February 5, 2015
Gliding through winter: Exploring the boroughs by skate
The spate of recent snowfalls reminds us that winter is far from over. Sometimes, treacherous footing at almost every corner can be a strong disincentive to be out and about, but skating can be the antidote to this seasonal inactivity! We can step into a world where the sudden loss of friction due to ice is … exhilarating. Here, we describe some of the boroughs’ skating options – wonderful and adaptable public spaces – where we can stay outside while being socially and physically active.
Stretching from 137th Street to 145th Street on the Hudson River waterfront is the Riverbank State Park, which features a variety of recreational activities. Despite its numerous offerings – pools, a carousel, recreational fields, and more – the park remains far from crowded because of its Parkway-induced separation from Harlem’s beautiful prewar residences. Pedestrians that make the short trip across one of the two overpasses are likely to spot the park’s ice skating rink, which stays open through March. The rink’s sail-like panels give the space a distinctive geometric design and also offer shelter from the wind and sun, resulting in a sense of being simultaneously outdoors and indoors.
Skaters will discover a similarly semi-sheltered experience at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, although this Brooklyn destination is trickier to spot from afar. The facility’s physically low profile and nature-inspired materials palette, including rough-hewn green granite and earthen roof cover, result in a deep integration with Prospect Park’s topography. This effect is thanks to a 2013 renovation by NYC-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, who also devised an improved overall layout and easier access for the center’s many visitors. LeFrak is home to a variety of recreational activities and amenities year round, including an ice skating rink that stays open through mid-March.
Even once its majestic Christmas tree has been retired after the holiday season, the Rink at Rockefeller Center is an iconic destination. Despite the booming titans of industry that fill the surrounding buildings, the heart of Rockefeller Center was always intended as a nexus of social and cultural interaction: first as a new site for the Metropolitan Opera, then a shopping center, and now an event venue and skating rink. This annual wintertime transformation of the sunken plaza into a space for such whimsical activity completely changes the nature of the place, even the feel of the overall Center. As the architect, educator, and Corbusier colleague Jerzy Soltan used to say, “Rockefeller Center is great architecture, but the decision to put an ice rink at its focal point was an act of pure genius!” Visitors can participate in this urban tableau, and enjoy the dramatic views of Rockefeller Center’s Raymond Hood-designed complex, through April.
Only a few blocks south, the Winter Village at Bryant Park offers a notably different experience. Located a few steps up from the street and stretching the entire expanse of the park, visitors participate in a public display that stands in sharp contrast to Rockefeller Center’s protected moments. That said, Raymond Hood also left a mark in this space with the American Radiator building, conceived in partnership with John Howells. To the delight of skaters and shoppers, a diverse array of historic buildings line all sides the park, including 500 Fifth Avenue by Shreve Lamb & Harmon (of Empire State Building fame), and the Carrère and Hastings-designed New Your Public Library, widely considered to be an apex in Beaux-Arts design. These structures, and many more, can be admired by skate through March 1st.
For those who prefer the backdrop of a natural environment, rather than a built one, it is hard to beat the WWII Veterans War Memorial Ice Skating Rink. Nestled just inside the border of Cloves Lake Park in Staten Island, the rink is accessed through a welcome center that creates just enough distance from the busy streets of the Sunnyside neighborhood beyond. Of the many rinks managed by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Staten Island’s may provide the best opportunity to reconnect with the natural ecologies of our dense city. The rink stays open through March 29th.
This post originally appeared in Crain’s 5boros. To read the piece as originally published, and a variety of other content about the dynamic neighborhoods of New York City, visit Crain’s 5boros online.