Before we talk about the future of Penn Station, we have to briefly consider its past. In 1963, the Penn Station above was demolished. This was after much protest by the architecture community and historic preservationists. The original 1910 structure by McKim, Mead and White exemplified Beaux-Arts architecture and it was razed to make way for the squat concrete cylinder that is Madison Square Garden. This week, the Municipal Art Society of New York released the results of their challenge to four teams of architects to imagine a new future for the site.
You can see the work of all four teams of architects here; but my favorite imagined future for the site is by the folks at SHoP. That’s because their proposal is able to create a space (or at least a rendering) that feels like it has a quality of space akin to the 1910 structure but in a very contemporary way. Light floods into the train station through the undulating roof above. And Madison Square Garden isn’t blocking the sun anymore because it has been moved by the architects down the street to live in the redeveloped Hudson Yards.
We all know that buildings have lifespans, but it’s kind of cruel when the first building on the site was better than its replacement. If the current iteration of Penn Station and Madison Square Garden are razed for any of the four futures proposed this week, would anyone be writing about the squat concrete cylinder in fifty years, lamenting its replacement. I think that all of proposals for the site look great, but maybe they just all look better than what’s there now. Still, I think the folks at SHoP have the best proposal. It could be the future of Penn Station, and sometime in the distant future it could also be replaced.