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2016's most outrageous NYC design proposals, from an East River gondola to a revamped Penn Station

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Architects and planners came up with creative (if impractical) solutions to all manner of civic issues this year

Courtesy of AECOM

It's time to make up a bunch of awards and hand them out to the most deserving people, places and things in the real estate, architecture and neighborhood universes of New York City! Yep, it's time for the 13th Annual Curbed Awards! Up now: the wackiest design proposals we saw this year.

With massive new projects announced seemingly every other day, space in New York—particularly in Manhattan—is growing ever smaller. But that hasn’t stopped intrepid planners from coming up with hare-brained schemes for new civic projects; in fact, some of the most outrageous designs we saw this past year dealt with repurposing existing structures, creating innovative spaces in tight quarters, or building transportation solutions that went far beyond the norm.

So, sit back as we take you through some of the most imaginative design proposals presented this past year from a sky gondola across the East River to an enormous megaproject that could transform the Red Hook waterfront.

New York Horizon

Another one of the eVolo Skyscraper Competition winners, this entry saw design students Yitan Sun and Jianshi Wu from the Rhode Island School of Design propose a rectangular, habitable glass wall that would run along the periphery of Central Park. Though it appears that the structure towers over Central Park, the proposal calls for placing them 1,000 feet below ground and rising to the surface of the park, which would have been dug up to reveal the bedrock.

Empire State Gateway

Much like last year, this year too saw a proposal surrounding a bridge connecting New Jersey and Manhattan. This one, however, wasn’t simply a pedestrian bridge, and in fact proposed connecting New Jersey all the way to Queens by a triple-decker suspension bridge. Cost estimates put this project at about $20 billion, so the likelihood of it happening is … uh … slim.

Courtesy of 100Images via Architizer

Vertical Times

Many New Yorkers try to stay as far away as possible from the teeming Times Square crowds, but Shanghai-based architecture firm 100architects had a very Manhattan-appropriate solution to the masses: go vertical. They proposed a multi-story community center and park towering above the square to ease up the foot traffic on street level.

Courtesy of Leitner-Poma of America

Elm Park—Bayonne Gondola

This wasn’t the only aerial gondola project proposed this year, but it may have certainly been closer to reality than the other one. If it did in fact move forward it would connect Elm Park on Staten Island to Bayonne in New Jersey. Commuters could then take the PATH Train to Manhattan. Developers estimated that travel time between Manhattan and Staten Island would be 33 minutes.

Courtesy of AE Superlab via NYDN

The Halo

To counter what will inevitably be the rising costs around Penn Station’s redevelopment, developer Brooklyn Capital Partners proposed a 1,200-foot amusement ride on top of Madison Square Garden or the back of the Farley post office building. The open-air structure would consist of 11 gondolas that travel at a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour, and rides would cost $35 per person. The developer believes that this amusement ride will attract millions of visitors each year and create $38 million in annual funds for the state. (We do not believe it will actually happen.)

Courtesy of AECOM

AECOM’s Red Hook Proposal

Even though this was just a proposal, Red Hook residents were rightfully concerned about AECOM’s suggestion to bring a megaproject twice the size of Hudson Yards to the neighborhood. Among the suggestions this proposal was making were the addition of 45,000 new units of housing (including affordable apartments); measures to improve storm resiliency in the neighborhood; and to the extend the 1 train from South Ferry and create three new subway stops in Red Hook.

New York State Pavilion Reimagined

In March this year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation launched a competition to elicit responses for a reimagined and reinvigorated New York State Pavilion in the future. More than 250 entries were received to transform Philip Johnson’s iconic structure, and the one that came in first is “Hanging Meadows,” which imagined using the Space Age structure as a base for a “suspended natural environment” with walkways and plants that were native to New York and the northeastern United States.

PAU Penn Station Renderings Courtesy Practice for Architecture and Urbanism

↑ An alternative for Penn Station: Repurposing MSG

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the $3 billion revamp of Penn Station would be completed by 2020 (we’ll believe it when we see it), and in the wake of that announcement, architect Vishaan Chakrabarti proposed moving Madison Square Garden, and repurposing its current building as an airy component of the larger Penn Station complex. The design that Chakrabarti proposes was informed by—no surprises here—McKim, Mead and White’s old Penn Station, which was demolished in 1963. That station’s grand stairways, high ceilings, and open floorplan would be replicated, with and the circular structure that currently holds MSG would transform into "a blastproof glass facade that would allow in light and views while enabling passive heating and cooling."

Courtesy of East River Skyway

↑ L Train Alternatives

The L train shutdown is still a couple of years off, but the considerable impact it will have on Manhattan and Brooklyn led many to proposed alternatives to alleviate traffic congestion (and the lack of a connection between Williamsburg and points east to Manhattan) Canarsie tunnel is being repaired. Here they are in no particular order.

  • East River Skyway: This aerial gondola over the East River would have the possibility of transporting 5,000 people per hour and could be built at a cost of $134 million. The proposal now has the backing of several local elected officials.
  • Van Alen Institute Design Competition: The institute asked design teams to provide solutions to this looming transportation crisis, and the winner proposed running a ferry along the Newtown Creek, which would connect to existing ferry infrastructure and the LIRR.
  • E train extension: This proposal called for the E train to be extended beyond its current terminal at the World Trade Center, be rerouted along the A/C line, and then eventually connect to the G train at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn stop in Brooklyn.
  • Street closures: Several different proposals called for closing several huge thoroughfares in Brooklyn and Manhattan—Bedford Avenue, Grand Street, and 14th Street—to cars during the shutdown, leaving them open for pedestrians, cyclists, and possibly buses.
  • Lowline: This proposal advocated using the site for the underground park as a bus depot to improve the commute between the Lower East Side and Williamsburg. The founders of the Lowline were not impressed.

Did we miss any major design experiments you feel deserve a mention on this list? Sound off in the comments and let us know.