When I first saw renderings of SOM’s proposal for Grand Central Station, I didn’t even bother to read about it. It looked… not that great. SOM (along with others) was asked to submit an architectural intervention for the area surrounding Grand Central Station. The folks funding this design work are hoping to generate the public support needed to have the area rezoned. This rezoning would allow greater density and taller towers, somehow preventing the area from becoming a soulless jumble of chain restaurants. So my initial disappointment with the proposal was due to the towers themselves: they are fine, but nothing more. The aren’t exciting, they’re boring. And what was this halo perched between them? It’s a pretty ostentatious connection for two unambitious towers. And doesn’t it just look like a clear version of that Olafur Eliasson museum extension in Denmark? But then I realized that the halo had an impressive trick: it moves.
Up and down, up and down, this urban-scaled doughnut is an elevator that climbs from the cornice of Grand Central to the… to the… top of the towers. Towers that I no longer even care about because that moving thing is too exciting. How awesome would it be to ride in this thing? Frightening, sure. But just pretend to be standing inside, watching the city sink below you as unprecedented mechanics pull you toward thinner air. I can imagine watching this precarious contraption from ground level in awe, and I can wonder how movies will use this spectacle as a setting for romance or crafty criminals. But this design work is not a design proposal. It’s supposed to help us imagine a new reality for the neighborhood around Grand Central station, sure– but I quit caring about the neighborhood around Grand Central Station the moment I found out this metal circle could lift folks away from it.
And that’s a larger problem. In trying to garner support for a rezoning effort, this proposal distracts from what’s really happening on the streets of the neighborhood. It’s exciting to imagine a novel attraction for the city, but if we’re trying to reinvigorate a small portion of that city’s urban fabric, it doesn’t help to shift focus toward a pie in the sky. Or here, a doughnut. I absolutely agree that this doughnut is “saccharine, overwhelming, and nutritionally suspect” even if I still fall into the trap of wanting it to happen immediately.