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The Municipal Art Society unveiled design proposals from four celebrated New York architecture firms that took on the challenge of re-imagining  the future of Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.  Presentations by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Architecture, SHoP Architects and SOM took place yesterday morning at the Times Center and were followed by a discussion moderated by Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic of The New York Times.

SM_MAS1 copy Michael Kimmelman from The New York Times in conversation with the architects

The goal of the competition was to stimulate collective imagination to re-invision  the area. The future of Penn Station definitely needs some consideration. It is now the busiest transit hub in the western hemisphere. It was designed for 120,000 visitors per day but is now receiving five times that number. With the ongoing development of Hudson Yards and the potential expansion of Amtrak and NJ Transit into Midtown, the traffic at Penn Station will increase even more. It is a good time to reconsider the role the place will play in ten or fifteen years. Madison Square Garden’s fifty-year special permit expired and the City Council is discussing how long the next one should last. Change in the area is not an issue of if but when. 

H3 Hardy Collaboration new Penn Station rendering Untapped CitiesH3 Hardy’s rendering of the new Penn Station via Curbed

All four firms that participated in the challenge recognized that one can’t solve the problems of  Penn Station without boldly recalibrating the notions of its site and its role in the urban fabric. H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture proposed to move part of the complex (i.e. the new Madison Square Garden) to the waterfront at West 34th Street, create an elevated pedestrian promenade and a Pier park. An event hall and multiple skyscrapers with a mix of uses would bring economic and cultural vibrancy to the area.

Penn Station redesign proposal SOM Untapped CitiesRendering of SOM’s proposal for the new Penn Station

Skidmore, Owings & Merril called for a reconsideration of values which the station represents. SOM expanded the site to twice its current square footage, lifted the structure up and proposed an open green public space on the ground level.  The firm sees the new complex as a cultural destination as well as a point of access to fast speed train and subway systems.

Diller Scofidio Renfro new Penn Station design Untapped CitiesRendering of the new Penn Station by Diller Scoficio + Renfro via Curbed

Diller Scofidio and Renfro saw the new space a a civic anchor. Charles Renfro spoke about the symbolic and functional meaning of the station and Liz Diller elaborated on the implications of technological advancements for the organization of the space in the station. The architects of the High Line proposed a seamless integration of various information display systems and airy, layered and sponge-like infrastructure of the station.

SHoP Architects Penn Station rendering Untapped CitiesSHoP Architects’ rendinger of the new Penn Station

SHoP Architects, the firm behind the Domino Sugar Factory redesign, expanded the existing site with a lightweight concrete structure that pays homage to the Roman Order and the old Penn Station by McKim Mead and White. Inspired by the successful mix of uses at Grand Central Terminal, SHoP aimed to transform the station into a social destination, where people would meet for a coffee or a drink.
At the moment, New Yorkers have a tumultuous relationship with the station, which is overcrowded and confusing. There is no doubt that this will have to change, but as SHoP Architects noted “you’ll need a strong federal hand to do it.”

Penn_Station3Former Penn Station by McKim Mead and White, demolished in 1963

To stay informed on the ambitious vision to redesign the  station visit mas.org/new-penn-station. You can also read our Untapped Guide to Penn Station to learn about  some subtle reminders of the now lost Penn Station by McKim Mead and White. Get in touch with the author @tendrebarbare or contact us at info@untappedcities.com 

2 Comments

  1. Nick says:

    I like that SHoP is reaching back to a Roman design, but I’m skeptical that they will get the strong government support needed for the change any time soon. Good article; I’ll be interested to read more about how this project develops.

  2. B says:

    SHoP seems to be the only one that really understands and wants to confront the complexity of this vital urban connection point. SOM looks to bring a bit of Dubai to Manhattan. Though, if they are really interested in grand visions for transforming Penn Station and this area of Manhattan, they all fail miserably in bringing any new vision to urbanism theory and culture, and are all a rehash of the 90s renewal of glass boxes in the garden. Why were these obsolete firms consulted rather than newer firms entrenched in re-imagining the urban environment, who understand the need for greater urban space over glass sky-walks and underused crosswalks through lawn? This is truly an embarrassment and a great disservice to Manhattan and a bad precedent for the development of urban space in developing countries.

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