Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as Architects

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) presented its vision for “Grand Central’s Next 100” yesterday at the Municipal Art Society of New York’s third annual Summit for New York City. Led by partners Roger Duffy, FAIA, and T.J. Gottesdiener, FAIA, SOM’s design transforms the public spaces around Grand Central Terminal, creating new pedestrian corridors for increased circulation and visualizing innovative options for new public amenities.

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) challenged SOM to re-think the public spaces in and around Grand Central Terminal in celebration of the landmark’s centennial. The design challenge coincides with a rezoning proposal from the New York City Department of City Planning, which, if approved, would allow the development of new office towers in the area around Grand Central, thereby increasing the density around the station exponentially. The proposed zoning would also require developers to donate to a fund that would make improvements to the infrastructure in the area, including additional access points to the subway platforms and a pedestrian mall on Vanderbilt Avenue. Along with Foster + Partners and WXY Architecture + Urban Design, SOM was one of three architecture firms invited by MAS to present ideas about the future of Grand Central Terminal’s public realm.

SOM’s vision proposes three solutions, all of which provide improvements – both quantitative and qualitative – to the quality of public space around the station. The first solution alleviates pedestrian congestion at street level by restructuring Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) to create pedestrian corridors through multiple city blocks, connecting Grand Central to nearby urban attractors. The second is a condensing of the public realm through the creation of additional levels of public space that exist both above and below the existing spaces. These new strata would be funded privately but under public ownership - Privately Funded Public Space (PFPS). The third proposal creates an active, 24-hour precinct around Grand Central Terminal in the form of an iconic circular pedestrian observation deck, suspended above Grand Central, which reveals a full, 360-degree panorama of the city. This grand public space moves vertically, bringing people from the cornice of Grand Central to the pinnacle of New York City’s skyline. It is a gesture at the scale of the city that acts both as a spectacular experience as well as an iconic landmark and a symbol of a 21st-century New York City.

“Throughout the history of New York City, urban growth has been matched by grand civic gestures,” says Roger Duffy, Design Partner of SOM. “This balance between growth and civic response can be seen in examples such as the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 which led to the gridded parceling of land, two zoning resolutions which recognized the potential for private development to shape the public realm and the creation of grand public place making such as Grand Central Terminal and the public parks of New York City. With the Department of City Planning’s proposed up-zoning of East Midtown and the anticipated completion of East Side Access in 2019, the city prepares itself for a new phase of urban growth. A consequence of this imminent growth in population density will be an increased demand for public space.”

WXY Architecture+Urban Design's vision for 'Grand Central's next 100'

WXY Architecture + Urban Design as Architects

WXY Architecture + Urban Design was one of three distinguished firms invited by New York City's Municipal Arts Society to create a vision for the future of the public areas around Grand Central Terminal and the surrounding East Midtown district. With deep experience in civic projects, the firm has proposed opening up more public space to city dwellers and visitors for enjoyment and reflection. The plan would also create inviting thoroughfares devoted to pedestrians and bicycle riders.

“New zoning rules should trigger real transportation links to public space. One way is to harness the untapped potential of Grand Central’s edges" says Claire Weisz, one of WXY's founding principals. "The plan for Midtown’s near future needs to make the Grand Central neighborhood a place people enjoy being in not just running through.”

WXY's proposal would create a striking new ground transportation hub, through the following interventions:

Transforming Vanderbilt Avenue into a pedestrian-only street, Creating new public spaces around the base of the MetLife building, Adapting the west side of the current Park Avenue Viaduct into an elevated pedestrian and bicycle path, with a glass floor and seasonal plantings, and Introducing a new tower, featuring "sky parks," on the west side of Grand Central Terminal. Focusing efforts along 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, the plan by WXY Architecture + Urban Design restores pedestrian-friendly amenities to what had been an automobile-centric urban layout. The pedestrian/auto hybrid strategy includes making Vanderbilt Avenue a pedestrian-only walkway. The west side of the Park Avenue viaduct would become an elevated promenade featuring tall grass plantings and glass paving -- a space for reflection hovering over the city bustle.

Combining walkable skylights with wide staircases and a multi-level approach, points of entry to the Grand Central area become unusual and gracious outdoor rooms that provide access and support to an expanded terminal city. Direct access to and links between the multiple subway and train lines -- including the new East Side Access/LIRR lines -- would be greatly expanded and improved.

Egress from the MetLife building's base would become visually striking and yet relaxing to use, with escalators transporting travelers into a cleared podium park. Some years after completion, visitors exiting via these escalators will have the experience of being greeted first by the park's grove of trees, a pleasant surprise in the Midtown East district. Surrounded by an active facade and a sky lobby above, the podium park presents an opportunity for a unique public event space.

WXY's plan also includes a proposed obelisk-shaped tower west of Grand Central Terminal. The tower's graceful, elongated pyramidal lines are broken at odd intervals by garden terraces that protrude like enormous window-box gardens, and feature seasonal plantings. The roof is likewise vegetated, reinforcing New York City's renewed commitment to finding and creating green spaces for the health and enjoyment of its citizens.

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