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A People-First Design for the Most Crowded Square in the World

Posted September 26, 2014

As a media consuming citizen of New York, one becomes accustomed to the bombardment of proposals to add to or take away from the built environment. Just yesterday, a real estate developer proposed planning a skyway over the East River, connecting two ultra-hip neighborhoods, the Lower East Side and Williamsburg. These cable cars gone fancy may never come to pass, but they do add to the volumes of sketched improvements to New York.

The onslaught of proposals to manipulate the city’s public spaces do contribute to the dynamism that makes NYC an incomparable place. That positive aside, it is a rare that the proposals will actually add needed value to our city. Gondolas are expendable. But the architecture firm Snøhetta recently finished a commission to redesign the plaza at Times Square that may change it from the most crowded place nobody goes to, to a revamped location that can actually accommodate people.

Invited by New York Department of Design and Construction, the architects have proposed a decongestion of the clogged square. They worked on the area from 42nd Street to 47th, in the bow-tie of public spaces that criss-cross the busy intersection of 7th Avenue and Broadway. They started by opening and expanding the public space of the public space. Their idea morphs the area from a dangerous, claustrophobic series of pedestrian passages, to a repaved, lengthy plaza. Their purpose was to redesign it for people. The design puts the square back into Times Square.

A highlight of the design is the use of concrete pavers with inlaid stainless steel pucks. These pucks will reflect the light that comes from the high-rising LED signs of the square. (Two of the LED signs, and one of the those the largest, were designed by ESI Design.) The reflection from the ground will create a visual, magical effect, but will also unify the area, giving it a complete character.

The best part of this design is not in the design. It is the focus of the design. This is not a standard architectural project that purports to put a new form into space. This project focuses on the human experience. Either as a spectacle from several blocks away, or immersed in the center of the experience, this redesign of Times Square puts its intended user firmly in the center of the design.

Snøhetta has even designed ten granite benches that will complete the public space with sitting space. As anyone who has been to Times Square knows, stopping and looking around is one of the hardest parts. Now all we need to do is figure out what to do with the Naked Cowboy and all those cartoons and comic book characters running around. But we’ll save that for later.

Read more in Metropolis Magazine and on Snøhetta‘s website.

Ian Lewis Campbell

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