to the Mid-Crosstown Arterial/SME interchange underneath the park.) The only evidence of the original Mid-Crosstown Arterial is the four level stack interchange for I-90 at present day US 9.

Photo gallery

The New York State Fallen Firefighters Memorial Another view of the Cultural Education Center The Albany skyline. The Empire State Plaza is visible on the left. The Empire State Plaza viewed from the Dunn Memorial Bridge. The pyramid-roofed building in the foreground on the right is a corporate office building and not part of the plaza. The upper lip of the Egg can be seen behind it to the left. View from across river View from the observation deck on the 42nd floor of the Corning Tower

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