Photography by Are Carlsen
Times Square Reconstruction by Snøhetta
When working with urbanism and public spaces it’s important to understand the life the space had before the design intervention and to anticipate change in years to come. Our public spaces, and the ways people use them, reflect the myriad of changes in culture, technology, and economy that animate and transform our daily lives and our cities. Design should adapt to these conditions, but still be boldly rooted in the present.
I’m Claire Fellman, a landscape architect and director at Snøhetta, and I've been leading the Times Square Reconstruction project for Snøhetta since 2011. My studies in geology and aArt ultimately led to my passion for designing built environments that are responsive to natural systems. I earned masters degrees in Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 2007, and have been working at Snøhetta since 2008.
The Times Square reconstruction project was initiated by the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) in 2009, with the intention of improving pedestrian safety and public realm. NYC DOT conducted a pilot project closing Broadway to vehicle traffic for five city blocks, from 42nd Street to 47th Street in the Times Square “bowtie”. Following this year-long pilot, the NYC DOT decided to make the pedestrian spaces permanent, and Snøhetta was hired to lead the design. From 2010-2012, Snøhetta worked closely with public and private stakeholders, and a team of consultants to develop the design. The project has been in construction since 2013.
Multiple stakeholders shaped the design brief, from the Times Square Alliance (the local business improvement district), to the Mayor’s Office of Citywide Event Planning and Management. The brief included improvements to the pedestrian realm, the removal of redundant street furniture, improving orientation and wayfinding for visitors, resolving pedestrian congestion, known as “ped-lock”, and improving safety for pedestrians, while also providing more places for people to stop and spend time in. Facilitating the set up and break down of the more than 300 events that take place in Times Square each year was another important part of the brief.
Snøhetta designed a distinctive pavement that unifies the space by providing a strong counterpoint to the cacophony of signage on the buildings around the square. The new floor of the bowtie creates a clear backdrop for the spectacle of social life in Times Square. Ten large granite benches frame spaces for social gathering and provide orientation within the plazas. Plug in points for power and broadcast are integrated into the furnishings and form part of an event infrastructure system that removes the need for on-site power generators and satellite trucks that would otherwise clutter the public space. Also critical to the design were upgrades to below grade utility infrastructure, the design of custom security elements, street and traffic lighting, and new dedicated lanes for bicyclists.
Public spaces are necessary for healthy civic dialogue and political demonstration. As social interaction has become increasingly digital, people need places where spontaneous exchanges occur, where they can see and be seen by others in a less filtered space. While our work in Times Square seeks to alleviate rush hour pedestrian congestion, the excitement and pulse of being within a crowd remains one of the most compelling experiences for people in Times Square.
What is urbanism to you?
Urbanism considers the city as a whole, and seeks to create resilient places for people in a landscape of changing social, cultural, and ecological conditions.