NEW YORK — A mere seven years ago, Hudson Yards looked a lot like the no-man’s land that surrounds Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. Bordered by old warehouses, gas stations, garages, and a forlorn convention center, the 28-acre Manhattan site served as an open-air parking lot for train cars passing through Penn Station, a rare empty quarter in a city with a voracious appetite for real estate.
Today when you step out of Penn Station onto Eighth Avenue, you run headlong into a forest of blue glass towers in various stages of completion. Many more are coming.
Tilting this way and that, their taut, swaggering forms dwarf everything around them. This is the architecture of power, familiar from the skylines of insta-cities like Dubai and Singapore and Shanghai. There are seemingly two of everything: shimmering totems sporting sharply angled crowns, immense obelisks softened with rounded edges, asymmetric checkerboards.
Set on a concrete platform over the tracks, Hudson Yards is said to be the largest private, mixed-use development in the United States, costing $25 billion. Never before has anyone built so much in one place, all at once. Trophy office buildings jostle for space with luxury condo towers. While other cities are hemorrhaging retail, Hudson Yards managed to fill a seven-story shopping mall and land New York’s first Neiman Marcus store as its anchor tenant. The project features two public attractions, a cutting-edge arts center called the Shed, and what may be the world’s first purpose-built selfie-magnet, an Escher-esque fantasy known as the Vessel.
Although the project is only half finished, the 14-acre first phase already has visibly shifted Midtown’s center of gravity west, pulling blue-chip corporations, hedge-fund billionaires, fashion titans, and swarms of tourists along with it. The next phase will add another huge platform and acres of new land. When everything is complete, sometime around 2026, the development will be home to 14 high-rises.
Consider Hudson Yards New York’s first insta-neighborhood.
Hudson Yards sounds like an only-in-New-York story. But Philadelphia also has dreamed of building over its rail yards and filling in the no-man’s land around 30th Street Station with modern high-rises. Such a project would help unite Philadelphia’s traditional Center City business district with University City’s rapidly expanding research hub, forming a single, seamless downtown and a powerful jobs center for the region.