Minigolf and Aquariums Fill a Park Avenue Dreamscape

Eric Spencer wants to add an aquarium to the medians in a nine-block stretch of Park Avenue in Manhattan. “There’s a tongue-in-cheek connection,” he said. “You know, the classic stereotype, guys and gals on their phones, sharks, doing their thing.”

Michelle Schrank said she is decent at minigolf, the mostly putting game also known as miniature golf that is short on fairways and distance. There are no 300-yard drives, but there are holes in one.

“I don’t get many,” Ms. Schrank said, “but I have good aim.”

Ms. Schrank, 30, considers minigolf a suburban pastime. But when she and another architect, Dijana Milojevic, entered a design competition, they suggested importing minigolf to the heart of Midtown Manhattan — specifically, to the medians in a nine-block stretch of Park Avenue.

Their idea got the attention of the jury in the competition, sponsored by Fisher Brothers, a family-owned real estate company that is a longtime landlord in the neighborhood. The jury named the entry from Ms. Schrank and Ms. Milojevic one of 17 finalists.

Another finalist, Eric Spencer, proposed installing an aquarium — a glass box in a district of glass-box office buildings. “There’s a tongue-in-cheek connection,” he said. “You know, the classic stereotype, guys and gals on their phones, sharks, doing their thing.”

Another entry proposed a modernistic elevated park — what the High Line might have looked like if it were curved, and white, instead of angular. Another called for perforated metal leaves inspired by mimosa plants that would open and close when Metro-North Railroad trains rumbled through the tunnels beneath the medians. Still another entry suggested building “Mount Manhattan,” an “artificial alpine environment” in the medians with hills, cliffs, trails and “a ravine over a rope bridge.”

They will choose a winning entry, and the creator will receive a $25,000 prize. In addition, all 17 entries will be displayed in the atrium of a Fisher Brothers-owned building at 55 East 52nd Street, and people can vote on which of the 17 they like. The most popular entry, which could be the one chosen by the jury, will receive a separate $5,000 prize.

For the finalists, “we intentionally chose stuff that had variety, that had creativity, but was also about stimulating the public, letting people see a vision,” said Winston Fisher, a partner in Fisher Brothers. “You can fill in what your vision is, but we really are hopeful that this will be the spark, very much like what they did with the High Line.”

There, the entries in a design competition in 2003 included a mile-and-a-half-long swimming pool and a roller coaster.

“That’s not what got built,” Mr. Fisher said. “But it allowed people to dream and see the potential.”

He said more than 150 submissions came in for the competition, from architects, landscape architects and urban planners. “You get some incredible stuff, even if it’s not meant to be built,” he said from his office on, naturally, Park Avenue. “You see that Park Avenue has such potential. It could be one of the most defining landscape architecture projects in the world.”

And he went ahead with the competition even though he does not control the medians.

“We do not,” he said. “Can the city do it? The city can do anything.”

The eight-person jury included Vishaan Chakrabarti, the founder of the architecture firm Practice for Architecture and Urbanism and a professor at Columbia University, who was also on the jury for the High Line competition.

“The point is not necessarily to create the practical idea that will get funded and built,” he said. “The point is to focus our attention on things that are right in front of us and the possibilities there are.”

Mr. Fisher said the competition focused on the blocks between 46th and 57th Streets. A few of those blocks would overlap with medians tended by the Fund for Park Avenue, which plants tulips, begonias and mums from 54th Street to 86th Street.

Barbara McLaughlin, the president of the fund, said she looked forward to seeing the finalists in the competition. “The more attention to the malls, the better,” she said. “Something needs to be tackled, and it’s bigger than the fund. It’s infrastructure. It needs to be fixed up.”

As for the minigolf entry, Ms. Schrank said it was not a love of the sport that prompted the design, which includes an 18-hole course, a clubhouse, a restaurant and a virtual driving range. She said that she and Ms. Milojevic see minigolf as “a good equalizer.” She said it would appeal to people who worked in the area as well as tourists just passing through.

“We thought, the young and the old, the bohemian and corporate — there are all sorts of people in that neighborhood,” she said. “With mini-golf, people can get competitive but don’t have to. It’s somewhat social, walking up and down 10 blocks while you’re doing it. We also wanted to incorporate a park-garden aspect so people can walk through without playing.”

She said there was an underlying business model, because an operator would be needed to run the course, and the design also provided for space that could be rented out. “We know how highly sought-after rentable venues are,” Ms. Schrank said. “For weddings and holiday parties, people look for unique venues, not ballrooms.”

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