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Met Museum Plans to Renovate Fifth Avenue Plaza

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Each year, five million people walk up the granite steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum's four-block plaza and two fountains below are a meeting place for city residents, and they've been the set for television shows like Fame and Gossip Girl. But soon, visitors may be walking through construction to take in the Met's 130,000-plus works. One of the Met's trustees, David Koch, has given the museum $10 million to fix the now dormant fountains and beautify the plaza.

"We've been aware for some time that there were some problems that have been exaggerated," said Harold Holzer, senior vice president for external affairs at the museum, citing the physical deterioration of the plaza's two fountains. "They are in almost irreparable shape."

A redesign would get more people moving in and out of the 81st and 83rd Street entrances, and beautify the museum's plaza. "We want the exterior to be as magnificent as the interior," Holzer said.

The museum announced on Tuesday that it had chosen OLIN, a landscape architecture firm that has offices in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, to renovate the plaza and install new fountains. OLIN gave Bryant Park a face lift in the late '80s and was one of the firms behind the design for Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards.

Before the designer and the Met can do anything to the museum's plaza or fountains, they will have to get the necessary approvals from the city, including from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Community Planning Board 8, the Department of Cultural Affairs, Department of Parks and Recreation, and Public Design Commission.

Many historic preservation and community groups will be watching the permitting process, including the non-profit Historic Districts Council. "What we don't want to see is something that happened, for example, at the Brooklyn Museum where you had an extraordinary Modern intervention into a Neoclassical building that we feel is jarring and discontinuous with the building," said Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council. Bankoff adds that long-term construction projects like this one will also be messy during construction.

The Met and OLIN hope to complete the plaza by 2015. Neither the stairs nor the museum's Beaux-Arts facade will be changed during the renovation, in part because the Met recently renovated its renowned stairs thanks to some federal funding from Sen. Charles Schumer. "We recently took every stair apart," said Holzer, "redid every piece of granite and put heating elements underneath for when it snows."

The Metropolitan Museum at its current location was built in 1880, and its facade was built in the early 1900s. The building and plaza were last renovated in 1970. At press time, design plans for the plaza and fountain were not yet available from the museum or architect.

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