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Radio Park, an Idyllic Rooftop Garden, Opens Above Radio City Music Hall

By Emily SokolowSep 15 2021
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A brand new garden oasis just opened on top of Radio City Music Hall. The highly anticipated, half-acre landscape is called Radio Park, and it was built as an amenity for the Rockefeller Center business community. Tenants, employees, and their guests are free to explore a variety of outdoor work environments, more romantically referred to as “garden rooms,” each with a distinct typology.

The park’s overall concept is grounded in biophilic design, bringing the natural world and people closer together within constructed buildings and environments. This creates a variety of benefits such as improved moods, general health, and vitality, as well as enhanced productivity.

The architects observed nature’s gravitation pull even before the park was completed, as pollinating bees were seen jumping from rose flower to rose flower. “The birds and the bees already found the park,” joked the lead architect on the project, Sam Lawrence. “Now it’s time for the humans to join them.”

The idea was to create a multi-functional space for different groups and individuals to enjoy at the same time. Coworkers can meet for casual outdoor meetings and work sessions. Groups can host corporate events and scheduled fundraisers. And individual visitors can find a few moments to recharge, get a change of scenery, and soak up the sunshine by escaping to a dreamy outdoor environment just a short distance from their offices.

Each of the park’s “rooms” offers a unique experience. Stepping onto the roof from 50 Rockefeller Plaza, one is greeted by an enchanting Birch woodland garden, a mystical landscape that covers your head in foliage, with dappled sunlight on the ground. To the south sits a grove of white flowering cherry trees, containing a meandering path with various seating nooks and enclaves. These secluded areas cater to quiet moments of contemplation, or private conversations.

The Grand Lawn functions like a town square, connecting the surrounding rooms to a series of elevated terraces which lead to a Belvedere terrace. A tall hornbeam hedge serves as a visual backdrop, hiding the façade of 1270 Avenue of Americas from view. The upper level is an ideal outdoor lunch spot, a casual seating area, or even a miniature stage for corporate events and shows.

“What we’ve done with Radio Park is create a town square for the greater Rock Center tenants,” says Lawrence, “because it’s not just for 50 Rock or 1270; it’s for everybody [who] works at Rockefeller Center. It becomes a recognizable place if you work at 30 Rock and want to get together with someone at 1270.”

The idea for a garden on top of Radio City Music Hall dates back to the 1930s — as part of architect Raymond Hood’s original vision for Rockefeller Center. Early blueprints show interconnected terraces on rooftops within the sprawling complex, which would be meant to be enjoyed by those looking out of the windows from the surrounding iconic skyscrapers. Yet the plans never materialized, and Radio City Music Hall opened in the winter of 1932 without the rooftop gardens. The theatre, designated a landmark in 1978, gained worldwide recognition for its artistic and technical excellence.

Fast forward to 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a newfound appreciation for green outdoor Manhattan space. Tishman Speyer proposed a plan to reignite the park concept. HMWhite, an NYC-based landscape architectural design firm, was engaged to design the park under the leadership of Sam Lawrence, a principal at HMWhite. G3 Architecture designed the interior lobbies as well as a sky bridge that will add a future pedestrian connection of 1270 Avenue of Americas to the park. The plan required NYC Landmarks Commission approval, which was unanimously granted during a public hearing in March 2021.

The assignment was to create a “memorable, unique and distinct landscape that has elegance and is on par with other notable, global public spaces,” says Lawrence. It would be a project of grand ambitions and historical significance, along with many unique challenges due to the site’s particular structural and design properties. To put it lightly, Radio City Music Hall is not a typical foundation for a rooftop garden. Not only is it a historic landmark, but it includes an auditorium (creating hollow space in place of solid structural support), and a stage that occasionally hosts pyrotechnic concerts (requiring venting).

The end result? A case study in timeless, site-specific, artful urban design, as well as sustainable green roof technology. The hot air from the stage is released through vents, previously built into the theatre’s ceiling, and copper doors opening onto the roof; the park’s Birch forest was designed to wrap around those stage vents, immersing them without obstruction. Vegetation can add significant weight to the area, so instead of natural soil, the team used a lightweight engineered growing medium. The whole roof recently had a new waterproofing system built, which will now last longer since it’s not as exposed to the elements. Finally, the green roof helps cool the interior space, creating additional insulation.

“What struck me most as the park started to take form,” reflects Lawrence, “[is that] it fits so well into the overall context of Rockefeller Center. It feels comfortable and like it was always meant to be there.”

Radio Park is free and open to Rockefeller Center tenants, employees, and their visitors. Access is through the Radio Park entrance on North Plaza (between Anthropologie and 50 Rockefeller Plaza's lobby entrance).

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