Last year, New York hosted a record 50 million tourists. Many gravitated toward the thriving logjam that is Times Square, where they collided with the 200,000 locals who toil away nearby. To alleviate that chaos, the area will undergo a $45 million, three-year face-lift beginning this fall. Craig Dykers—a partner in Snohetta, the Oslo- and New York-based architectural firm that's spearheading the effort—explains the changes.
1 ON SOLID GROUND
Plan: Wheelchair-accessible curb cutouts, and elevated dots to guide the visually impaired, will be made of stone.
Reason: "In old photos, we saw trolley tracks reflecting light off the marquees," says Dykers. "We thought, Instead of more electrics for light, let's use a reflective surface."
2 ALL OF THE LIGHTS
Plan: Tiny steel pucks will be embedded in the plaza surface to reflect neon from the billboards.
Reason: Historically both features were ceramic, which can crack. "Stone isn't cheap," says Dykers, "but we asked the city for a lot, and were given a lot."
3 TOURIST TRAPS
Plan: Benches will be in the center of the plaza, freeing the perimeter for foot traffic.
Reason: "The rest areas are like corrals," says Dykers, who studied how people navigate Times Square. "Tourists can gather in the middle while locals pass by outside."
4 RAIN, RAIN, GOES AWAY
Plan: The surface of the plaza will have micro-grades (subtle ridges) to disperse rainwater.
Reason: An old map showed a roughly 8-foot drop from 42nd Street to 46th," says Dykers. "That causes floods when there's rain, so we had to address drainage."
5 A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
Plan: Since Broadway is closed to cars, curbs along the avenue are vestigial. 2-inch concrete pavers on a 7-inch concrete slab will level off the plaza.
Reason: "Curbs make people think they're on the street. That changes how they move," says Dykers. "This ensures pedestrians don't feel like they're going to get hit by a car."
6 POWER STATIONS
Plan: Long benches of varying heights will contain hardwired electrical and broadcast signal outlets.
Reason: Whenever a big event is held, diesel generators have to be brought in. Permanent plugs connected to the power grid cut down on wires, while the benches provide comfortable seating. Says Dykers: "We're undoing 150 years of redundancy."
A version of this article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.