There’s something mesmerizing about the Empire State Plaza. You probably won’t admit it, so I’ll do it for you. You, all of you Capital Region residents, you actually enjoy coming here, but you’re not sure why. Don’t worry. I feel the same way, and I’m trying to work through it. The vast expanse of concrete, the bad modern art (some with dangerously sharp moving parts), the abyss-like reflecting pools (don’t get too close!), and the potential jumping off point for the coming zombie apocalypse make the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza unappealing at first glance. But there’s something else, isn’t there? It’s something that makes me want to wander around as if there is a huge secret hidden among the pebbled walkways and white marble retaining walls that many have searched for but never found. It’s waiting to be discovered, and I want to be the one to discover it.
One thing is for sure. It’s a landmark that is unmistakably Albany. I can’t remember the number of times I sighed with relief as a kid upon seeing that unique skyline as we pulled onto I-787 from the NYS Thruway headed to my house in Cohoes after a very long road trip. I was almost home, and I could not WAIT to get out of the family minivan (we are a gassy bunch). Or perhaps I associated it with childhood visits to the NYS museum where I took a great amount of pleasure simply planting myself in their refurbished subway car, imagining myself speeding under that other city in New York that many people mistake for our capital. Even now, as I sit here typing this, I can’t pinpoint what it is about the Plaza that intrigues me so, but intrigue me it certainly does.
Maybe it’s simply trying to figure out what people were thinking as they designed it that keeps me coming back. I imagine a group of men with thick, horn-rimmed glasses and pocket-protected white short-sleeve dress shirts standing around a table thinking “How much concrete can we dump in the middle of this city before somebody calls our bluff?” Was this just a product of the times, a design born from a typical 1950′s architectural mind where rock and steel represented strength, tried and true blue-blooded American stoicism? Or was it Rockefeller’s silent thumb-to-the-nose at bleak Soviet-era design? We’ll show those commies! We’ll build there buildings here, and then they won’t want to build them like that anymore! Nyah nyah!
I’m reading into it too much, aren’t I?
You do have to admit that there is something very Stalinistic about the vibe there: everything in its place, emotionless, unwavering. Is that a bread line snaking out of the Justice Building?? But then look at it again. There’s symmetry and wide open spaces. There’s fresh, open air in a somewhat stagnant downtown area. There are….some trees. It’s an experiment in opposites! I’m certainly no student of design, but there’s a dichotomy here that intrigues me and evokes emotion. I wonder if someone can help me figure out why that is?
The Concourse, unfortunately, is a lost cause.