The Met Museum Officially Opens Its Newly Renovated $65 Million Plaza

September 9, 2014

A dramatically redesigned plaza in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue was dedicated today and named in honor of its sole donor, David H. Koch. The four-block long plaza, which flanks the museum’s famous entrance steps, includes two fountains, alleys of trees, new paving and red, angular canopies/parasols over seating benches.

The redesign of the plaza space was two years in the making and cost $65 million, contributed entirely by Mr. Koch, a trustee of the museum. In his remarks inside the museum at the Temple of Dendur, Mr. Koch said that when Daniel Brodsky, the museum’s chairman, asked how the new plaza was going to be paid for he said he “had a good idea – why don’t I do it?!”

Mr. Koch, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Julia, and three children, said that the plaza “became a passion for me.” He had lived nearby when it was under discussion and he said he hoped it will last for 50 years until a future philanthropist funds another renovation.

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Mr. Koch received a very, very long standing ovation from the many museum and government officials and members of the press attending the ceremony. Mr. Brodsky opened the ceremony by describing Mr. Koch as having “an eye for beauty and a heart for civic improvement, truly a great philanthropist,” while Congressman Carolyn Maloney said that it was “a sign of hope” that she and Mr. Koch could share a podium, which elicited much laughter from the crowd because of her interest in liberal causes and Mr. Koch’s conservative stance.

Thomas P. Campbell, the museum’s director, said that “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.”

“Here now is a cityscape,” he continued, “that is environmentally friendly and will please our visitors as they come to experience the unparalleled breath of masterpieces on display inside. Rather than finding the complexity of the project daunting—from the hauling of granite for new fountains and paving stones, to the planting of trees and the installation of hundreds of LED lights, on an area roughly the equivalent size of three football fields, David Koch recognized its significance, embraced it, and made it happen.”

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The previous plaza required the controversial removal of many elm trees by Thomas P. F. Hoving, then the museum’s director, but this renovation went very smoothly as community groups and the Central Park Conservancy noted that it was doubling the number of trees on the plaza to 106 and planning to relocate many.

Emily K. Rafferty, president of the Museum, said that “this project is a great demonstration of philanthropic spirit” and “we thank the museum’s neighbors for their patience and understanding during this two-year reconstruction process.”

OLIN, the landscape architecture, planning, and urban design practice, was the lead design consultant for the project, which used London Plane and Little Leaf Linden trees.

The new fountains will operate year-round using water warmed by recycled steam. Nozzles in a circle orient streams of water toward the center of the fountains and they are individually controlled to display geometric patterns that the museum’s press release maintained are “conceived to connect with the museum’s historic architecture and the city’s contemporary spirit.”

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“The new plaza is something that will not only beautify the Metropolitan Museum,” Mr. Koch declared, “but also Fifth Avenue and the entire neighborhood, by creating a welcoming, warm, and vibrant open space that the public can enjoy. Although the Met is best known for its magnificent art collections, amazing architecture, and interior grand spaces, the Olin-designed plaza will also make the exterior of the Met a masterpiece.”

The elegant new plaza has 30 tables and 120 chairs that users can arrange as they please.

Among those also in attendance were Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Councilman Dan Garodnick, Robert I. Shapiro of City Center Real Estate Inc., William Judson, the retail real estate broker, and William Rudin, the developer.

Images by Carter B. Horsley

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