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‘Never Built New York’ exposes visitors to unrealized architecture


During the course of its near 400-year history, New York City has grown by leaps and bounds. With this trend showing absolutely no signs of ever slowing down, the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows Corona Park has opened a new exhibit dedicated to the many ideas that never left the drawing board titled “Never Built New York.”

Partially funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, this exhibit presents to visitors all types of schemes for cancelled skyscrapers, bridges and other more outlandish proposals that seem more from science fiction than from city proposals.

The exhibition is broken into three sections, each taking up an entire gallery of the museum. The first part, housed in the Rubin Gallery, focuses primarily on Manhattan and mostly on transportation. As congestion and traffic reached a breaking point at the turn of the 20th century, the desperate search for a solution began.

While this obviously manifested into the city’s current subway system, various other proposals were thrown around at that time.

Many of the potential transit systems that were featured all revolved around a pneumatic system that even today seems ahead of its time.

Even with the final design for the subway, there was also a map for a massive expansion project that would have seen the trains go to areas that are currently way out of reach from the subway like Bayside, Queens and Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn.

The exhibit took on a briefly somber note when the World Trade Center was discussed. Not only were the scrapped proposals from the post-9/11 architecture competition featured, but so were various concepts for the original site when it was being planned in the 1960s.

A handful of the projects featured in the room were actually built, but went through radical changes in design and purpose.

One example is Rockefeller Center. Originally, the centerpiece of the site was intended to be a new home for the Metropolitan Opera. But the devastating stock market crash of 1929 caused John D. Rockefeller Jr. to repurpose the site as a complex of commercial buildings, replacing the opera house with the 75-story skyscraper that dominates the site.

Another example was with Central Park. Aside from renderings of planned layouts and grand entrances provided by the New York Historical Society, there were also abandoned concepts to make the park look more like a forested grand avenue, along the lines of the National Mall in Washington D.C.

The second portion, named “Panorama of the City of New York,” utilizes the 9,335 square foot centerpiece of the entire museum. While the model itself was largely untouched, the museum added glowing plastic molds throughout various spots on the model to illustrate where several of these proposed structures would have been built.

Several of the proposals featured in the panorama are long familiar to New Yorkers, including West Side Stadium, an attempt by the city to bring the New York Jets back to the five boroughs.

Another proposal featured is I.M. Pei’s infamous plan to replace Grand Central Terminal with a 108-story office tower that, at the time, would have been the tallest structure in the world.

Some of the most surreal concepts in the whole exhibition are featured in this room. Alongside the Hudson River, plans for a mammoth elevated airport stretching from 34th Street to 59th Street take up a huge portion of the miniature Manhattan.

Another bizarre idea spanned across the Hudson. Looking to solve both the congestion and housing crises that plagued the city in the 1930s, architect Raymond Hood created several renderings for a proposed bridge to New Jersey that had several large residential and commercial buildings placed on top of its span.

While the Great Depression made those plans completely unbuildable, it is a scheme that has surprisingly not been attempted again in the 21st century.

Finally, in the sunlight bathed atrium stands a section dedicated specifically for the planned but never built concepts for Flushing Meadows, concluding the exhibition with a more local perspective.

In the center of the atrium is a strangely shaped bouncy house. This design is actually inspired by a planned but never built structure for Westinghouse’s pavilion at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair.

The original headquarters for the United Nations was in the building that currently houses the Queens Museum.

In the process of creating a permanent home for the organization, several concepts for a facility in Queens were thrown around before the decision was made to move to Manhattan.

Flushing Meadows is known for its sporting facilities, and featured here are two potential professional sports stadiums that would have been built in park borders.

The first was a fairly recent proposal for a permanent home for the New York Football Club which would have been built alongside the northern edge of the park, and the other was a massive enclosed stadium where Citi Field is currently located.

With a total capacity of 160,000, it would have been the largest major league stadium in the city’s history.

Finally, there were a couple of rejected schemes for the museum’s lengthy renovation to round off the entire exhibition.

While the concept and execution of the whole display are very well done, the only real drawback is the lack of focus toward Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island. While those boroughs are featured in spades, they are not given as big a focus as Manhattan and Flushing Meadows.

But as it is, “Never Built New York” is definitely worth checking out, both for art lovers and history buffs.

The display runs through Feb. 18, 2018. There is also a companion book by co-curators Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell, featuring even more concepts that were not featured in the exhibition.

Regular arrests and scandals undermine CUNY's reputation

The Meadows