Penn Station Vision


(Images above and below via New York Times).

I recently came across an interactive article in the New York Times that got me excited for several reasons. First off: it features the kind of simple, clear explanatory graphics that we aspire to produce at Fat Pencil Studio. Look how much you learn about the subject of the article before you read a single paragraph! Look how well-integrated the text is with the graphics! Look how a restrained color palette serves clarity and precision! Look how a simple 3d base diagram can be used to explain physical relationships and changes over time! Look how photographs and 3d models can be composited to show proposed conditions!


And it’s a fascinating subject. Penn Station, which, according to the article, is the busiest transit hub in the hemisphere, is one of New York’s least impressive places. It’s a dark and confusing maze of tunnels and platforms buried underneath Madison Square Garden. But it wasn’t always that way. In the early part of the twentieth century, a steel and glass temple to transportation stood on the site. The shortsighted motives of urban renewal in the 1960s tore it down. In more recent years, politicians, urbanists and designers have been trying to come up with a plan to build a new monument for the station, and restore a sense of grandeur and dignity to the daily experience of 650,000 riders.

Coincidentally, I spent a term in Architecture school studying this problem. In a studio class taught by New York architect Chris Kilbridge, our project was to design a new Penn Station.

My proposal was to recast the block as a large public space that included a plaza and a park, both of which blended seamlessly with the station. As such, Penn Station would be a destination as well as a place of passage.


Here’s a diagram showing this concept. (Even then, I was way into diagrams.)


And some drawings to show how this concept could take form on the site.

To bring things full circle, we recently had group of new Architecture graduate students in our office. They had been tasked with designing a craft musem for a site across the street. (I think their professors like to bring them by to prove to them that it’s actually possible to survive the UO Architecture program.) We’ve hosted students in our office on several occasions and always really enjoy answering their questions and hearing what they are interested in. And of course it reminds me of the intense 3.5 years I spent in grad school: the stress of handling so much work, but also the camaraderie of studio life, and the great opportunity that school affords to creatively delve into big design problems.

Ady Leverette was a designer and a principal at Fat Pencil Studio between 2011 and 2018.