As a sequel to Never Built Los Angeles, Metropolis Books’ new publication Never Built New York was co-written by Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell, both of them architectural critics and historians. The launch of the book was recently hosted at the New York Public Library as a part of the LIVE from the NYPL program, and accompanying the event was a panel discussion featuring some of the most prominent architects to have realized works in the City.
Lubell, joined by Steven Holl, Elizabeth Diller and Daniel Libeskind — the latter of whom also wrote the foreword of the book — led a productive discussion that addressed some of the projects in the book and prompted discussion about both projects that had been imagined for the city in years past and projects that have been realized since, including Diller’s High Line or Libeskind’s World Trade Center Master Plan.
Above: cover of Never Built New York by Metropolis Books. Below: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Last Dream project for Ellis Island
With projects ranging from the past two centuries, the book presents plans for bridges, skyscrapers, parks, transit schemes, amusement parks and more as well as alternate visions for NYC landmarks such as Central Park, Columbus Circle, Lincoln Center, the MoMA, the U.N., Grand Central Terminal and the World Trade Center.
As suggested in the foreword written by Libeskind, the final work allows architects and aficionados to “rethink the built and the unbuilt through the unbuilt.” Goldin and Lubell’s book is an account of utopian New York architecture, including both projects that fell through and plans that really were best left unbuilt.
Put in perspective with the accounts of Diller, Holl and Libeskind — who told the story of works their own firms have completed in the city as well as lost competitions and forgotten masterplans — the presentation that accompanied Metropolis’s book launch resonated with the strengths and challenges of working as an architect in New York City under a diverse system of municipal and administrative governments.
Above: Steven Holl, Parallax Towers. Below: Raymond Hood Skyscraper Bridge
The presentation also focused in on the possibility that an architectural idea is never completely gone and may very well continue to exist either in the architect’s own works or in another architect’s designs. For example, the first proposals that Steven Holl had put forward for the High Line — which appeared in Holl’s independent publication Pamphlet Architecture long before any plans of transforming it into public space were ever made — were never realized, and the High Line was condemned to demolition by then-mayor Rudy Giuliani. However, when Bloomberg was elected, he quickly repealed the demolition and some years later, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and James Corner Operations’ design was realized, a roaring success among New Yorkers and tourists ever since.
This scenario goes hand in hand with a central idea of Goldin and Lubell’s book, which is that architectural drawings can be just as powerful — if not more — than realized buildings, as they contain the architect’s utopian idea before he or she is asked to conform to municipal codes, contractor constraints and client preferences. “That disappointment is structured into our lives as architects,” joked Diller.
Above: Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Eyebeam Museum. Below: Work AC, Guggenheim Collections Center
Diller spoke extensively of the unexpected outcomes of realized projects like the High Line, which has seen unprecedented levels of real estate attraction since its rebirth, resulting in the fast implantation of luxury condos in an area that did not have the adequate regulations in place to protect low-income residents.
When asked if she would have done anything differently, Diller explained that the architects should have taken more action on providing measures to avoid zoning disparities along the High Line and to promote integrated affordable housing within this fast urbanizing area. The High Line is also imbued with a sense of virality, as architects and cities around the world are trying to replicate similar places and phenomena.
Above: Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao, Skyrise for Harlem. Below: Christian de Portzamparc, New York City Opera
“So what is it about New York?” asked Lubell to the panelists. Diller explained that, in her view, New York is a city where all architects want to build something and not all get the chance to. Once a firm has a successful project — such as DS+R’s High Line — they become entrusted with more and become a sort of local architect for the city. To Steven Holl, who has worked in New York for a long time but has not realized as many projects there as he has in other parts of the world, the city is more of a hub where architects exchange ideas and are exposed to the multiculturalism and creativity of its residents.
Never Built New York is an account of architectural studies that demonstrate the evolution of the architectural school of thought, human expectations of the urban environment and the growth of a metropolitan and multicultural hub. From the projects of Buckminster Fuller, Robert Moses and Frank Lloyd Wright to the defeated competitions of many contemporary architects, the book reveals the face of a New York that could have been but also leaves many open possibilities for the future development of its urban landscape.
Cover image: Buckminster Fuller, Dome over Manhattan. All images courtesy of Artbook | D.A.P.