Architecture review: The $40M project that is taking Times Square out of commission

The remaking — or is it just repaving? — of the Crossroads of the World

Rendering of Times Square project (Snohetta)
Rendering of Times Square project (Snohetta)

For the next three years or so (assuming, as we should not, that things go according to schedule) the fabled Crossroads of the World, Times Square, will go through the usual hell on earth that is construction in Manhattan. The entire place, from 42nd street to 47th, including Broadway and Seventh Avenue, will be torn up and repaved, at a cost of $40 million, according to the vanguardist whims of Snohetta, the Norwegian architectural firm responsible for the 9/11 Museum at the World Trade Center Site. Although, I confess, it is beyond me why what looks to be essentially a repaving job should take three years, into 2015, apparently there will be certain infrastructural changes that go along with it, including the removal of trolley tracks that now lie buried under the asphalt of Times Square. Some of the changes include the introduction of energy outlets that will remove the need for those annoying generators that invariably accompany the big events that increasingly occupy the site.

As for the design itself, its deconstructivist idiom is undoubtedly of the moment, but I fear that by the time the project is completed, it may no longer be of the moment. Its polemically flat expanse of two-tone pavers seems to bespeak a cool severity, a Lutheran rectitude that I somehow associate with Scandinavia. This severity extends to the stone benches and unadorned street lamps, as well as the complete removal of anything as green or life-affirming as a plant or tree. I also fear that that severity will seem out of place amid the garish, gushing excess that Times Square has come to mean for millions of tourists to the city. Surely it will not play well with any of the shops that can now be seen along this stretch of Manhattan.

As for the amount of time it may take, I would remind readers that three years is a not inconsiderable portion of a human life. And when you add to that the three years needlessly expended, because of delays, to create the new and otherwise successful TKTS both in Times Square (which made much of the place impassible for that length of time) you have before you over half of a decade in which the Crossroads of the World will have looked like a war zone.

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Granted something needs to be done on the site in order that it not look thrown together and provisional, as is the case today. Granted the whole evolution of Times Square has made for a far better urban space than what it has replaced. But the price in essentially removing this iconic destination from daily relevance for so long a stretch of time may be far more to pay than the project is ultimately worth.

James Gardner is The Real Deal’s architecture critic.