NEW YORK — The NYC Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Design and Construction (DDC) have chosen Norwegian architect Snøhetta to permanently redesign Times Square. Weidlinger has been the prime civil engineering consultant for preliminary designs of the area’s streets and underground utilities since 2005. Weidlinger was encouraged by the city to join the six submitting teams, prequalified by DDC’s Design + Construction Excellence program. Weidlinger is currently working with Snøhetta on the National September 11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero.
Weidlinger began its work on Times Square soon after the area was transformed into a family-friendly destination and became ringed with corporate skyscrapers. The original plan, like the current one, intended complete reconstruction of the roadways, which have not been structurally repaired in decades. But it focused mainly on sidewalk widening, a scheme that had been traffic tested with asphalt extensions and temporary bollards for two years. Weidlinger prepared preliminary contract documents before Mayor Bloomberg’s PlanNYC for sustainability and the Complete Streets movement countrywide pushed officials to envision a more car-free zone. In the final configuration, the familiar bowtie of streets that defines “the crossroads of the world” will be mostly for pedestrians and bicyclists, and with cars banished completely from Broadway, Seventh Avenue will become the area’s only southbound route.
“Cool Water, Hot Island” by artist Molly Dilworth will be installed by early August and remain in place for up to 18 months while the new plans are developed for permanent world-class plazas with ample seating, newly paved and graded roadbeds and sidewalks, and substantial additions to the underground infrastructure. A formal timeline and budget for the project has not been set, according to the DOT.
“The pedestrian experience at Times Square has changed dramatically with the addition of temporary urban plazas, and the excitement that a permanent scheme will create is unquestioned,” said James Quinn, P.E., LEED AP, Weidlinger’s principal in charge. “From an engineering point of view, this is the ultimate challenge in complex urban infrastructure design: every inch of the project is directly above three subway lines and the streets and sidewalks are alive virtually 24 hours a day.”
The driving force behind the design will be flexibility to accommodate and enhance the staging of signature events. Weidlinger has already analyzed the pattern of current events (more than 250 in 2009, often three at a time), and worked with broadcast engineers and events planners to define a system layout, locate its nexus, and coordinate with Con Edison and Verizon. Permanent underground electrical, sound, and broadcasting plug-in points to this system will eliminate the need for temporary generators, surface and overhead cabling, and production equipment.
Snøhetta characterized Weidlinger and electrical engineer Wesler-Cohen Associates as “offering their creative guidance and their deep understanding of the constraints and opportunities on this site.” Three active and interlocking subway tunnels, abandoned subway passages and stairs, abandoned trolley track hardware, and intricate sidewalk vault structures add to the site’s complexity. Proper grading of streetscapes will be integral to the design, and deficiencies in drainage are well understood. Provisional sewer and water main upgrades have been cosigned by NYCDEP requirements and inspection programs. Select sewers are being lined or replaced and 8,000 feet of distribution mains and 300 feet of trunk water mains will be installed. Preliminary plans for catch basins, traffic signals, and street lights will be modified.
Snøhetta hopes to apply its “distinctly Norwegian attitude about open democratic social spaces” as well as its love of the “delirious intensity of crowds, movement, images, and lights that make Times Square.” Rather than transform the area unrecognizably, Craig Dykers, Snøhetta co-founder and N.Y. office director, envisions subtle changes toward a unified and legible whole, with opportunities for stillness and “new forms of inhabitation and stewardship” for trash collection and storage of temporary furnishings. The design should “improve the quality and atmosphere of this historic site for pedestrians and bicyclists while also allowing for efficient transportation flow for the betterment of the city.”
In addition to Weidlinger and Wesler-Cohen, the winning team also includes WXY Architecture + Urban Design, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, Billings Jackson Design, Light Projects, Ltd., Buro Happold, and Bexel.