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Inside Radio Park, the Idyllic Rooftop Garden Above Radio City Music Hall

By Emily Sokolow & Paulina CajigalMar 18 2024
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Editor’s note: This article was originally published on September 15, 2021. It has since been updated.

In 2021, Rockefeller Center unveiled Radio Park, a garden oasis above Radio City Music Hall. The 24,000-square-foot rooftop was originally built as an amenity for Rockefeller Center’s working community, free for tenants, employees, and their guests to explore (and unwind in) a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces. It’s since been added to Rockefeller Center’s list of private event venues, turning the exclusive tenant perk into one of the most coveted greenspaces in all of New York City — something that’s hard to come by in the concrete jungle.

Though a newer addition, Radio Park has always been a part of Rockefeller Center’s 90-year history. Now, it’s a case study in thoughtful, site-specific urban design and sustainable green roof technology.

Related: Where to Host Your Private Event in NYC, Based on Venue and Type of Party

The History of Radio Park

Plans for a garden on top of Radio City Music Hall date back to the 1930s, with architect Raymond Hood including it in his original vision for Rockefeller Center. Early blueprints show interconnected terraces on rooftops within the sprawling complex, meant to be enjoyed by those looking out of the windows from the surrounding skyscrapers. Yet the plans never materialized, and Radio City Music Hall opened in December 1932 without the gardenscape.

Fast forward to 2020. After months of quarantine ushered in a newfound appreciation for green outdoor spaces in Manhattan, real estate giant Tishman Speyer, which oversees Rockefeller Center, reignited the concept. HMWhite, an NYC-based landscape architectural design studio, was then called in to craft the park’s half-acre layout under the leadership of Sam Lawrence, a principal at the firm. G3 Architecture mapped the interior lobbies and a sky bridge that adds a pedestrian walkway — and lounge — from the park to 1270 Avenue of Americas. The NYC Landmarks Commission unanimously approved the plan during a public hearing in March 2021.

“What struck me most as the park started to take form [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.”
— Sam Lawrence, HMWhite principal and lead architect for Radio Park

With the city’s green light, Lawrence, the project's lead architect, and his team wanted to create a “memorable, unique, and distinct landscape that has elegance and is on par with other notable, global public spaces.” The idea was for Radio Park to serve as a multi-functional site for different groups and individuals to enjoy simultaneously. Coworkers can meet for casual outdoor meetings, work sessions, and lunches; groups can host corporate events and fundraisers; and lone visitors can get a change of scenery and find a few moments to recharge.

Radio City Music Hall was designated a New York City landmark in 1978 and gained worldwide recognition for its artistic and technical excellence — qualities HMWhite integrated into Radio Park’s design. “What struck me most as the park started to take form [is that] it fits so well into the overall context of Rockefeller Center,” reflects Lawrence. “It feels comfortable and like it was always meant to be there.”

The Architectural Engineering Behind Radio Park

Due to the site's particular structural and design properties, the project had grand ambitions and several unique challenges. Not only are historic landmarks bound to specific preservation regulations and guidelines, but Radio City Music Hall is not a typical foundation for a rooftop garden. It has an auditorium (creating a hollow in place of solid structural support) and a stage that occasionally hosts pyrotechnic concerts (requiring ventilation).

Vegetation can add significant pressure on an area, so the HMWhite team used a lightweight engineered growing medium instead of natural soil. A new waterproofing system was integrated into the roof to shield it from the elements, enhancing its durability and extending its lifespan. The hot air from the theater’s stage is now released through the roof by way of copper doors and vents, which were previously built into the ceiling; the park’s canopy of birch trees purposefully wraps around the vents, covering them without obstructing access. To top it off, the green roof creates additional insulation and helps cool the interior space.

Radio Park’s Biophilic, Community-Centered Design

Radio Park’s overall concept is grounded in biophilic design, infusing the natural world into an industrial forest of concrete and manmade buildings. Intended to bring people closer together, the design draws on the wellness benefits of being outdoors, like improved moods and enhanced productivity. Nature’s gravitational pull was apparent even before HMWhite finished construction, with the architects observing pollinating bees jumping from flower to flower in the park’s gardens. “The birds and the bees already found the park,” jokes Lawrence. “Now, it’s time for the humans to join them.”

More romantically referred to as “garden rooms,” Radio Park’s multiple indoor and outdoor spaces each have a distinct typology and atmosphere. Stepping onto the roof from 50 Rockefeller Plaza, visitors are greeted by an enchanting woodland garden, a mystical landscape where sunbeams drift between the foliage. To the south, white cherry trees line a meandering path interspersed with seating nooks and enclaves, areas that cater to quiet moments of contemplation or private conversations.

The Grand Lawn functions as a courtyard, linking the surrounding rooms to a series of elevated verandas that lead to a belvedere terrace — the perfect place to soak in the iconic New York City skyline. A perfectly groomed hornbeam hedge hides the façade of 1270 Avenue of the Americas from view and acts as a visual backdrop, allowing Radio Park’s in-laid stone steps to shift from a casual seating area and ideal lunch spot to a miniature stage for events and shows.

“It’s not just for 50 Rock or 1270; it’s for everybody [who] works at Rockefeller Center.”
— Sam Lawrence

In 2023, the Radio Park West Lounge opened at 1270 Avenue of the Americas, offering another dynamic community space on the 12-acre campus. The Rockefeller Center working community has access to bookable conference rooms, phone booths, coworking spaces, additional table and lounge seating, and even a bar to accommodate hosted events. The space is outfitted with polished yet inviting furniture and lush greenery, pulling Rockefeller Center’s famous Art Deco architecture and Radio Park’s nature-forward, people-centered design into its interiors. The lounge is connected to Radio Park via a sky bridge, giving Rockefeller Center tenants a quick escape to the dreamy, sunlit space.

“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.”

Radio Park is free and open to Rockefeller Center tenants, employees, and their visitors. The main entrance is located on North Plaza, between Anthropologie and 50 Rockefeller Plaza. The Radio Park West Lounge and bridge is on the 10th floor of 1270 Avenue of the Americas; it can also be accessed via the 9th floor of 50 Rockefeller Plaza.

To host an event at Radio Park or the Radio Park West Lounge, contact Rockefeller Center’s private events team.

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