Architecture’s Faust: Revisiting The Destruction of Penn Station

Dr. Faust made a deal with the devil: he was given the power to build a new world, but contrary to the popular conceptions, he didn’t sell his soul to gain those powers. Rather, he destroys his own soul when he demolishes the Old World in the name of progress and development.

Whenever a beautiful building is torn down in New York City, Faust usually appears through Marshall Berman’s 1982 All That is Solid Melts into Air. Berman was the first to use Faust as an example of the modern experience, of how the modern world is constantly changing. He draws parallels between Faust and Robert Moses, builder of New York’s parks and highways, and the association stuck. Moses, the latter-day Faust, leveled neighborhoods in the name of progress. That same tension between progress and the past appears in a play, named The Eternal Space, currently being crowdfunded on Kickstarted until November 6.

The play’s subject is the destruction of New York’s old Pennsylvania Station, 1910-1963, a monumental masterpiece of Beaux Arts architecture. Two characters debate the demolition with the station omnipresent on stage: a vast trove of photographs record the station’s gradual destruction in the backdrop. Ultimately, the characters and the architecture are left deconstructed, having come to terms with the loss of the building in the name of progress. The photographs were specially assembled from five different photographers, some of them never seen before by the public. Read on for more details and how the events of 9/11 spurred the play’s inception.

Link to the Article

Top Image: A reading of the play, image by Dawn McDonald.

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