New Campaign Launched to Rebuild 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.

The National Civic Art Society is doing a major push with a new ad campaign, and have released glorious new renderings by Jeff Stikeman.


It's an exciting effort, but it's worth noting that architects will have a number of challenges to face when working with an old building like this Mead & White structure. For instance, 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

They might also consider building it out of wood;

wood computer

Computer 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.

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.