October 15th, 2012 by Hal Grossman
Ulrich Franzen, who designed Hunter East and West in 1968, died on October 6 at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. The New York Times has an interesting obituary that describes Hunter’s buildings as “fortresslike” and in the Brutalist style. Franzen’s design included the third- and seventh-story walkways, which were controversial because of their tendency to block out the sky. He conceived of the third-story bridge as “the college community’s main street,” and intended the first seven floors of Hunter West to be the heart of student life, with scattered places to congregate and escalators making circulation easy. Franzen described his vision for Hunter in this short article from 1972, on the library’s archives pages. He also designed the west entrance to the subway and the open area around it, which he saw as public space akin to a piazza.
The main idea of Hunter’s pedestrian bridges is to separate people from street traffic. Franzen took this idea much farther in a short film from 1969, called “Ulrich Franzen’s Street.” He proposed to transform the streets of the Upper East Side. Traffic on the avenues would be confined to a fraction of the roadway, with new public spaces taking up most of the space devoted to vehicles. Many cross streets would become dead-ends, turned into community areas. To handle the work done by trucks and other through traffic, Franzen proposed a two-mile-long “megastructure” on Roosevelt Island, which would contain a giant parking garage, goods warehouse, mail distribution center, and processing facility for garbage. His ideas may seem unattainable, but the film is worth watching. To see a small and partial realization of these concepts, take a look at East 90th Street between Second and Third avenues, which is closed to traffic for most of the day, or at the new configuration of Times Square.