New campaign launched to rebuild Penn Station

Exterior Penn Station
© Rebuilt Seventh Avenue portico. (Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station.)

New building technologies might make it cheaper and faster, too.

Anyone who has been to Penn Station in New York City knows it to be a horrible place. In 1963 they basically lopped off everything above grade and left the basement. Comparing it to what was lost, historian Vincent Scully wrote: “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.” Critic Michael Kimmelman wrote:

To pass through Grand Central Terminal, one of New York’s exalted public spaces, is an ennobling experience, a gift. To commute via the bowels of Penn Station, just a few blocks away, is a humiliation. What is the value of architecture? It can be measured, culturally, humanely and historically, in the gulf between these two place.

TreeHugger has previously covered the campaign by the National Civic Art Society and others to rebuild the original McKim Mead and White building as a new transit hub. Now they are doing a major push with a new ad campaign, and have released glorious new renderings by Jeff Stikeman.

When TreeHugger first wrote about this, commenters noted that it would be hard to do, and it would face all the challenges that architects today face when working with old buildings.

Concourse© Rebuilt concourse with widened platforms and tripled escalators. (Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station.)

There are myriad details. For example, rivets are no longer used in steelwork, but are a key to the texture of old steelwork. Do you fake them and have someone call them Disney rivets? Or do you go through the effort of fabricating with real ones?

There is a lot of steel and glass in that concourse roof. Are there still people who can do this kind of work?

3D printed Bridge© MX3D

Perhaps this project could be a great demonstration of how to use the latest technologies to replicate the oldest technologies. The complex details could be 3D printed; look at the complexity of the MX3D bridge designed by Joris Laarman Lab, being printed in Amsterdam. The Penn Station steelwork might be a modern interpretation, rather than a strictly literal rebuild.

rebuilt main hall© Rebuilt, improved main hall. (Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station.)

They might also consider building it out of wood;

wood computerComputer driven wood carving/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

There are computer-driven tools that can shape it into anything. The entire main hall could be a wood replica. The team working on the project gets this, that technologies and materials have changed:

It is also important to note that construction technology has also become far more efficient since the construction of McKim’s station. For instance, the columns in the rebuilt station will be cut by CNC (computer numerical control) machines before being hand-finished. Also, modern panelization technology will allow the station to be built with just one-fifth of the original stone.

carriageway© New covered arcades and pedestrian ramps on 31st and 33rd Streets. (Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station.)

Even though I am a big supporter of historic preservation, I am usually not a fan of historic reconstruction. But this might be a special case; it was a very special building and its demolition was a huge mistake. When asked why we should rebuild an old design instead of hiring the best of today's architects to do a new one, the Rebuild Penn Station people note:

The original Penn Station was built not just for its time, but for all time. Like other great works of art such as Van Gogh’s The Starry Night or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, it was a masterpiece of its kind that cannot be surpassed. There is widespread agreement that demolishing the station was an enormous blunder. Rebuilding it will right a historic wrong, connect us to the best of our past, and provide millions of visitors and travelers with magnificent architectural experience for generations to come.

And when you think that a little reconstructed and restored Leonardo da Vinci painting just sold for $430 million, then $3.5 billion to reconstruct and restore the entire Penn Station sounds positively cheap. Learn more and support the Rebuild Penn Station campaign.

New campaign launched to rebuild Penn Station
New building technologies might make it cheaper and faster, too.

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