The Galleria, a POPS Oddity

Yesterday, in preparation for a new walking tour I'll be giving in the spring, I stopped by the Galleria, a residential tower from the 1970s on East 57th Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues. Specifically I went to see the thru-block POPS (Privately Owned Public Space) that Jerold Kayden describes in his 2000 guide to POPS as "easy to miss" yet "subdued."

Here is a plan of the enclosed space, which spans from 57th Street to 58th Street, taken from the APOPS website:

I was coming from the 59th/Lexington subway stop, so I accessed the Galleria from 58th Street on the north. In either case, the POPS is reached by walking down some steps, a fact that creates some vistas across the zigzag space when seen from the entrance doors. The 57th Street side is more open (photo at left, below), while the 58th Street side is blocked by a couple bridges lined in wood (photo at right, below). The red-tile pattern in the floor is a consistent motif that draws one to the center.

Before moving to the center, a sidebar. One piece that makes this POPS an oddity is found to the side of the 57th Street entrance, with its own odd stripe of green and pink glass. Suspended behind angled panes of clear glass are cylindrical planters that are supported by angled arms; they step up and back to follow the angled glass. Filled with succulents rather than, say, hanging plants, these planters appear way too heavy for the green effect they produce:

Moving forward toward the central space, a small sushi restaurant has been tucked into the western edge of the space behind some glass walls and between some columns (photo at right, below). The restaurant was installed since 2000, when Kayden foreshadowed: "As with the installation of open air caf├ęs in outdoor spaces, it may be sensible at times to permit, even encourage, the private use of a portion of interior public space if it improves the overall environment of the space and in the end enhances overall public use." Although the public seating opposite the restaurant was nearly full, I'd agree that this addition to the POPS enhances the space.

Note in the above-left photo how the dark horizontal joints in the walls turn ninety degrees and then disappear at the top of the photo. This gesture is a subtle hint to look up, where the interior space rises eight floors, meeting the angled glass walls first encountered at the 57th Street entrance:

This atrium is the POPS's biggest surprise, but also one of the elements that make it such an oddity. The heavy walls, the concrete structure, the glass walls (angled and otherwise), the colorful floor pattern, the wood soffits – all of these elements congeal into a privately owned public space that is certainly interesting but a bit chaotic and jumbled. Outside of the sushi place, it is hardly a cozy, inviting place to stay a while. Instead it is a way for people to cut through the middle of the block, get out of the elements, and peer up at the atrium before continuing on their merry way.