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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.
The goal of the competition was to stimulate collective imagination to re-invision  the area. 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. Skidmore, Owings & Merril called for a reconsideration of values which the station represents. 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. At the moment, New Yorkers have a tumultuous relationship with the station, which is overcrowded and confusing.
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.

SHoP seems to be the only one that really understands and wants to confront the complexity of this vital urban connection point. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. An event hall and multiple skyscrapers with a mix of uses would bring economic and cultural vibrancy to the area.

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? 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.
This is truly an embarrassment and a great disservice to Manhattan and a bad precedent for the development of urban space in developing countries. Madison Square Garden’s fifty-year special permit expired and the City Council is discussing how long the next one should last.

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