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Never Built New York (Metropolis Books, 2016)

Author's own photograph

It is the nature of a city not to be complete. There are endless routes that city planners, architects and inhabitants can take to manipulate the future of a built environment. Cities have a beginning but they have no end point; their architectural fabric is constantly susceptible to changes and augmentations, and the buildings that we see everyday are likely living on borrowed time. The London that we know, for example, could have looked very different had Sir Christopher Wren been able to impose a gridded urban plan after the Great Fire in 1666. His plan, however, for better or for worse, never materialised and the City of London retains its piecemeal warren-like logic to this day.

As Wren’s plan demonstrates, the desires of architects and urban planners to remodel cities is not a new paradigm, and it is certainly not solely an idealised modernist view of creating futuristic urban environments. An architectural dogma of improvement through change and renewal has been prevalent throughout time, and cities offer a playground for experimentation. This spirit is the subject of Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell’s book, Never Built New York. Through a series of case studies, Goldin and Lubell document two hundred years of architectural schemes which have sought to transform the built environment of New York City and have failed to manifest.

Bertrand Goldberg’s design for the Headquarters of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). Goldberg claimed that the building achieved an elegance in its arrangement of space and participation in New York’s built environment. ABC liked the proposal, but the broadcaster’s financial problems resulted in the design never being built.

Never Built New York explores the plans and projects of heavyweights of mid-century modernism and postmodernism, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, R. Buckminster Fuller, Frank Gehry, I. M. Pei and Daniel Libeskind, as well as schemes from lesser-known architects and urban planners from the nineteenth century to today. Each study is accompanied by a short explanation of what the building was intended to be at its inception, and why it ultimately remained as paper architecture. From skyscrapers to revisions of street plans, the reasons why these architectural visions never made it off the page are usually the same: expense, tensions between urban planners and inhabitants of the city, and sometimes simply the over-ambitiousness and impracticality of the scheme.

Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, 42nd Street Development Project, 1994. Denise Scott Brown said of the building: “We wanted the quality of the building to come from the communication itself… the chief idea was to put that communication, and then on the street, and then on the regional scale, seen from a distance. In between things are pretty simple… it’s a decorated shed.” The project was ultimately shelved due to animosity between the designers and developers.

The book is a fascinating insight into what, in a parallel architectural reality, New York could have been, and the buildings, streets, and monuments that could have populated it. As long as there are architects and urban planners, schemes will be formulated that alter our experience of a city; some will become architectural masterpieces, some will be mediocre, and others will be confined to the page–never built.


Never Built New York was kindly provided for review by Museum Bookstore. Museum Bookstore offers a huge range of exhibition catalogues, past and present. They also offer personalised shopping services for that particularly hard to find book or if you just need some inspiration for a special gift. You can purchase Never Built New York from Museum Bookstore here.


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