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This plan to redesign Penn Station would turn MSG into a giant glass box

Written by
Howard Halle

Though the original Penn Station built in 1910 was demolished a half century ago, New Yorkers are still dealing with fallout from what was undoubtedly one of the greatest defilements of the urban landscape in New York history. In place of the grand Beaux-Arts masterpiece designed by McKim, Mead & White, the city erected a brutalist donut to house Madison Square Garden, while reducing the train station itself to an unsightly, low-ceilinged labyrinth of poorly marked corridors, chain stores and fast-food joints.

It’s no wonder that for years now, plans have been bruited about to rectify the situation, mostly in the form of transforming the James A. Farley Post Office Building along Eighth Avenue across from the Garden into an Amtrak station that would recapture some of the grandeur lost by the needles destruction of 50 years ago. Last week, New Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the latest set of proposals for the Farley, which would include platforms of the Long Island Railroad as well as Amtrak. While it sounds great, architect Vishaan Chakrabarti (formerly of SHoP architects, the designers behind the Barclay Center and Brooklyn’s tallest building ever) thinks he has a better solution: Leaving the LIRR where it is while moving the Garden across the street to the Farley.

In an article for The New York Times (prefaced by Architecture critic Michael Kimmelman), Chakrabarti lays out the details for his plan, including its centerpiece: A pavilion created by tearing out the interior of Madison Square, stripping the building down to its steel frame and replacing its ugly concrete facade with glass. Furthermore, the the current ceilings above the platforms would be removed, allowing light to pour onto them. There would be no doors in and out of the place; instead, the bottom story of the curving glass curtain wall would be open to elements, while the building itself would be heated and cooled using passive energy.

Chakrabarti claims his plan would be easier to do than extending tracks under the Farley to accommodate the LIRR, and that the total price tag for repurposing the old Garden and opening a new one in the Farley would cost around $3 billion dollars. Compared to the cost of the Santiago Calatrava Transit Hub downtown, that’s a bargain—and it would used by way more people, too.

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