Atlantic Cities

Times Square Redesign: Less Beach, More 'Blade Runner'

Times Square Redesign: Less Beach, More 'Blade Runner'
Courtesy NY DOT

Against all odds and legions of naysayers, Times Square has undergone a radical transformation in recent years: from a cacophony of cars, people, and neon to a cacophony of people, neon, and deck chairs. Somehow New York City’s ingenious park-ifying of Broadway worked, in spite of or perhaps because of, its relative lack of planning.

But if you, like legions of others, enjoyed the distinctly New York experience of “relaxing” with a cold drink in the midst of all that craziness, your somewhat al fresco-meets-expressway experience is about to change a bit. It appears the new “new” Times Square designed by Snøhetta will be more Blade Runner than beach park. Clearly paying heed to years of nostalgic reminiscing, Times Square’s legendary lasciviousness—especially after Disney set up shop on 42nd Street—the Norwegian firm went for something more well, if not R, at least PG-13. Quoted in DNAinfo, Snøhetta architect Craig Dykers mused, “There’s that film noir quality that some people have about Times Square… and the grittiness of the street is a part of it,” he said. “It’s not taking its cues from pretty little things in Europe or something. It’s kind of like the heart of New York City. It’s a heavy, muscular thing.”

Under the proposed $27 million design, the ground surface of the plazas is going dark, and somewhat industrial, featuring stainless steel “pucks” that Dykers explained are “very tiny, but have a great effect.” But that doesn’t mean they’re bringing back the vice of yore. Like the geometric benches that will replace those temporal deck chairs, many of Snøhetta's touches are elegant, and subtle solutions. Though talked about a whole lot less, what the Times Square project has really achieved are dramatic increases in pedestrian usage (and safety) and quite shockingly really, a radical economic turnaround: despite fears that banishing autos would kill business, it’s actually had the opposite effect. Businesses and stores have been filling up Times Square, catapulting it, as Streetsblog.org reports, to the second-most expensive retail area in the city.

Though they’re that rare breed of architecture firm right now that actually has a ton of interesting work (they’re working on a plethora of fascinating commissions from the 9/11 Memorial Museum to an Ocean Space Center in the ocean off of Norway), Snøhetta's renderings for the Times Square design feel a tad less adventurous, much more infrastructure-y than design-y. That no doubt reflects their given parameters as opposed to a lack of creative energies. A lot had to be taken care of here, much of it not so noticeable to passersby: the roadway will be rebuilt, underground utilities will be repaired, bike routes will be more clearly defined, and some benches will be installed. But with their quieter, angular interventions, Snøhetta rightly chose not to compete with the chaos of the Square, and instead seem to have employed subtle elements throughout to let it shine—and flicker and pulse and glow—in all its glory.

Allison Arieff is a contributing writer to The Atlantic Cities. She writes a column about design and architecture for The New York Times and is editorial director of SPUR. All posts »

Join the Discussion