AAA Editor Notes
Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, downtown between Madison Ave. and State St., is a vast government complex of modern marble-and-steel buildings surrounding a central span of rectangular reflecting pools. The massive urban renewal project that created the plaza was initiated by Gov. Rockefeller in the 1960s and wasn't completed until 1978.
The striking collection of monumental, contemporary-style structures creates a stunning vista with four identical 23-story towers arrayed on one side of the plaza and the 44-story Corning Tower and an irregular curving performing arts center called, for obvious reasons, the Egg, on the other. Atop a raised platform on the plaza's south end sits the templelike Cultural Education Center, and facing it on the opposite end is the 19th-century New York State Capitol.
For a fantastic view of the plaza, take the express elevator to the Corning Tower Observation Deck on the 42nd floor. The Corning Tower is said to be the tallest building in the state outside of New York City. From above you'll see the beautiful Capitol and in the foreground, the plaza's most unusual building: the Egg, which really stands out among its angular, hard-edged neighbors. Looking like a gigantic abstract sculpture, the Egg hosts musicals, plays, concerts and lectures in its two theaters.
If you consider the Egg to be a work of art, it certainly isn't the plaza's only one. Rockefeller was an aficionado of modern art as well as architecture, and the Empire State Plaza Art Collection displays more than 90 abstract impressionist paintings, sculptures and tapestries distributed throughout the plaza's 98 acres, including works by Alexander Calder, Robert Motherwell, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi and Jackson Pollack.
In addition to abstract art, the plaza also features several memorials, among them those honoring women veterans, fallen firefighters, missing persons and Vietnam veterans. You might opt for a guided tour of the art collection; call for reservations.
Guided tours are available.