4 Major NYC Architects Vie to Design the Penn Station of the Future

Skidmore, Ownings & Merril (One World Trade)

New Yorkers have long bemoaned the "new" Penn Station—a cramped, confusing structure that replaced Mead & White's handsome Beaux-Arts building after its demolition in 1963. In addition to being dark and dysfunctional, the station's lack of practical operational and security facilities to service the 300,000-some commuters that pass through its tortuously unintuitive tunnels has been a continual source of complaint. But at long last progress is being made toward supplying New York with a port of entry befitting the largest metropolitan area in the United States.

First, some context: This year, Madison Square Garden's 50-year permit—which has, until now, largely stood in the way of Penn adapting to the city's population increase—is set to expire, leaving the city council to determine whether the permit be renewed in perpetuity or simply extended.


SHoP Architects (Barclays Center)

The Municipal Art Society seized the permit proceedings as an opportunity to reimagine the station from the ground up. Four of New York's leading firms—Diller Scofidio + Renfro (The High Line), H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture (New York Botanical Garden), SHoP Architects (Barclays Center), and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (One World Trade)—were invited to reconceive Penn as a modern transportation complex. Now, the fruits of their efforts will be presented before the New York City council.

Many of the proposed designs—like the one from H3 Hardy, which relocates the entirety of the complex to the 34th Street waterfront—reinforce current trends in public architecture with pedestrian-friendly features like an elevated bike promenade and a 16-acre outdoor park (an extension of the High Line). The grandiose design from SOM, which extends the site by two city blocks, includes a public garden four times the size of Bryant Park.


Diller Scofido + Renfro (The High Line)

Other plans highlight amenities and luxury services over public-gathering space. Hidden in the ultra-modern proposal from Diller Scofidio & Renfro—a dizzying tangle of sinewy escalators and glass mezzanines that seem to defy the laws of gravity (and possibly good taste)—are retail spaces for spas, restaurants, and movie theaters.


H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture (New York Bontanical Garden)

The interior of ShoP's proposal is, perhaps, the most discreet of the bunch, oriented around a sun-drenched grand hall—a kind of modern retooling of Grand Central's Main Concourse with a concrete grid ceiling that allows shafts of light to penetrate the space. You wouldn't know it from the exterior, however. Street-side, you'll find an opus of candy-colored neon lights, sliding signs, and swooping curves not unlike the entry to Barclays.

As with any large-scale public-construction project, proposals are often more fantastic than the finished product, and none of the plans will be seriously considered until the council comes to a final decision about the Garden's permit status. Until then, you can enjoy the view from the current Amtrak lounge—that is, giant slabs of concrete dappled with exasperated out-of-towners perched atop their luggage.

Blair Pfander. Follow her at @blairpfander.

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Photos courtesy of Skidmore, Ownings & Merril; SHoP Architects; Diller Scofideo + Renfro; and H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture
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