With an average of 45 million visitors each year, Times Square is the most visited destination in New York and the United States. Today, a reinvented Times Square embraces its role as a stage for public life and freedom of expression at the “Crossroads of the World.” Following the closure of Broadway to car traffic in 2009, Snøhetta was commissioned to design the permanent pedestrian plaza, which cleared out decades of old infrastructure cluttering the square while creating a unified ground plane from building front to building front. Since completion in 2016, the project has doubled the amount of pedestrian-only space at Manhattan’s core. The design has transformed Times Square from one of New York’s most notoriously congested spaces into a radically open civic square, while also integrating crucial utility and event infrastructure upgrades. Conceived as a project whose success would be measured not only by its new aesthetic but also the long-term physical, psychological and economic benefits on its community, the reinvention of Times Square stands as a model for how the design of our urban landscapes can improve the health and well-being of its users while providing an important stage for public gathering.
The project site, known as the “Bowtie,” forms the heart of the Times Square Theater District, and is bounded by Broadway and 7th Avenue between 42nd and 47th streets. Understanding the magnitude of the crowds and patterns of movement that move through this critical gateway was fundamental to creating a successful new life for one of the most iconic public spaces in the world. Accordingly, the new plaza on Broadway was designed to accommodate multiple speeds of pedestrian circulation with subtle design gestures that empower people to move in a natural, comfortable way through the space.
Snøhetta’s design is inspired by Times Square’s past and its rich entertainment history – a duality that influenced both the larger concept and the project’s details. Times Square’s signature buildings and spectacular signs – the glowing walls of the Bowtie – create an outdoor room right in the heart of Manhattan. The design creates uncluttered pedestrian zones and a cohesive surface that reinforces the Bowtie’s role as an outdoor stage. This clear and simple ground surface made of pre-cast concrete pavers creates a strong anchor for the space, allowing the excitement of Times Square’s commercial components to shine more brightly above. The area’s new two-toned custom pavers are embedded with nickel-sized steel discs that capture the neon glow from the signs above and playfully scatter it across the paving surface, referencing marquee lights and Times Square’s theater history.
Ten fifty-foot long granite benches oriented along the Broadway Axis define and frame the public plaza. These benches manage pedestrian flow, creating interior pockets or eddies for people to stop and gather. Simultaneously, this allows for continuous thoroughfares on either side of the benches for quicker foot traffic. Rather than adding more visual distractions like signage, the design harnesses more implicit gestures like the benches and renovated curbs brought up to street level, allowing users to feel psychologically at ease in an often-overstimulating public space. New power and broadcast infrastructure embedded in the benches eliminate the need for of diesel generators, temporary power cables, and broadcast equipment, enabling swift and efficient set-up and break down of public events.
Snøhetta collaborated closely with NYC agencies including the Department of Transportation, the Department of Design and Construction, and the Times Square Alliance, the key maintenance partner for the new plazas. As a public project, the design team had to manage the often-competing needs of its multiple stakeholders through an extensive community engagement process. Snøhetta worked closely with NYPD Counterterrorism, security consultants, and public safety agencies, to develop integrated security features that ensure that the space is secure while remaining open and inviting.
Since the Bloomberg administration closed Broadway to vehicles in May 2009, and the first section of the pedestrian plazas opened to the public in spring 2014, the transformation has already had a significant impact on public safety and user experience. Pedestrian injuries have decreased by 40%, vehicular accidents have decreased by 15%, and overall crime in the area decreased 20%. With the removal of vehicles, air pollution in the Bowtie area has fallen by as much as 60%, making the space safer and healthier for everyone. With a significant positive impact on public safety, air quality, and economic output, the project has transformed Times Square into a world-class civic space that reflects the best of Times Square and New York City, allowing the “Crossroads of the World” to retain its edge while refining its floor.
Entrant office name: Snøhetta
Role of the entrant in the project: Landscape Design Architect, Architect
Other design firms involved:
Thornton Tomasetti Weidlinger Transportation Practice: Civil Engineering, Traffic Engineering, Utilities Engineer
Bexel: Broadcast Engineer
BuroHappold Engineering: Structural Engineering
Thornton Tomasetti Weidlinger Protective Design Practice: Security Engineering
Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects: Landscape Architect of Record
Arup/Leni Schwendinger Light Projects: Lighting Design
Ducibella Venter and Santore – Security Consulting
Wesler Cohen– MEP Engineering
Project location: New York, NY, USAs
Design year: 2010-2016
Year Completed: 2016