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The People’s Critic


Penn Station, Resurfaced
Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s rendering of what a new Penn Station might look like.   

The project, designed by Lord Norman Foster, calls for gutting the building’s ­century-old stacks and constructing a ­lending library in their place. Kimmelman’s column questioned whether the scheme would undermine the library’s physical integrity and its finances, labeled Foster a “celebrity architect,” and concluded that his “designs have all the elegance and distinction of a suburban mall.” (Foster responded with a letter, huffing that Kimmelman’s “diatribe about our design is both offensive and premature.”) “If you’re going to be spending untold millions on this plan, it better be what the city really, really needs,” Kimmelman said. “Otherwise, this will be considered one of the calamities of the city’s history, along with Penn Station.”

Sometimes, however, demolition can be a delightful prospect. As rush hour approached and the neon cavern of Penn Station swarmed with roller bags, Kimmelman turned his critical eye toward the future. The battle now moves to the City Council, where speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, who is publicly uncommitted, will likely have the ultimate say. Kimmelman wants the Council to tighten the time frame and a crucial loophole. Beyond that, there’s also no redevelopment plan, no billions to pay for it, and no cure for the government dysfunction that has scotched all previous attempts to fix Penn Station—none of which will be solved by slapping an expiration date on the Garden. (“It puts a gun to the wrong head,” says Richard Gottfried, a state legislator who has defended the Dolans.) Despite all this, Kimmelman is sure he has a winning political argument.

“The thing about Penn Station,” he said, “is the sheer crappiness of this place is so universally understood.”

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