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"Unbuilt New York" Revealed

The New York Times | 1:33

"Unbuilt New York" Revealed

Peter Smisek

28 December 2017

Video Views

A NUMBER of daring schemes currently showcased as part of the "Never Built New York" exhibition at Queens Museum have been brought to life in this 360 degree video (best viewed in Chrome, Firefox, MS Edge or Opera or YouTube's mobile app).

One featured scheme is the "Hudson River Airport". Proposed by William Zeckendorf, the owner of the Chrysler building, this 144-block long airport would straddle Midtown’s Hudson River shoreline.

Raised 200-feet into the air, the airport featured three runways, as well as a number of docks on the riverfront for ships. First mooted in 1946, it was estimated that the project would cost USD $3BN at the time (equivalent to around $35BN today).

Above: The proposal for a Midtown airport included reclaiming additional land from the Hudson River. Below: "Hyperboloid" tower was never built (images courtesy of Never Built New York ).

Another noteworthy project highlighted in the video was the replacement of New York’s Grand Central Terminal with 80-storey  skyscraper called the "Hyperboloid".

First proposed in 1956, the tower would have been taller than the Empire State Building. However, investors eventually decided to sell the station’s air rights, which lead to the construction of the much-maligned Pan-Am Building (now called MetLife Building) nearby.

Above: The Grand Central Terminal was not demolished, but its air rights enabled construction of the Pan-Am building (image courtesy of Wikimedia).

Finally, there are the habitable "skyscraper bridges" that could have linked Manhattan to its neighbouring boroughs, first proposed in 1925.

The scheme aimed to squeeze as much real-estate square footage as possible into the city by combining road infrastructure and housing. The project's extreme complexity and high cost proved prohibitive and the structures were never been built.

Above: A series of habitable "skyscraper bridges" could have created up to 50,000 new apartments, but they proved too costly and difficult to construct (image courtesy of Never Built New York).

Whilst we may now look at these plans in disbelief, it is important to remember that even unrealised proposals can have a lasting legacy. The idea of constructing an airport on reclaimed land, for instance, can inspire engineers and architects in other parts of the world, decades later - such as at Hong Kong Airport. 

Of course, New York is not the only city whose engineers, architects and developers have proposed radical, unbuilt structures. We've taken a look at three other unbuilt structures from around the world, and examined their legacy:


Planned as the tallest building in the world, the "Palace of the Soviets" in central Moscow would have stood 1,624 feet tall.

Works on this project actually started in 1931 by imploding the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour which originally stood on the site.

Above: The unbuilt "Palace of the Soviets" in Moscow influenced the architecture of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc for decades. 

Foundations were then built, but World War II led to the project being abandoned.

After the war, the foundation pit was turned into the world’s largest open air swimming pool (at the time). The fall of the Iron Curtain led to the rebuilding of the original cathedral in 1995-2000.

Above: One of Moscow's skyscrapers is influenced by the unbuilt Palace of the Soviets (image courtesy of Wikimedia).

Though unbuilt, the project served to inspire many tall buildings across the Soviet Union; including Moscow’s “wedding-cake style” Seven Sisters skyscrapers.


In 1954, faced with the depopulation of inner cities, architect Geoffrey Jellicoe and engineer Ove Arup proposed a wholesale redevelopment of London’s Soho.

The existing streets were re-imagined as glazed arcades, with a large rooftop terrace that would feature landscaped gardens, tennis courts, a dance hall and Y-shaped tower blocks.

Above: Many contemporary "vertical city" schemes follow a spatial logic similar to this 1950s proposal to redevelop Soho in London ( image courtesy of English Heritage).

Although this scheme never took off (and preservation activists ensured that Soho retained its characteristic appearance), many large contemporary “vertical cities” - such as the Raffles City in Hangzhou - follow a similar logic to this unbuilt plan.


Skyscrapers have always captured the popular imagination, and developers, engineers and architects have been indulging in the race to the top since the first steel-frame high-rises were pioneered in Chicago.

This 1957 proposal from architect Frank Lloyd Wright, envisaged an incredibly tall 528-floor skyscraper in Chicago.

In the past decade, similarly shaped high-rises have appeared around the world, and the 1km tall "Jeddah Tower", currently under construction in Saudi Arabia, looks suspiciously similar to the 70-year old design.

Above: The remarkable similarity between the never built "Mile High Illinois" (left) and Saudi Arabia's Jeddah Tower (right), currently under construction.

The exhibition, Never Built New York, in Queens Museum, is scheduled to run until 18 February 2018.


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