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Times Square Shuffle
TKTS booth opens at last
Emile Wamsteker

Times Square’s new TKTS booth, which officially opened on October 17 in Duffy Square, is an object lesson in how things get done in New York. The new structure replaces a rickety affair of canvas and metal rods put up in 1973 that was supposed to fold up in a few months; it overstayed its welcome by more than thirty years.

Eight years ago, the Van Alen Institute sponsored a competition to design a new booth, and the winner was the Australian firm of Choi Ropiha. As so often in New York, out-of-towners were responsible for the basic concept, yet the actual design was farmed out to Nicolas Leahy of Perkins Eastman, the well-known local firm, who worked with engineers Dewhurst Macfarlane.

Also as usual, the architects had to serve different and competing masters: the Times Square Alliance, the Theatre Development Fund, the Coalition for Father Duffy, and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Due to difficulties in engineering the red glass that serves as seating atop the project’s relatively modest structure, what was supposed to be a six-month job extended to nearly three years, and, at $19 million, came in nine times over budget.

The design of the structure and its surrounding space is a partial success. The booth, which houses the ticket counters and is encased in glass, vaguely recalls naval architecture. It is an elegant invocation of the machine aesthetic, even if, at this point, the truculent honesty of exposing a building’s mechanical core has become almost a cliché. But at night, when its roof of bright red steps (which can seat as many as 1,500) is illuminated from below, such quibbles seem trivial.

The square itself is less successful. Two crooked arms, forming continuous granite benches, extend from the ticketing booths into the surrounding space, but they make little structural, utilitarian, or visual sense. Meanwhile, unavoidably, a good part of the plaza is covered in subway grates. Most disconcerting of all, because of the intransigence of the Coalition for Father Duffy (the World War I chaplain for whom the square was named) his statue could not be moved, and now sullenly turns its back on the tourists who, as though by some gravitational attraction, naturally gather at the top of the steps.

What ultimately redeems this project (if redemption were needed) is the urbanistic triumph that it represents. It is not an exaggeration to say that Times Square itself is transformed by this new addition. What used to be a zone through which one only passed has now become a space in which to pause and sit. With all the lights of Times Square buzzing and beeping around you, it feels rather more like Piccadilly Circus than anyone would ever have thought. As you stand at the summit of the steps, you may well believe that, finally, you are seeing the place for the first time.

The ticket booths themselves are tucked under the stair ramp (above); Father Duffy's statue is back in place (below).
Emile Wamsteker

James Gardner