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Old Posted Sep 20, 2017, 9:29 PM
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- Never Built New York, curated by Sam Lubell and Greg Coldin and designed by Christian Wassmann, opens today, and features over 150 years-worth of drawings and models of New York City’s boldest, weirdest, long-forgotten building projects. That includes things as well-known Frank Lloyd Wright’s zany sci-fi vision for Ellis Island (his last major drawing before his death in 1959) and alternate mock-ups for the Freedom Tower, as well as lesser-known daydreams that never got anywhere close to off the ground, like William Zeckendorf’s 1946 plan for a $3 billion airport stretching over 40 blocks of the Hudson River and into Midtown Manhattan. Or, even weirder, Raymond Hood’s 1925 concept for solving a housing crisis by fitting 50-story skyscrapers into the city’s bridges.


Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1959 idea for remaking Ellis Island was to turn it into “a city within a city,” with residential towers arranged like spokes on a wheel and glass domes that would contain parks and other shared spaces. Imagine this weird little sci-fi land instead of the Ellis Island museum, I bet you can’t even begin!

This model is of Moshe Safdie’s 1967 Habitat New York concept, a collection of prefabricated housing units arranged into wild sail shapes and suspended from catenary cables. This version would have been built near South Street Seaport if it had ever gotten past the planning stage.

The Queens Museum is home to 1964 World’s Fair centerpiece “Panorama of the City of New York,” which was the largest architectural model in the world when it was built. For this exhibit, students at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation created models of 70 of the Never Built New York projects, setting them on top of the Panorama to show just how different NYC might have been. This model shows an airport stretching down the Hudson River and into Midtown Manhattan, an idea pitched by real estate mogul William Zeckendorf. He owned the Chrysler Building and was very rich!

Zeckendorf’s airport idea was covered in the December 1945 issue of Life, described as a “dream.” Okay, sure! Steel columns would suspend the airport 200 feet above street level from 24th street to 71st street, from 9th avenue into the river.

Alfred Ely Beach’s 1870 idea for an underground rail system powered by air, like the pneumatic tubes in a post office, isn’t that far off from Elon Musk’s Hyperloop concept. A sample 294-foot tunnel was built in 1870 and was operational until 1873, but never got any further than a tiny stretch alongside City Hall from Warren Street to Murray Street.

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