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What it’ll take to revive Penn Station, according to Vishaan Chakrabarti and Michael Kimmelman

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Read what the men behind the idea to relocate Madison Square Garden had to say

It’s a well-known fact that the current Penn Station is one of New York City’s most hated buildings. Its neighbor, Madison Square Garden, fares rather poorly on most people’s lists as well, and we know this since you’ve told us how much you hate it in the past.

It doesn’t have to be that way for much longer (and by much longer think four or five years at least). Just over two weeks ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo formally unveiled plans for a massive revamp of the station, which would convert and incorporate the James A. Farley Post Office building into its design.

Since the redevelopment plans were first announced (through a request for proposals) this past January, there were rumors that Madison Square Garden might be relocated to make way for the revamped Penn Station. Cuomo essentially put those rumors to rest last month when he said he wasn’t interested in moving the arena.

Not everyone is on board with that plan, of course. Shortly after Cuomo formally unveiled plans, Practice for Architecture and Urbanism founder Vishaan Chakrabarti presented an alternate concept that would repurpose Madison Square Garden and incorporate it into the station.

The New York Times’s architecture critic Michael Kimmelman presented and analyzed these plans in the paper of record, and questioned whether Cuomo’s plan was doing enough. Other critics have questioned the same. We still have more questions though. Will developers Related, Vornado, and Skanska heed any of Chakrabarti’s plan? Is there anything redeemable about the current design of Penn Station?

We hosted a Twitter chat with Kimmelman and Chakrabarti to discuss many of these burning questions and more. Many of you chimed in with questions of your own. Chakrabarti details from where he drew his inspiration for repurposing MSG, and the architect and critic go on to describe what elements of the newly-proposed design are crucial for the developers to get right when remaking Penn Station, which qualities of Penn Station in its current state are worth salvaging, and more. Here’s what they had to say.

For Chakrabarti, the idea to move Madison Square Garden was always a logical one. A photo of the building’s original structure set off the realization that MSG sat right above the center of Penn Station, and if it were only relocated, the beautiful underlying structure could be revealed. But his envisioning of a relocated MSG isn’t purely for aesthetic purposes. Taking into account the faults of the original station’s design, Kimmelman and Chakrabarti think the move will help to avoid repeating those same mistakes over again.

When asked what developers need to get right in their remaking of Penn Station, Chakrabarti’s answer was simple: make a deal with MSG to have them move to the back of the James A. Farley Post Office building. Of course, this would require a lot of discussion of finances, but given Governor Cuomo’s opposition toward moving the arena, there’s other issues to tackle first.

But pretending that everyone involved was on board with the relocation plan, Chakrabarti highlights how the move would benefit Penn Station and the surrounding area, allowing it to function more in the way that Grand Central Station operates.

Kimmelman and Chakrabarti argue that the historical problem with revamping Penn Station is that earlier proposals have focused on redoing it purely as a vanity project. "The bottom line is that NYC and millions of lives depend on Gateway and a better Penn Station. Half-measures won't do," Kimmelman tweeted. Even the newly approved plans aren’t enough to rectify the woes faced by many who travel through the station.

Only through rebuilding, they conclude, can Penn Station be deservingly revived.

Catch up on the full chat on Twitter—@CurbedNY—#PennStation2020 to read everything Kimmelman and Chakrabarti had to say.

Madison Square Garden

4 Pennsylvania Plaza, Manhattan, NY 10001 (212) 465-6741 Visit Website

New York Penn Station

1 Penn Plz, New York, NY 10001 (212) 630-6401