Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, an architect firm with offices here in New York, has proposed a futuristic-looking halo to be suspended between two buildings over Grand Central Station as part of an initiative to bring the travel hub back to its past glory.
A pedestrian halo suspended in the sky between two office towers. An elevated glass walkway with seasonal grasses. A pedestrian plaza with sidewalk cafes and retail. These are a few of the proposals by architects who want to transform Grand Central Terminal from a chaotic beehive back to its former glory as a stately entry point to the city for the many thousands of commuters and tourists who use it each day.
The Department of City Planning has proposed a rezoning of the area around Grand Central, including parts of Park and Madison avenues, to allow for a handful of new office towers. As part of the proposed rezoning, some developers would be required to donate to a fund to make infrastructure upgrades in the area, including building additional stairways to access the subway platforms in Grand Central and a pedestrian mall on Vanderbilt Avenue.
But some want to see more ambitious solutions to Grand Central’s pedestrian traffic jams, which are only expected to increase with the addition of more office space and new commuter access to the terminal by the Long Island Rail Road. “What’s in it for the public?” said Roger Duffy, a design partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, an architecture firm.
“Grand Central itself is our most beloved landmark. It’s the center of commercial New York. It’s also a neighborhood. But yet, the area over the years, it has become somewhat disconnected and a little lonely at times, particularly in the evening,” said Vin Cipolla, president of MAS.
The ideas from the architects have thus far found a receptive audience with the department. “I look forward to seeing the concepts that the MAS teams have put forward and to continuing conversations with the public about critical pedestrian and transit network improvements that can accompany future development in East Midtown,” City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden said in a statement.
The most visually striking proposal, designed by Skidmore Owings, is a halo suspended between two new office buildings that would move up and down. It would give visitors a view of the city from different heights, similar to the London Eye. The firm says it has consulted with engineers and the proposal is technically feasible, but the bigger challenge would be to ensure that the government and owners of potential new office towers could work together.
“That’s kind of radical. Currently there’s a divide between the public and private,” Mr. Duffy said. The firm of WXY Architecture created a design for an elevated pedestrian walkway on the current Park Avenue Viaduct with a glass bottom and seasonal plantings similar to the High Line. “Our strategy was the dream of the near-future being a lot better,” said Claire Weisz, a founding partner at WXY.
Foster + Partners, which designed the Hearst Tower near Columbus Circle, stuck to more incremental changes, such as creating a pedestrian plaza on Vanderbilt Avenue, increasing the heights of the pedestrian tunnels and creating more open, visible entrances to the terminal. “It’s one of the most wonderful civic spaces anywhere in the world,” said Brandon Haw, a senior partner. “Nonetheless, it is very difficult to navigate.”