Columbus Circle

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Columbus Circle presently comprises an overwhelming series of urban pieces: the entrance to Central Park, two important monuments, several intersecting major avenues, varied infrastructure and diverse architectures. While the new Time-Warner Center will help to reinforce the circle's geometry and space, it only encloses a third of the circle itself; the remaining fragments remain poorly defined. As a consequence, the identity of this metropolitan civic space cannot be reinforced using classical space-making strategies dealing either with the ground plane -- because it is too compromised and contested -- or with the vertical surface of the surrounding buildings -- because there is not enough continuity to it. Since we believe in the need for -- and the benefits of -- defining the circle (after all, the place's name seems to necessitates this), we have inscribed this idealized geometric figure in the sky. It takes the form of a ring of light that is three hundred and forty feet in diameter. The circle rests on iconographically developed columns, which we call "supports"; these support not only the ring's structure itself, but more importantly, the sense of place and its character. They are one hundred thirty six feet tall, and each specifically represents the prominent adjacent city zones, as well as Manhattan's infrastructural underground. Thus the supports are given unique identities. Clockwise from the south they are: the Broadway Curtain; the 58th Street Passage; the Underground Steams; the Broadway Marker (bisected by a channel of glass and light - as Broadway bisects the Manhattan grid); the Columbus Station Media Strip; and the Park Trees. This heterogeneity is, in our view, essential, since not one language should control the place; it is precisely this simultaneous coexistence of images that we find democratic, appropriate, and contemporary. The ground plane completes the space of the circle above by marking its trace on the ground, while creating links to all of its surroundings. Two added groups of trees flank either side of the Maine Monument and are set behind the four tree-like columns marking Central Park's entrance. A granite "carpet" mounds up towards the statue of Columbus, thus increasing the visual presence of the ground from the distance and animating the space. On the inner island, we have designed two amphitheaters, between which fountains spray across the granite surface.

The ring is defined by day against a backdrop of sky and surrounding buildings, while at night, the circle is shaped by layers of light and takes on a more theatrical quality. To identify the circle at night from distant views, a band of light along the ring's outer surface creates a luminous halo that reinforces its overall form. The fixtures will be pre-programmed to change intensity and color throughout the course of the night and for special events. Collectively, the parts of this design form a legible, memorable, accessible, and hopefully fascinating civic space. Visible from around the city, this identifiable figure will create an image for Columbus Circle that is uniquely recognizable and that should enter into the popular imagery of New York's iconography. It will become a theater of activity within the city by day and by night, an outdoor space that collects together many functions and events. In short, the proposal contributes to the city at two scales. Within the space, the supports are rendered as monumental iconic attributes that represent the city around and under them. On the metropolitan scale, the circle establishes the classical geometry that was historically assigned - but never properly physicalized - at the site, thus creating a benevolent ring to organize the conflicting ideologies below. This proposal is part of a continuing preoccupation of ours with ideas of civic space, representation in architecture and the concept of unprecedented realism. More precisely, this proposal is born of personal views about what we would call "the contemporary sublime" - that is, an updated version of an effect of sublimity which is uncommon today at the urban scale. As with all updated versions of past effects, it may well be found to be nostalgic. This is not necessarily negative. There may be, after all, a positive nostalgia: a contemporary transformation that will enrich today's repository of urbanistic strategies and recover - as a result - a certain splendor that has been lacking in the recent past. Furthermore, this proposal may be politically very difficult to build, given today's procedures for the generation of consensus, approval processes and, above all, dominant aesthetics. However, in our view, these difficult conditions make this proposal no less desirable.

Year: 2001
New York City
New York, NY

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