Preservation unbound: Is a plan to re-build the original Penn Station a viable option?

Posted On Mon, November 20, 2017 By

Posted On Mon, November 20, 2017 By In Architecture, Midtown West, Transportation, Urban Design

Drawing of the original Penn Station, re-created. Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station

In August 6sqft reported that major work was underway in the $1.6 billion transformation of Penn Station’s James A. Farley Building into a state-of-the-art, 225,000-square-foot “world-class 21st century transportation hub” called Moynihan Train Hall. That hasn’t stopped the flow of suggestions for how to best make use of New Yorkers’ un-favorite transport hub, which have included Practice for Architecture and Urbanism founder Vishaan Chakrabarti’s proposal to repurpose, then move the old building to create a neighborhood gathering spot and a plan by Columbia University’s DeathLab  to turn the the station into a landscaped cemetery. Among those voices-with-a-vision is Rebuild Penn Station, a group of architects and preservationists whose intent is to recreate the original McKim, Mead and White-designed Penn Station, and a new ad campaign aims to get commuters on board (h/t Curbed).


Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station

Rebuild Penn Station is a project of the National Civic Art Society, spearheaded by Richard W. Cameron, principal designer at Atelier & Co., and an original founder of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. Sam Turvey, chair of the Rebuild Penn Station Steering Committee said “Today Penn Station is an ugly, cramped, and ineffective transit facility that is an embarrassment to the city and indeed all Americans. We propose rebuilding the station to bring back an architectural masterpiece, while simultaneously improving and updating the station’s functionality.” The group calls the original McKim, Mead & White-designed Penn Station, completed in 1910, “one of the finest buildings ever constructed. Its vast, travertine-clad main hall was cherished for the breathtaking scale of its Corinthian columns, semicircular Roman windows, and vaulted coffered ceiling.”


Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station


Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station

According to Rebuild Penn Station’s website FAQ, rebuilding the station would cost an estimated $3 billion to $3.5 billion, but, “Given its overwhelming attractiveness as a place to use and visit, the rebuilt station will pay for itself through the dramatic positive economic impact it will have on the neighborhood, city, and tri-state area. It will be a catalyst for economic development, and will make the region a more desirable place to live, work, and travel to.”


Ad for the Rebuild Penn Station campaign via Curbed.

With the new ad campaign, riders arriving by New Jersey Transit are now greeted at Penn Station with illustrations by Jeff Stikeman featuring drawings of the old Penn Station. And a leafletting campaign reaches out to Amtrak and LIRR riders asking them to dream of “Spaces to inspire,” and “Civilized arrivals.”

In making the case for resurrecting a design from a past era, the group says 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,” and that “Rebuilding it will right a historic wrong” citing a preservation precedent in Europe that has reconstructed monumental historic buildings like the 19th-century Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, which was torn down by Stalin.

Read more about the Rebuild Penn Station Master Plan here.

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Neighborhoods : Midtown West

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