Why not rebuild New York's Pennsylvania Station the way it was?

Michael Kimmelman describes the difference between Grand Central and Penn Stations:

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.

Vincent Scully described Penn Station earlier: “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat”

Penn StationNew York Historical Society/Public Domain

The loss of the old Pennsylvania Station, designed by McKim, Mead and White was a tragedy that actually became the start of the architectural preservation movement in North America. Now Richard Cameron and James Grimes of Atelier & Co. want to rebuild it from the original plans. According to Clem Labine in Traditional Building:

The Rebuild Penn Station plan has three major elements: (1) Reconstruct the grand spaces of the original Penn Station; (2) Create a modern transit hub that connects two subway lines, two commuter railroads, and Amtrak; (3) Redevelop the area in and around Penn Station to create a world-class urban destination – like Rockefeller Center. McKim had envisioned his splendid rail terminal as the centerpiece of a spectacular City Beautiful project – but he died before his full dream could be realized. “The time is right,” Cameron declares, “to complete McKim’s glorious urban vision.”

They project that it would be a whole lot cheaper and easier than doing a new modern building, because "architectural design development costs would be dramatically less than for a “blank slate” Modernist exercise in abstract geometry that is the current fashion." They note also that there is no fancy new engineering to be done, given that it's all been done before. And, the foundations are still there.

They don't say where you get the trades who still know how to do the stonework and the detail, but this is where it could get interesting; since all the original drawings still exist, they could be digitized and a lot of the detailed and complex traditional components could probably be 3D printed, using the newest of technologies to recreate the old.

Penn Station Lower LevelMcKim, Mead and White. Look at those glass floors over the platform./Public Domain

It would be a grand gesture; when Penn Station was destroyed it was a grimy mess after years of neglect, starved of maintenance by a bankrupt railway and governments who didn't care. As Ada Louise Huxtable wrote:

We are an impoverished society. It is a poor society indeed that can't pay for these amenities; that has no money for anything except expressways to rush people out of our dull and deteriorating cities.

It's time to bring people back, in style. There are those who might suggest that we don't need to turn back the clock, that it is a different world now with parametric design and swoopy Zaha and Frank and Santiago and Rem, but Clem notes "Manhattan is already jammed with Modernist glass-and-steel abstractions, so a great new classical Penn Station would not only be big news, but also an act of civic redemption."

Perhaps so. Found via Citylab, where Eric Jaffe notes that "They say you can't repeat the past, but when the past was as lovely as New York's original Penn Station, it's worth a shot."

interior of new penn station© Jason Grimes of Atelier & Co; these guys can draw.

Tags: Ban Demolition | New York City | Preservation

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