Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Santiago Calatrava, SHoP Architects, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill—four busy firms—will have to find time during the next six weeks to brainstorm. The Municipal Art Society (MAS) has given them until May 29 to develop ideas for moving Madison Square Garden from its present site, directly above New York’s Pennsylvania Station. Transferring the Garden would allow the station—an underground warren designed for 120,000 passengers a day, but now serving more than five times that number—to be rebuilt as something less depressing, possibly even as grand as the station that was famously torn down in 1963.
The MAS competition comes at a fortuitous time. The City Planning Commission, chaired by Amanda Burden, is deciding whether to renew the permit that has allowed the Garden to operate above the station. Burden presided over a nearly five-hour hearing on April 10 at which citizens and planners practically begged the commission to limit the new permit to 10 years (or, as the AIA New York executive director Rick Bell put it, “10 years or less”), which would force the Garden to start looking for a new site. Among the planners who testified at the hearing was Vishaan Chakrabarti, the SHoP partner and Columbia professor, who told the commissioners that the decision they make about Penn Station may be the one future generations remember them for. Robert Yaro, chairman of the Regional Plan Association, argued that the commission might never get another chance to undo “the biggest planning mistake of last half century.”