Thursday, August 15, 2013

Brasilia or Albany?

OK, of course it’s Albany.  Many commentators and critics over the past 40 years have compared the Empire State Plaza with Brasilia and other “modernist” monumental government developments – and with many of the same criticisms.
I’m sure nothing significant can be added to the record at this point, but I have to say that on a recent visit I came away with the observation that the Plaza (the surface portion – I didn’t go underground) looks pretty good.  The scale is really decent and the buildings, although too modernist for my taste, have weathered decently.  And of course the longitudinal vistas – especially toward the Capitol – are beautiful.
My biggest negative takeaway is the lack of pedestrian activity.  A relatively sterile environment looks even worse with only a few stragglers and workmen around.  (These shots were taken on a beautiful weekday afternoon.)  I will note that a colleague reported much more activity at lunchtime, with a small farmers’ market and people moving around.
My advice would be to (1) do something with the rather scruffy monumental staircase to the state museum (which doesn’t actually offer an entrance to the museum) and (2) splash some color of some sort on the “Egg,” which is a theater with no posters, banners, marquees, or other markings.  With no trappings of a theater it rather gives the impression of being an anti-aircraft missile battery.

Albany has a long way to go, but the Empire State Plaza, if given a thoughtful makeover, could be part of a better future.

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