Pedestrian Donuts in the Sky?

Skidmore Owings & Merrill’s proposal for the new Grand Central Terminal, New York. Images courtesy SOM..

When New York’s Department of City Planning put forth a plan to rezone 78 blocks around Grand Central Terminal this summer, observers questioned whether the imminent arrival of gleaming towers and density would enhance the skyline at the expense of the layers of history of the neighborhoods or the area’s soul.

“Perhaps to palliate our worst Kafka-esque architectural nightmares,” writes Kelly Chan at ArtInfo, 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.”

Chan continues:

What began as a thoughtful though familiar meditation on connecting the city’s POPS (Privately Owned Public Spaces, which usually take the form of plazas and walkways that developers gift to the city in return for added building height) quickly escalated into an almost outlandishly dreamy proposal for what some are now calling ‘the London Eye turned on its side.’ [SOM NY Partner Roger] Duffy and his team’s suggestion to rezone and generate more POPS at the street level — an idea equipped with its own glittery renderings of avenue-like passageways cutting through corporate skyscrapers — was bumped up in altitude, culminating in a structure ripped from our wildest sci-fi fantasies: a slick, monumental halo, hovering over Grand Central Terminal, serving as a vertigo-inducing observation deck looking out onto Manhattan.

The renderings are amazing, to be sure.

But it also made me wonder about the goals of pedestrian projects like that. When we think about creating space for pedestrians, we tend to think about them in terms of building community and connecting people to the spaces they inhabit. If the objective is to create a dazzling attraction and resource for city-dwellers, this would more than suffice. Elevating and isolating pedestrians from the streets in a sterile enclosure, however, might not go too far in the way of saving the area’s soul.

Still, I can’t imagine not wanting to take leisurely stroll (or bike ride! yes, please!!) above Manhattan.

Your thoughts?

See the full piece here.


  • Davistrain

    Looks like a “What were they smoking?” concept.  I shudder to think of the logistics of building that “ringwalk”.  But  the idea of isolating pedestrians from the street is nothing new; I remember the building where my wife worked about 25 years ago.  There was a parking structure right behind it, and staff members could park on the same level as their
    offices, never setting foot at street level.  Occasionally, she would leave her car for maintenance at a service station near her home.  There was a bus stop nearby, and she could take the express bus to within a block of the office building.  That last block was the hard part, because there was a motley assortment of beggars, “winos and weirdos” that made for an unpleasant walking experience.  There was a discussion recently of the situation in San Francisco, which seems to have more than its share of “residentially challenged” denizens.  I suggested that maybe it was time to reopen what Tom Lehrer called the “State Home for the Bewildered” and bring back the “County Poor Farm”, but another commenter said, “Never happen–the Democrats will see civil rights issues and the Republicans won’t want to spend the money.” 

    Ideally, we should all be concerned about the conditions of our fellow human beings, but someone coined the phrase “compassion burnout” in kind hearted people who’ve been asked for help once too often.

    And regarding taking a bike ride on the “ringwalk”–bringing your bike onto a crowded elevator probably won’t win any popularity points.  “Hey lady, that thing belongs on the freight elevator!”  


  • PC

    The funniest thing about all of this inanity is that the people who conceive of it and the people who drool over it alike are convinced that they’re on some truly cutting-edge shit, when they’re actually nursing the worst sort of twentieth century hangover.

  • Gah! Do not want. 



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