Picture the city you think you know transformed by 200 years of imaginative plans that were never built. New York crowned by skyscrapers that defy all the principals of engineering, criss-crossed by freeways, intersected by more than twenty “skyscraper” bridges, and partially enclosed beneath a clear plastic geodesic dome.
That’s Never Built New York, a book and upcoming exhibition by Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell, authors of Never Built Los Angeles. Listen to our interview and check out some of their favorite discoveries, below.
1) Central Park
Replace Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s bucolic idyll with engineer John Rink calibrated, symmetrical, flattened formal gardens composed of topiaries patterned as stars and spirals and paisley flowers. Voila, Central Park.
2) Grand Central Terminal
Demolish Grand Central Terminal, same as they razed Penn Station, and install instead I.M. Pei’s Hyperboloid. The hourglass-shaped design, taller than the Empire State Building, was light years ahead of its time, incorporating a web-like steel exoskeleton to support open floors within.
3) Ellis Island
After the federal government decommissioned Ellis island in 1954, Frank Lloyd Wright devised a city-within-a-city called the Key Plan, consisting of stacked living spaces arranged around a large open plaza, surrounded by bubble-shaped buildings containing school, theaters, a planetarium, and much more.
5) Columbus Circle
In 1948 Polish émigré architect Matthew Nowicki — who before his tragic death in an airplane crash had been tapped to design Chandigarh in India — conceived an elevated linear accelerator-cum-shopping center for the impossible space of Columbus Circle. His promenade, lined by stores and cafés, would have been a sleek white 60-foot-wide saucer made of two loops.
6) Lincoln Center
Once Lincoln Square was settled on for the site of the city’s new cultural complex, Wallace K. Harrison, the lead designer of the United Nations, proposed over 50 designs for the Metropolitan Opera. Most of them featured experiments with sculptural concrete, one more dazzling than the next; officials chose the blandest one of all to be built.
6) Battery Park
Of the many unbuilt schemes dreamed up for New York, for sheer bravado, few match the Obelisk by the architect Eric Gugler, in 1929. At 800 feet, the “Gateway to America,” would have dwarfed the Washington Monument by 250 feet. From its observation deck, nearly 65 stories up, Brooklyn, Bayonne, Sandy Hook, Far Rockaway – the very curvature of the Earth – would have been within view.
7) Madison Square
Madison Square’s stately character would certainly have been stretched skyward if not for the Great Depression, which reduced the height of Harvey Wiley Corbett’s Metropolitan Life North Annex from over 100 stories to a scant 29. From Madison Square Park, look at the bulky stump and now add back in the missing 70-plus stories.