New York’s original Penn Station was an elegant Beaux Arts train shed with 150ft high ceilings and a majestic waiting room based on the Roman Baths of Caracalla. Sadly this erstwhile monument to transportation and civic pride was destroyed in 1968 and replaced with a lackluster facility that is little more than a dark labyrinthine catacomb.
Comparing the old and the new Penn Station, renowned Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully wrote: “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.” This feeling, shared by many New Yorkers, has led to movements for a new Penn Station. Recently the Municipal Arts Society (MAS) invited four of New York’s top firms to re-envision the transit hub in what is being billed as the “Design Challenge for a New Penn Station and Madison Square Garden”.
The four firms, SHoP, Santiago Calatrava, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and SOM will have until 29 May to complete the challenge at which time MAS will hold a public unveiling of the schemes at New York’s Time Warner Center. The challenge is particularly timely as Madison Square Garden’s (MSG) 50 year special permit to operate an arena on the site expired in December.
While MSG has applied to renew the permit in perpetuity, MAS is hoping to seize the opportunity to present a different future for the site noting that 'New York deserves a world class train station and a truly dynamic arena but if the City renews the permit in perpetuity New York City will have neither'.
MAS is working with the Regional Plan Association (RPA) to build a coalition, The Alliance for a New Penn Station, to advocate for the millions of people who use Penn Station and the economic potential of a new state of the art train station and arena.
Commenting on the unprecedented opportunity at hand to remake the station, NY Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman said: “The point isn’t deciding which possible site is right now. It’s knowing there are paths worth pursuing, and focusing the next decade on exploring them.” More information on the Penn Station Design Challenge can be found at the MAS’s web site at www.mas.org