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I.M. Pei's Circular Tower That Almost Replaced Grand Central

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Welcome back to Curbed's Could Have Been, where we investigate some of the most outlandish proposals and grandiose buildings that were never built. Know of a plan that never saw the light of day? Send it to the tipline.

New Yorkers lament the loss of the original Penn Station to the monstrosity that is Madison Square Garden, but what if the city had lost its other magnificent train station, too? Before Penn Station was knocked down, the city considered demolishing Grand Central to build a soaring office tower that would reach higher than the Empire State Building. In 1956, I.M. Pei proposed the Hyperboloid, a 102-story, circular tower with an hourglass profile that would have been the tallest structure in the world. Architectural Record said it "resembled a bundle of sticks," as the steel supports criss-crossed up the facade; Pei designed it so it would resist nuclear bombs. Many critics consider the Hyperboloid to be Pei's greatest work, and to this day, Pei regrets that it was never built.

[A video rendering of the Hyperboloid by Crystal CG International]

According to the book Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark, the Hyperboloid died largely because of "internal business reasons." There was a lot of outcry against the destruction of the terminal, but what really doomed Pei's plan was a cheaper, more modest proposal?one of Grand Central's co-owners, the New Haven Railroad, suggested a less grand and less expensive 50-story tower be built. That proposal went no where and the terminal was landmarked before it could be knocked down. The railroads ultimately built a completely different tower beside the terminal to the north: the hulking Pan Am (now MetLife) building, which opened in 1963.

Most New Yorkers hate the Met Life building, but would Pei's cylindrical edifice been a better option? It's hard to imagine New York without Grand Central, but given the current drive to build more skyscrapers in Midtown East, it's interesting to think about how Pei's Hyperboloid could have changed the fabric of the neighborhood.
· Curbed's Could Have Been archives [Curbed]