Four of the city's top architecture firms Wednesday morning unveiled design ideas for a new Penn Station—and a separate Madison Square Garden. [embedgallery id=159127]
The renderings are part of a design challenge put out by the Municipal Arts Society, which has joined with the Regional Plan Association to form the Alliance for a New Penn Station.
The firms, SHoP Architects, H3 Hardy Architecture, SOM, and Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, handpicked by MAS, had less than two months to come up with their designs, according to Vin Cipolla, MAS president.
"There are many great firms in the city," Cipolla said. "But these four in particular have worked in very, very complex urban contexts, and all four have experience with this particular part of Manhattan."
The architects behind the renderings presented today spoke excitedly about the prospect of redesigning the largest transit hub in North America.
"This is a once-in-a-century opportunity to right the wrong of what happened to Penn Station," said SHoP principal architect Gregg Pasquarelli, "to get Penn Station out from being a basement space and give it the kind of space and civic nature that is appropriate for the busiest train station in the United States."
SHoP's design is airy and bright, with soaring ceilings letting in natural light, quite the opposite of the current Penn Station. In their proposal, a hyper-modern, almost futuristic Madison Square Garden is moved over to the site of a mail storage facility a few blocks away—not the iconic 8th Avenue post office.
John Fontillas, a partner at H3, was most excited at the opportunity to ready Penn Station for the advent of high-speed rail—an inevitability, he said.
With Boston or D.C. 90 minutes away on high-speed rail, Fontillas said, "you could go to Boston, have a business meeting, and be back in time for dinner."
"It makes Penn Station the center not just of the city but of the entire east coast, the entire Northeast Corridor," he enthused.
"We're New Yorkers," said Fontillas. "Why do we have to settle for something that's second-rate, that's substandard?"
H3 envisions Madison Square Garden at a waterfront location near the Javits Center, capitalizing on the proximity to tourists and convention-goers and making "a new identity for the Garden."
Both Fontillas and Pasquarelli emphasized the economic benefit to the area.
"Yes, it would cost money, but the real estate value that you would unlock... would be immense to us," Fontillas said.
"The most sustainable thing you can do is not to hang solar panels all over your building or have hybrid cars, but to put [population] density next to mass transit," Pasquarelli explained. "The fact that you have a completely underbuilt area around the busiest transit station in the country in a travesty."
SHoP's design would ultimately pay for itself, Pasquarelli explained.
"Our project not only looks at making great and inspiring designs but also looks at how to pay for them by... unlocking the development rights which is not only a smart, sustainable, green objective," he said, "you can [also] use the tax dollars generated there to pay for the infrastructure of the station."
The plans are ambitious in their design, but also in their very existence—while the operating permit Madison Square Garden had for that location has expired, they are now applying for a permit that would allow them to remain above the train station permanently.
MAS and the architects behind these designs say that such a permit would kill any hopes of ever turning Penn Station into a 21st century train station.
The Alliance is pushing for MSG to receive a 10-year term permit, also recommended by Community Board 5, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and State Senator Brad Hoylman. They say this would give the Garden enough time to relocate and rebuild.
The City Planning Commission recently made a recommendation for a 15-year permit, which was at first encouraging to the Penn Station visionaries, until they discovered the recommendation contains a provision that would allow MSG to obtain an in perpetuity permit by striking a deal with the railroads that operate within Penn Station, requiring only the signoff of the planning department and no public review.
Cipolla dismissed resistance to a new Penn Station as cynical, and said the status quo is "completely unsustainable."
"We cannot go on with Penn Station in its existing condition," Cipolla said. "It's environmentally unsafe, way over capacity, and cannot meet the needs of a growing population."
Cipolla noted that while the arena has been in its current location for 50 years, this is far from its original location: the Garden was first at the site of its namesake park, and then was moved to 50th Street and 8th Avenue before relocating to sit above Penn Station.
He stressed that MAS and the architects care deeply about the future of the Garden as well as the train station.
"We all love Madison Square Garden and want there to be a world-class arena in Manhattan," he said. If the plan for a New Penn Station moved forward, and the Garden could be relocated and rebuilt, "Manhattan, like Brooklyn, would get a 21st-century arena."
The next step in the process will be a public hearing with the City Council in June, where the Alliance hopes to persuade the Council to vote for a 10-year permit when the vote comes around in July.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat