The lack of a personal encounter with Times Square prior to reading Future Times Square; Compression vs. Distribution, edited by Rajan V. Ritoe, has only been a fortune to this review. This, because when dealing with an interventional design proposition of such a celebrated space, the pre-conceived perception—diverse in everybody’s mind and well set for any New Yorker—could become dangerously critical and biased, fluctuating the understanding of the author’s well thought-out and methodological narrations.
Consequently, any perceptive impressions were built through this reading in a multivalent, sweeping, and comprehensive fashion, experiencing the place’s historical layers, its evolutionary procedures and presently vibrant, monumental, and problematic state—all while ingesting a promising, functional, and exciting vision for future economic and iconic valorization engaging the wider urban tissue.
Sounding like a substantially immense vision, condensed within just 72 pages of clean and linearly sketchy diagrams, the authors succeed in the extensive brainstorming and meticulous investigation of organized and studied ideas, leaving plenty of room for imagination—exactly what Times Square does itself, with the digital deliberation of billboard images.
Reading through, the anxiety for a personal confrontation with the commercial intersection flourished. As a doctoral “expert” of public open urban space investigations and designs of post WWII periods, the impression of the lionized place prior to the real-time encounter was described as a public open urban space category of its own; a chaotic nucleus that plays the role of a burning investment and advertising pole, puzzled by the intersecting traffic jams of cars and people, crossing the limits of civic safety. This backs up well the designers’ main concentration on finding ways to improve economic valorization with the simultaneous amelioration of the locals’ experiences of faster commutes and more detached nodal crossings.
Stressing the importance of the area, in parallelism with its high density and inefficient circulation, the proposal traces back to morphological alterations in order to penetrate through the historical paradigmatic shifts of urban tissues and spatial forms, for a logical evolutional future public space reality. Thus prior to visiting the square, one becomes aware of the initial 1809 “commissioners” master plan, the logic of the streets and avenues, the historical origin of Broadway being an old Indian road amid the then existing hills and swamps. Of course, the actual accord, eventually witnessed, has nothing to do with eco-related urban landscapes, or the traditional definition of what a “square” is. Surely, it does not follow the Italian “dolce far niente” of carefree idleness. A critical lover of a preconceived comfortable civic space might even categorize Times Square as a well-advertised infrastructural intersection, ignoring the pedestrians’ needs, but equilibrating—or consoling—this downfall with flashing tabloids and instances of visual brainstorm and pre-constructed imagination.
The authors’ suggested morphological changes, including subway stations underneath the square and subway line expansions to five different icons, satisfy two primary goals: The first is to preserve and promote the capital display of the architectural facade billboards, working around the ever-changing compositional collage of financial amplification. The second is to recognize and promote the role of Times Square as a public space icon, celebrating its uniqueness that contradicts the traditional norms of what a public space should be. The process is executed under the umbrella of two concluding conceptual keywords: distribution and compression.
Distribution creates complementary public open urban spaces radiating from Times Square and nesting on five key point waterfront-design suggestions. For the purposes of “relieving” the pressure of Times Square, “acupuncturing the shoreline,” and “diversifying” the users, the suggestions hold a valid point, but up until the mentioning of iconographic borrowing and “injection.” Then one unwittingly deliberates on the dilemma of multiplication of authenticity, which takes place during an effort to take something that works and apply it elsewhere. Perhaps when the context changes, an open space absorbs its own character and spirit, however, it is a process naturally succeeding through layers of evolutional time, building on to each spot’s unique needs and contemplated issues. Nevertheless, the suggestions are extremely interesting and diverse in their typology, morphology, function, orientation, and form.
Compression involves the connectivity of circulation problems through means of an underground tunnel, pedestrianization, Seventh Avenue street penetration through the ground and the lowering of ground levels to directly access the new tunnel while creating new commercial centers and public events. This incorporation of underground vertical layers, mirroring the upward direction of the over-ground skyscrapers, accommodates the increase of surface density for improved pedestrian experiences, expressing in a genuine way the stressed need for urban fabric depth as a futurist solution of a reversed order, opposite to the one of reaching the sky. It nicely suits a parallelization of a contemporized technological image of Piranesi’s envisioning through his fictitious and atmospheric “prison” etchings. In this sense, also the proposed over-ground residential catwalks would make some perfect sense, adding to the spirit of three-dimensional collage-perception and instantaneous flashlights of diversified and unpredictable typological context married with disordered visual deliberation.
The whole process is the witnessing of a future collage of supplementary contending public open urban nuclei, consulting with the idea of a multi-layered urban playground. It brings to mind the infamous Collage City and the appropriate recent exhibition of MoMA’s Cut ‘n’ Paste, envisaging signs, layers of digital information, and visual installations: “If democracy… is, inherently, a collision of points of view and acceptable as such, then why not allow a theory of contending powers (all of them visible) as likely to establish a more ideally comprehensive city of the mind than any which has, as yet, been invented” (Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, in Collage City).