Times Square is one big, incredible machine that has the sweet caress of capitalism to thank for its success as much as it does careful city planning. However, when the area was famously filthy in 1984, New York City contemplated a major intervention that would have changed the landscape of Midtown profoundly.
The intervention itself never quite panned out, but the proposed designs for a Times Square sure did say a lot about the state of architecture at the time. The Skyscraper Museum in downtown Manhattan is currently exhibiting a selection of the original designs, which range from Blade Runner-inspired futurescapes to tepid, postmodern pastiche. None of them really look like Times Square today, but that’s kind of the point.
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown
While it seemed like a good idea at the time, this bland, boxy approach would have turned Times Square into a supersized version of the generic skyscraper that dots America’s exurbs. And that apple.
This sort of Space Needle-inspired creation would have been great for New Year’s Eve celebrations. And that gondola-looking thing could be cool for tourists. Pretty much everything else about this design is just awful, though.
Now we’re talking. This thing looks like a spaceport that shoots holograms into the stars. And any design that mentions Indiana Jones clearly gets extra points.
Umm, is that a zeppelin? Is this a set drawing from the movie Metropolis? Have you ever seen Times Square look so clean and modern?
Seriously, though, this design is legitimately cool. Stein wanted to cover the original New York Times headquarters with lightbulbs that could display the face of old Broadway stars. Given the ubiquity of LED signs in Times Square today, the idea was oddly prescient.
William Schacht and Cassandra McGowen
This simple idea is essentially a more analogue version of Stein’s concept. Instead of a new incandescent façade, however, One Times Square would be restored and wrapped with the face of Lady Liberty. It’s perfect inoffensive but also not very transformative.
Frank Lupo and Daniel Rowen
I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here, but it looks expensive and very spacey.