If You Can Make It There … Book Review of ‘Never Built New York’

If You Can Make It There … Book Review of ‘Never Built New York’

Ideas aren’t worth much unless you are able to materialize and sell them. That doesn’t mean that ideas are worthless as they have the ability to tickle the mind, and be a starting point for other great things. Ideas are one of the main drivers in the architectural world, as often firms will present unsolicited designs or are happy to join competitions as a platform to show their creativity. Especially interesting are the ones that are uncompromised or lacking any sort of reality check. Some will make wonder ‘what if’. Others show you what the world would have looked like if it was based on just one design idea. Then there are the ideas that tell you more about the place and time in which they were presented. And some ideas really should exist on paper only.

Never Built New York presents some 200 plans and projects that have been proposed for New York City at some point in the past 200 years. Being a unique urban environment with some unique challenges, some unique ideas have been presented for the Big Apple, and what a feast of ideas it is. Most of the citywide ideas involve the top-down rethinking of transport in the city, such as adding diagonal boulevards to break to monotony of the grid, the construction of new tunnels and bridges between the boroughs, and public transport systems based on new, and mostly theoretic technologies. Probably the most ambitious idea presented is the filling of the Hudson, effectively adding ten square miles of land, and doubling the number of avenues in Manhattan.

The bulk of the projects have been grouped by area, which is either down-, mid- or uptown, or any of the other boroughs. Within these chapters, some large famous developments are presented, such as the design for the new World Trade Center, the United Nations or Penn Station. Most of the plans presented are a product of a commission or a competition and involve some of the most famous names in architecture. The message being that like everyone else, big names have to deal with the occasional failures as well. There really is more to learn from a failure than a success. Often we read that projects never materialized because of an economic downturn, the developer not being able to secure financing or my personal favorite “the developer not having the conventional New York developer mentality”.


typical page spread

Never Built New York comes with an excellent introduction in which the ideas for New York City are analyzed as a whole. The balance between text and images is fifty-fifty which is what is should be, as this is a typical case of the image being worth a thousand words. It’s much more than a coffee-table book though, as obviously there has gone a lot of research in collecting the information and the interpretation of what it is we’re seeing. And yes, naturally there is a good number of skyscrapers involved.

If you happen to be in New York City in between Sept. 17, 2017 and February 18, 2018, make sure to visit the Queens Museum as the Never Built New York exhibition will be in display.

Never Built New York
authors: Greg Goldin, Sam Lubell
publisher: Metropolis Books
2016 | hardcover | 408 pages | ISBN-13: 978-1938922756
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