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Queens Museum to build New York’s unrealised urban designs—in miniature

A Kickstarter-funded exhibition will see some of the city’s most ambitious architectural projects installed on the Panorama

by Gabriella Angeleti  |  7 June 2017
Queens Museum to build New York’s unrealised urban designs—in miniature
Buckminster Fuller's Dome Over Manhattan (1961)
The Queens Museum is bringing some of the city’s most ambitious—and unrealised—architectural designs to life in the exhibition Never Built New York (opening in September). As part of the show, grand urban plans including Buckminster Fuller’s Dome Over Manhattan and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Key Project for Ellis Island will finally be constructed, at least in miniature, and installed on the museums famous Panorama of the City of New York.  

The exhibition is co-organised by the architecture critic Greg Goldin and the journalist Sam Lubell, who previously created a similar project dedicated to Los Angeles’ unbuilt infrastructure at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum in 2012. The New York iteration, designed by the architect Christian Wassmann, will span 200 years and deliver a more ambitious scope in three parts: an installation of unrealised projects added to the museum’s three-dimensional panorama, involving around 70 illuminated scale-models made of clear resin; a gallery of original models, drawings and reproductions; and a gallery dedicated to unbuilt structures that would have occupied Flushing Meadows, the museum’s World’s Fair site home. And thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, the institution has already reached its $35,000 goal to fund the show, with 15 days still to go.

“Certain brilliant ideas, despite their simplicity and very necessity, don’t get any traction although the ideas remain as good today as when they were first conceived”, Goldin told The Art Newspaper. “When William J. Wilgus completed the Grand Central Terminal, he was treated as a hero, but when he circulated his idea for a mini-railroad to run beneath the sidewalks of Manhattan to transport cargo and mail—unclogging the city streets—no one paid attention.”

  • Rufus Henry Gilbert's Elevated Railway (1880)
  • Buckminster Fuller's Dome Over Manhattan (1961)
  • Frank Lloyd Wright's Key Project for Ellis Island (1959)
  • Howe and Lescaze's MoMA (1930)
  • Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum (2000)
  • Peter Eisenman's Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences (1997-2001)
  • SHoP's Flushing Stadium (2013)
  • Testing a model on the Panorama of the City of New York
Goldin says that one of the most prescient discoveries he and Lubell unearthed during their research was a plan by the American architect Steven Holl called “The Bridge of Houses, a radical adaption of the High Line into an elevated row of bohemian homes, which he conceived 30 years before the High Line Park opened in 2009.”

Among some of the other plans that never left the drawing board are proposals for the unrealised Isamu Noguchi & Louis Kahn Adele Rosenwald Levy Memorial Playground, a $1.1m sculptural playground in Riverside Park in Manhattan. The artists submitted their first designs to the parks department in 1960 and unsuccessfully reimagined the site more than a dozen times over the next five years. The initial plan called for monolithic concrete structures and little green space, while a proposal submitted in 1962 called for a radical Modernist scheme comprising a pyramidal earthwork. The plans stirred “an enormous battle”, Goldin says, with opponents “picketing against the ‘vainglorious’ undertaking which, they protested, would destroy four blocks of priceless and irretrievable park land”. In 1965, the final proposal was accepted by the city but the project was scrapped again before breaking ground.

The works will be drawn from the archives of museums, architectural offices and archives and libraries, some including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the New York-based firm OMA and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Update: The project has extended its campaign goal to $50,000. The additional $15,000 will fund an inflatable structure modelled after a never-built plan for a pavilion designed by Eliot Noyes for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and will help enhance the Panorama Gallery of the exhibition.

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