Two of New York City’s most overburdened transportation facilities— Pennsylvania Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which together serve nearly a million passengers a day —could be dramatically upgraded or replaced if proposals developed by architectsand recently made public are adopted.
The problems of Penn Station are well known. On September 27, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a plan to move up to 20 percent of the station’s operations across Eighth Avenue, to a new facility in the renovated James A. Farley Post Office building. Designed by Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, it is expected to cost $1.6 billion and be completed in 2020.
But the arrangement of below-ground tracks means the large majority of commuters will continue to use the existing Penn Station, which will remain boxed in as long as Madison Square Garden sits above it. Happily, for commuters, the Garden’s operating permit expires in seven years. By not renewing the permit, the city could force the arena’s owners to pack up and build elsewhere, perhaps on the western half of the now-largely-empty Farley Building. That would allow light to again reach the tracks and platforms entombed 50 years ago by the existing Garden.
One dramatic way to make that happen would be to turn the Garden’s skeleton into a vast new skylight, a proposal by Vishaan Chakrabarti, a founder of Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU), which bears some resemblance to an “urban oasis” conceived by Columbia University preservation students in 2007. Chakrabarti said the way to create a station nearly as dramatic as the McKim, Mead &White building torn down in the 1960s “was hiding in plain sight.”
In graphics accompanying a September 30 article published last Sunday by New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, Chakrabarti demonstrated how the large, round room above the train tracks might look. He estimates that the new stripped down and converted structure would cost $1.5 billion. The cost of moving the Garden has been estimated at $1.5 billion as well.
Less than a mile away, the Port Authority bus terminal serves more than 200,000 daily commuters, three times as many as it was built for. Last March its owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, announced a competition for ideas for renovating or replacing the facility.
On September 22, the Authority released five shortlisted designs, which show a surprising amount of ingenuity. One, by the Hudson Terminal Center Collaborative (a team including SOM and AECOM), would move the entire station underground at its existing site, a plan it estimated would cost $15.3 billion. Another proposal, by Perkins Eastman, would relocate the station to the below-grade portions of the Jacob Javits Convention Center (at 34th Street and 11th Avenue), reducing bus traffic on midtown streets. Pelli Clark Pelli Architects, Archilier Architecture Consortium and Arcadis of New York had ideas for sleek, above-ground stations with price tags from $3.7 to $7 billion. Each team was paid $200,00 for its efforts. Which is some consolation. Because the same week the entries were made public, the Port Authority took the wind out of their sails by announcing a deal with Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) and other officials to plan its new bus terminal with greater community involvement. That appears to mean the Port Authority may need to start over.