“If you can design one thing…”

“…you can design everything.” ― Massimo Vignelli


If there were any concerns that New York City, the self-appointed capital of the world, was becoming complacent and erecting too many, cookie-cutter towers, two recent developments should end that.  The first, which we discussed on the page for architecture, was the design plans for Hudson Yards, an area on Manhattan’s west side.  The second, and no less noteworthy, is BIG / Bjarke Ingells’s VIA 57 West, a building which combines the Scandinavian practice of shared urban spaces with American bravado of pushing the limits on what a skyscraper can achieve.  Residents enjoy enviable views and a lush garden in the middle of the epitome of the urban jungle.

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Manhattan’s new Fulton Center Station…

…due to open next year, is a tremendous construction project intended to improve service / connections involving close to a dozen subway lines, the Fulton, Park Place and World Trade Center stations, and PATH.  While the efficiency will be appreciated by New Yorkers, it’s the station itself which has art and architecture fans around the world watching. Designed by James Carpenter, the station’s signature architectural element is the soaring “Sky Reflector Net” which allows natural light to pour into the station and with its reflective surface literally fill the various corridors and levels with its ambient light.

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© 2013 commons.wikimedia.org

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM)…

…one of the largest architectural and engineering firms in the world, made its mark with beautiful, impeccably designed and minimalist commercial glass towers (believe it or not, they’re not mutually exclusive.)  The nearly 80 year-old firm’s Lever House in New York City, for example, is still considered a landmark achievement in the then-innovative concept of the “curtain wall” when it was constructed over 50 years ago.

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© 2013 SOM

The firm has taken on the holy grail of all projects when it submitted a design for the re-imagined Madison Square Garden & Penn Station complex in the heart of Manhattan.  Long considered one of the world’s premier sports and concert venues, the Garden–as its commonly known–is also derided as one of the ugliest buildings in North America, a reputation, despite numerous attempts at expansion and renovations, it has never escaped.  Its made even more obvious by its mere presence in a city known for the most recognizable skyline on the planet. The adjacent Penn Station, one of the busiest transportation hubs in America, has a reputation hardly any better than the Garden’s.

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© 2013 SOM

New York’s Senator Patrick Moynihan was the city’s greatest champion for a new, accessible Penn Station which was not only to serve local trains and Amtrak but was to strive for an ideal where public transportation, and the buildings which provide it, exist for a greater common good–an almost utopian view, if you will, of urban planning.  Sadly, the Senator’s passing in 2001 meant he never saw this lofty dream fulfilled.

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© 2013 SOM

Plans may be rapidly moving forward, however, and the Senator’s dreams finally realized with SOM’s plans. Their trademark glass facades, and multiple platforms, allow for an almost unfathomable space where patrons have nearly unobstructed views of everything else taking place around them. Their design may be much more futuristic than, say, Grand Central Station’s layout, but the intent is the same. For the self-proclaimed Capital of the World, nothing less than a spectacular, mind-bending space is acceptable and SOM may have just pulled that off.