Article: “About Ghosts of the Future”

A look at New York City as it was, is, or could be.

The term ghost town usually refers to a derelict, mostly abandoned settlement or small town. Semi or completely dilapidated buildings and abandoned houses characterize such sites. Often associated with the genre of the American Western and myths of success and decay, such towns usually have a unique aesthetic and transpire an appealing silence; especially when you experience them coming from our fast-moving, noisy, and architecturally developed cities that leave little room for what once was. Or for what could have been. After all, the vision of our living environment, aka city or metropolis, is very much shaped by the present, and a vision beyond that is, for many, not even possible to imagine.

For example, in New York City, as in any other city, there is a parallel metropolis of never-created buildings, parks, and iconic projects that dangle like ghosts amongst the skyscrapers. Unfortunately, urban works of this kind are often withheld from the average observer, making it difficult to see one’s own city through different eyes. The Queens Museum in New York has solved this dilemma and invites visitors to get acquainted with all the architectural and urban projects that have ultimately remained on paper. Futuristic prints, drawings, complicated models, ambitious installations, and animations of never-completed projects can be explored in the exhibition “Never Built.” While it may be impossible to rethink New York apart from as it is now, “Never Built” explores a city where you can play a football game in Manhattan, travel through a floating airport, and live in an apartment that also acts as a bridge.

Some of the most impressive works are the incredibly realistic graphite drawings and breathtakingly futuristic miniatures from times when digital animation was still a euphoric dream. In 1956, for example, I. M. Pei had the idea to replace Grand Central Station with a circular office building, higher than the Empire State Building. The architect designed an hourglass-shaped tower with 102 floors and intersecting steel girders that, according to the Architectural Record, would have withstood “even a nuclear bomb.” The project was never realized, but, still, it is arguably Pei’s best project.

The vision of Frank Lloyd Wright for Ellis Island, a few years later (1959), was as colorful as a circus tent. Several interlinked towers and domes formed a star-shaped conglomerate of buildings that would have welcomed the visitors and newcomers, if only it had been realized . . . Not to mention one of the wildest ideas ever, the “Dome Over Manhattan” (1960) by R. Buckminster Fuller. The underlying idea was to cover part of Manhattan with a dome to better regulate climate and reduce energy consumption—a project that the city could use today, more than ever.

The highlight of the exhibition is an enormous, bridged room with a true-to-scale reproduction of New York City’s five boroughs that show all those unrealized buildings as luminescent sculptures. It offers a glowing, alternative vision of the city, an invitation to journey beyond the boundaries of the present to a phantom realm: while traditional exhibitions deal with the ruins of the past, here the ghosts of the future become visible.

This article is published on WSI Mag