Jacob Javits Plaza in Lower Manhattan has a long history as a difficult urban site. From 1981 until 1989 the irregularly shaped parcel was the site for Richard Serra's Tilted Arc. After Arc's embattled tenure ended, the plaza was haphazardly filled with standard issue benches and planters. 1997 brought a full redesign that was bright and cheerful but did not address the central issue of the plaza - it lacked a sense of place, feeling like the side dish no one wanted. As another redesign began in 2009, a dramatically different vision for the plaza emerged from the WASA/Studio A and Michael Van Valkenburgh team.
The challenge of the plaza stems from its need to serve both as a thoroughfare to and from the Federal Building and be a place unto itself. The design team's strategy was to subtly wrap the main passages of the plaza with pockets of intimate space defined by vegetation. The organic surfaces of the plaza ebb and flow to juxtapose its hardscape, breaking up the scale of surrounding municipal structures. We felt it was most critical to convey a sense of place for this new social space, and we focused on framing the urban context of the plaza's site with the sweeping forms of the new design. For the first time in its history, Jacob Javits Plaza is a destination.