This past summer, New York’s Department of City Planning put forth a plan to rezone 78 blocks of East Midtown centered around Grand Central Terminal, making room for a bevy of new towers from the projected next great Manhattan build-out. Pitched as a strategy to bolster New York amidst imminent international competition, the East Midtown Study inspired both the thrill and fear of large scale change: Could New York enhance its skyline and increase its density without losing its soul? Would Midtown become another run-of-the-mill central business district, a globalized landscape of glitzy, glass-skinned stalagmites crushing the layers of history below? Perhaps to palliate our worst Kafka-esque architectural nightmares, the city invited three renowned architecture firms, WXY Architecture + Urban Design, Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM), and Foster + Partners, to imagine “the next 100 years” of Grand Central Station (which is fast approaching its 100th birthday) and the surrounding Midtown cityscape.
Claire Weisz of WXY Architecture spoke of the Park Avenue viaduct and its potential for hybrid vehicle-pedestrian-cyclist circulations. Norman Foster of Foster + Partners highlighted the need for green space and the anticipation of new forms of transit. But by far the most striking proposal came from SOM. Despite the phlegmatic tone of SOM New York partner Roger Duffy, the hallowed firm’s scheme for a donut-shaped observation space suspended between skyscrapers captured the awe of the audience.