This 80-Story I.M. Pei-Designed Tower Almost Replaced Grand Central

November 16, 2015

The year was 1956. Plans to demolish Penn Station hadn’t yet been set into motion. But plans to demolish NYC’s other famous train station were well underway.

When Grand Central was constructed in 1913, its architects envisioned that it would one day be the base of a skyscraper, but in the early 1950s, developers hoped to demolish the terminal altogether to make way for what would have been the tallest building in the world. Famed architect I.M Pei was tasked with the job, and he designed an 80-story, hourglass-shaped, futuristic tower known as the Hyperboloid.

Hyperboloid, I.M. Pei, never-built NYC, Grand Central demolition
Google Earth rendering showing what the Hyperboloid would look like in the skyline, via CityRealty

Architectural Record says, “Its facade was crisscrossed by structural supports; overall the building resembled a bundle of sticks. At the base of Pei’s building, and again in its upper levels, the floors were left open and the structure was left exposed.” This was both a design aesthetic as well as security measure, as the tower would have been built to withstand nuclear bombs. Ultimately, stakeholders decided to forego Pei’s creation for a cheaper alternative, and in the 1960s they sold Grand Central’s air rights, which eventually led to the construction of the Pan Am Building (today Met Life) in 1963.

The video above was released in 2010 to mark Pei receiving the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects, animating digital renderings of the tower and how it would have surpassed the Empire State Building in height. It also features narration by Pei himself, discussing how he unsuccessfully tried to win Robert Moses over with his “aspirational” design and how he wishes he had been able to build the Hyperboloid.


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