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Futuristic Times Sq

New York's Times Square is set to undergo a $35-million makeover for a more streamlined look
The Straits Times - October 1, 2011
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Futuristic Times Sq The plan will evoke the square's colourful past. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

New York - Times Square is about to get a modern, minimalist sprucing up.

A US$27-million (S$35-million) redesign headed towards final approval by the city would transform the square's raw, concrete pedestrian plazas into sleek silver-grey spaces populated by slab-like benches and metallic tiles. The plan, which would be completed in 2014, calls for both a futuristic, streamlined look and a noirish quality that evokes the square's colourful and occasionally illicit past.

'Right now, we have a dumpy-looking plaza,' said president of the Times Square Alliance, Tim Tompkins, who is a consultant on the plan. 'The redesign is intended to 'simplify and declutter', he said. 'It really tries to complement, rather than compete with Times Square.'

The Bloomberg administration banned automobiles from parts of the square in 2009 and installed pedestrian-friendly open-air plazas where traffic signals and exhaust fumes once reigned.

The redesign by architectural firm Snohetta would remove the final reminders that Broadway once carried vehicular traffic through the square. Kerbs that still separate the sidewalks from the old path of Broadway will be flattened out, creating uniform, single-level surfaces for pedestrians that stretch from storefronts to the edge of Seventh Avenue, where cars still travel.

The benches, besides offering a sturdy replacement to the flimsy furniture currently used on the plazas, would also divide the space between free-flowing walkways and a central area where visitors could congregate. 'The comment that one hears almost all the time is that New Yorkers, for the most part, don't really like to be in Times Square,' said Mr Craig Dykers, principal architect at Snohetta. He hopes the design will allow for 'different speeds at which people can move through Times Square'.

Mr George Haikalis, a member of the local community board, who reviewed the design, drew a comparison with the cover of this week's New Yorker magazine, which imagines a tourist-only lane in Times Square teeming with camera-toting pedestrians and guarded by police officers. The pedestrian plazas, when they opened in 2009, featured terra cotta-coloured asphalt and colourful beach chairs. The space is currently covered with a splashy blue paint job that suggests the unfinished look of a swimming pool.

'This simple, flexible design will clear obstructions and support the growing number of programmes occurring in Times Square, which more than 350,000 people visit every day,' Mr Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, wrote in an e-mail.

A copy of the plan was presented to the transportation committee of the local community board on Monday. Mr Michael Keane, a member, called the design 'subtle, a little bit understated'.

'Much of the glory of Times Square is looking up at the marquees and the lights,' he said. 'They wanted to find a way to balance that in their design, so we appreciated that.'




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