New York's Grand Central Station is one of the city's most iconic buildings, completed in 1913 and given landmark status in 1968. According to Travel + Leisure magazine it's also "the world's number six most visited tourist attraction." It will turn 100-years-old in 2013, and to mark the occasion, the Municipal Art Society challenged three architects—Foster + Partners, WXY Architecture + Urban Design, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM)--to reimagine the public spaces in and around Grand Central. After all, most successful icons are in a constant state of reinvention (Madonna, anyone?) so it makes sense for the Terminal to follow suit.
The call for submissions for The Next 100 also came in response to new zoning laws that could change the landscape of midtown Manhattan dramatically. Already, taller, and more ambitious buildings are being planned and constructed for the area, promising to alter the city's skyline significantly. But the zoning is an opportunity for Grand Central, with more freedom to transform the building and its surrounding areas to make the space more livable.
We were most excited by SOM's vision for the station's next 100 years. They propose three solutions to improve the space. The first idea alleviates pedestrian congestion on the street level by restructuring Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) to create pedestrian corridors through multiple city blocks and connecting Grand Central to nearby urban attractors.
The second, as outlined in their press release, is "a condensing of the public realm through the creation of additional levels of public space that exist both above and below the existing spaces. These new strata would be funded privately but under public ownership—Privately Funded Public Space (PFPS)."
Anyone afraid of heights beware: The third proposal—our favorite—creates an active, "24-hour precinct around Grand Central Terminal in the form of an iconic circular pedestrian observation deck, suspended above Grand Central, and gives visitors a 360-degree panorama of the city." And if that weren't enough, the deck moves up and down vertically, "bringing people from the cornice of Grand Central to the pinnacle of New York City’s skyline."
Most people coming to Grand Central do so in a rush to catch a train, often just on their way in—or out—of the beautiful building. This three-fold proposal gives visitors a reason to stay a while, slow down, and enjoy the scenery. From what we've already seen with projects like The High Line, whose architecture offers little more than a beautiful place to stroll with spectacular views of the city below, the most successful structures of the future will serve as a beacon for community and engagement and encourage us to take a break from the hustle and bustle.
To punctuate their concept, the architects have even offered a view of what the reinvented landmark would look like if flying overhead. Nothing says icon like a landmark the captain can point out from the cockpit.
Photos courtesy of SOM and SOM/Crystal