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The Dazzling Designs for a New York That Never Existed

From skyscraper bridges to glass domes, an intoxicating glimpse at how New York might have looked.

The view of Raymond Hood's proposed skyscraper bridge, from 1925.
The view of Raymond Hood's proposed skyscraper bridge, from 1925. All images: Courtesy Never Built New York/ Metropolis Books

Architect Raymond Hood, once described as a “brilliant bad boy,” is celebrated for designing the Rockefeller Center, the Daily News Building and Chicago’s Tribune Tower, among others. But what about his designs that only ever remained as blueprints and drawings? Can we admire how a city might have looked?

This question is central to Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin’s new book Never Built New York. It’s an intoxicating look at the designs for New York that, either through bureaucracy, budget or bad luck, never came to pass. Hood’s “Skyscraper Bridge” proposal, pictured above, joins a plethora of other eye-catching and intriguing never-built designs.

With a desire to ease New York’s intense congestion – by 1925, the metropolis had surpassed London as the world’s largest city – Hood proposed a series of bridges over Manhattan’s rivers, lined with skyscrapers 50 or 60 stories high. There would be amenities on the bridges—shop and theaters—and elevators to the river for water sports. In total, Hood envisioned over a dozen bridges fanning out from Manhattan.

Imagining the future: "How you may live and travel in the New York of 1950".
Imagining the future: “How you may live and travel in the New York of 1950”.

While Hood’s vision never came to pass, it certainly hasn’t been the only plan to utilize Manhattan’s waterways. In 1946, Wallace K. Harrison and William Zeckendorf proposed X-City, a vast complex on the East River, which included curved skyscrapers and a landing facility for helicopters and light aircraft.

Over a decade later, Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Key Project” would turn Ellis Island into a mini-city, with apartments, hotels, theaters, hospitals—and even a planetarium and a yacht club.

Atlas Obscura has a selection of the dazzling designs for a New York that never came to be.

Headlines in the <em>The New York Times</em> from August 8, 1909, praising Charles Rollinson Lamb's plan for diagonal avenues across Manhattan.
Headlines in the The New York Times from August 8, 1909, praising Charles Rollinson Lamb’s plan for diagonal avenues across Manhattan.

 

John Rink's design for Central Park included a shooting gallery and star-shaped gardens.
John Rink’s design for Central Park included a shooting gallery and star-shaped gardens.

 

Modernist apartments on Roosevelt Island, as part of Victor Gruen's 1961 plan.
Modernist apartments on Roosevelt Island, as part of Victor Gruen’s 1961 plan.

 

The 1961 proposal by Robert Moses to extend Fifth Avenue right through Washington Square Park.
The 1961 proposal by Robert Moses to extend Fifth Avenue right through Washington Square Park.

 

The "Grand Court" of architecture firm Reed and Stem's 1903 design for Grand Central Station.
The “Grand Court” of architecture firm Reed and Stem’s 1903 design for Grand Central Station.

 

R. Buckminster Fuller's 1961 dome over Manhattan, a glass structure with a 2 mile diameter.
R. Buckminster Fuller’s 1961 dome over Manhattan, a glass structure with a 2 mile diameter.

 

An illustration showing Rufus Henry Gilbert's 1870 plan for an Elevated Railway, with air-powered tubes 24 feet above the ground.
An illustration showing Rufus Henry Gilbert’s 1870 plan for an Elevated Railway, with air-powered tubes 24 feet above the ground.

 

A sketch from Frank Lloyd Wright's 1959 "Key Project", a $93 million proposal for apartments and facilities - including a planetarium and yacht basin - on Ellis Island.
A sketch from Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1959 “Key Project”, a $93 million proposal for apartments and facilities - including a planetarium and yacht basin - on Ellis Island.

 

The mezzanine of Pei Cobb Freed's 1990 plan for John F Kennedy Airport.
The mezzanine of Pei Cobb Freed’s 1990 plan for John F Kennedy Airport.

 

X-City, a complex proposed in 1946 on the East River, that would include curved skyscrapers, a concert hall, and as shown here, a runway for helicopters and small aircraft.
X-City, a complex proposed in 1946 on the East River, that would include curved skyscrapers, a concert hall, and as shown here, a runway for helicopters and small aircraft.

 

A photo-montage of the 1939 proposal by Robert Moses and Othmar Ammann for the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge.
A photo-montage of the 1939 proposal by Robert Moses and Othmar Ammann for the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge.

 

The Dodger Dome, the proposal by Normal Bel Geddes and R. Buckminster Fuller for a stadium at Atlantic Yards.
The Dodger Dome, the proposal by Normal Bel Geddes and R. Buckminster Fuller for a stadium at Atlantic Yards.

 

A concourse to connect Midtown to the UN site on the East River, designed by William Zeckendorf and Wallace K. Harrison in 1948, which was flanked with buildings and culminated in a television antenna on the East River.
A concourse to connect Midtown to the UN site on the East River, designed by William Zeckendorf and Wallace K. Harrison in 1948, which was flanked with buildings and culminated in a television antenna on the East River.