Few would argue that Manhattan’s Penn Station is anything but a big fat architectural goiter. Yet it wasn’t always that way: The old Penn Station, demolished in the 1960s, was one of New York’s crown jewels. Now, Richard Cameron and James Grimes of Brooklyn’s Atelier & Co. design firm want to bring back the original Charles Foster McKim-designed Penn Station, which opened in 1910. It might be impossible, but at the very least, they have a plan.
The modern Penn Station is a depressing monstrosity, confusing to navigate, weirdly dirty and humid, and almost entirely underground. Seeing it, it’s hard to believe that Penn Station used to be beautiful. But it was–a masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style. “…[U]ntil the first blown fell, no one was convinced … that New York would permit this monumental act of vandalism against one of the largest and finest landmarks of its age of Roman elegance,” the New York Times wrote in 1963, as it was destroyed. In the words of architectural historian Vincent Scully, formerly “one entered the city like a god.” Now, “one scuttles in like a rat.”
Atelier & Co.’s plan is laid out in a feature published in the April issue of Traditional Building magazine. Describing the post-1963 iteration of Penn Station as “one of the greatest civic blunders ever committed,” Atelier & Co. wants to demolish the “depressing warren of gloomy passages” and replace it with the Corinthian columns, vaulted ceilings, and marble floors of the magnificent original design. The New York Historical Society still has 353 original drawings of the design, as well as countless pictures of what it looked like inside, that the architects could use for reference.
In Atelier & Co.’s plan, the area surrounding Penn Station would get a facelift, too. McKim’s original vision was for Penn Station to be like Rockefeller Center: a world-class destination that would stand as the centerpiece of New York’s own version of the City Beautiful movement. Atelier & Co. imagine “creating a great urban outdoor room on the northside of the station” that would turn the surrounding area into a “beautiful urban ensemble.” Oh, and Madison Square Garden, the sports arena built right on top of Penn Station, would have to go, too.
According to Atelier & Co., the new Penn Station would largely devote itself to the needs of local commuters, either riding the subway, or taking the New Jersey Transit and Long Island Railroad. They estimate the effort would cost $2.5 billion. A steep budget, to be sure, but in the grand scheme of things, isn’t that a small price to pay to transform 600,000 passengers a day from rats back into gods?
(via City Lab)