• U.S.

The City: Capitol Improvement

3 minute read

The capital cities of the U.S. took shape for the most part when a public building was something with a cupola and plenty of columns. New York’s state capitol is a monument to the architectural style that might be called Ugly American—a granite mishmash of Second Empire, Francis I and Romanesque, with Doric columns, Corinthian columns, tile roofs, slate roofs, dormers, chimneys and rusticated stone work. The city it dominates is appropriately dismal. But last week plans were unveiled that will make Albany, in the words of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, “the most beautiful capital city in the United States.”

The project is a swath of promenades and skyscrapers covering 40 blocks. Designed by Architects Wallace K. Harrison (the new Metropolitan Opera House, Rockefeller Center) and George A. Dudley, and the Albany firm of Blatner and Williams, the mall will be centered around a 2,800-ft. concourse of reflecting pools and fountains stretching from State Street, just in front of the present capitol, to Madison Avenue. Principal building will be the 43-story State Office Tower, which, with seven other office buildings, will house state offices now scattered in nearly 90 separate locations around the city.

Oddest structure will be the Meeting Center—looking like a mammoth radar dish from below and half a grapefruit from above—which will contain a 750-seat auditorium, a 300-seat conference room, plus several smaller conference rooms and exhibit space for state government units. At the south end will be a shrine: the Arch of Freedom, in which the original of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation will be on display. In the same area will be a museum, a library, the state archives building, and an outdoor amphitheater. Automobiles will be banished to the nether regions. Vehicles will unload on two levels below the promenade, and beneath the reflecting pools will be parking space for 3,000 cars.

The $250 million project will be financed by the city of Albany, which will issue long-term bonds, while the state will lease the buildings from the city until the bonds have been paid off. “This is straightforward architecture,” says Architect Dudley. “It will have a quality of monumentality, which you can’t afford to use in New York City, for example, where the land cost is so high and the life expectancy of a building is only 15 to 20 years.”

“I understand this is the largest government project of its kind anywhere in the country,” says Architect Harrison. “It’s certainly going to be one of the few places in the world where that American invention, the skyscraper, is given its proper place in relation to the buildings around it.”

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