What’s now a Disney Land-like mix of big-brand stores like M&M’s and Hershey’s, the televised location for Good Morning America, and home to everyone’s favorite costumed characters, was once “the worst block in town.” During the 1970’s and 80’s, Times Square was filled with peep shows and porn theaters and riddled with crime. In 1984, in an effort to build taller and reduce crime while preserving the frantic energy and cultural heritage of the area, a design competition was organized by the Municipal Art Society and the National Endowment for the Arts. The debate among architects, developers, and preservationists came after plans were revealed for four skyscrapers near the intersection of 42nd Street, Broadway, and Seventh Avenue.
L: The design for Times Square that sparked the competition, courtesy of the Skyscraper Museum; R: The same view today
The ideas competition offered a $10,000 prize, which brought in over 565 submissions from architects around the world. Over 20 boards will be showcased in the new exhibition, displaying a range of these visions from postmodern literalism (a monumental “big apple” suspended above the street) to futurism (a totem pole bisected by a floating sphere). Reflecting on the display, the museum’s curators write, “With its costumed corporate towers and high-rise hotels, Times Square today–though constructed from the late 1990s–had its genetic code written in the 1980s.”
Carol Willis, the museum’s founder and director, and her team did not have such an easy time tracking down the 30-year-old designs. But after receiving an issue of the AIA’s architectural quarterly Oculus from one of the competition’s winners, they were able to locate many of the original 30×40″ boards.
The hustle and bustle of Times Square today
Though none of the proposals panned out, they sparked conversation about how to redevelop the storied area and undoubtedly influenced the eventual revitalization that took place in the 90’s. “Times Square, 1984: The Postmodern Moment” runs through January 18, so you have plenty of weeks left to travel back in time with the Skyscraper Museum. Get a preview of the proposals in our gallery below.
[Via Fast Co. Design]
Lead image: Eight entry boards for the Municipal Art Society competition courtesy of the Skyscaper Museum (Credits: William F Schacht & Cassandra Mcgowen, Richard Haas & Judith DiMaio, Gilbert Gorski, Frank Lupo & Daniel Rowen, Lee Dunnette, Jaime Gonzales-Goldstein & Martin Maurin, George Ranalli, Paul Bentel & Carol Rusche)
All gallery images courtesy of the Skyscraper Museum