The newest spectacle on Broadway is at Father Duffy Square, where the 35-year-old TKTS Booth has received a much-needed makeover. The glowing red, 27-step overhang sits 16' above street level and became an immediate sensation when the all-glass booth reopened on October 16 after a two-year renovation, drawing foot traffic to the discount ticketing facility on the West 47th Street median.
International architecture firm Perkins Eastman spearheaded the design, a collaboration of the 40-year-old Theatre Development Fund (TDF), which runs the booth, the Times Square Alliance, and the Coalition for Father Duffy (the soldier-priest, a pastor in the theatre district, is immortalized by a bronze statue that has stood sentinel since 1937). Principal at Perkins Eastman Nick Leahy says the overhaul dates back to 1999, when Australian architecture firm Choi Ropiha prevailed over almost 700 other entrants to win an international ideas competition about remaking the square. “In 2001, TDF decided it needed a new booth,” says Leahy, who further developed the winning design for the final product. “I liked that the winning proposal created a truly public space in Times Square, but ours is much different. That was steel frame and fiber-optics; I was interested in an all-glass structure with LED lighting.”
Realizing what Leahy calls “the movie from Choi Ropiha's short story” proved a struggle, with expenses and delays that pushed the cost to $19 million. “When I said glass, everyone said, ‘You're nuts,’ but Tori Bailey, TDF's executive director, really got that it could be a 21st-century landmark. Glass makes it look like the space is floating, different from the visual cacophony that is the rest of Times Square.”
ECKELT Glass, a subsidiary of Saint Gobain, fabricated the custom laminated glass. The steps are made of 1½"-thick, triple-laminated glass panels that are 45' wide at the top and taper to 32'. The staircase ends in a cantilevered canopy that protects the ticket buyers below from the elements. The treads are 2' deep; they are staggered and span 25 glass stringers, 28' long, which brace the structure laterally. Panels beneath the steps supply heat to melt snow and cooling for the more than 2,800 linear feet of red Plexineon fixtures supplied by Chicago-based iLight Technologies Inc.
The actual booth, now with credit card capability and a “Plays Only” window, is a huge contrast from its predecessor. “It was two construction trailers, with a few windows,” says Leahy. “Now it has 12 windows, a bathroom, and a small lounge where the employees can hang out.” Visible through the structure's glass side walls, the booth is housed in a freestanding watertight fiberglass shell that, for acoustic reasons, is separated from the steps and structural supports. Its boat hull-like shape is no accident. “Rhode Island's Merrifield-Roberts, which built America's Cup yachts, understood what this was about,” adds Leahy. “We were able to drop the booth, which Kim Roberts designed in four pieces, into place in about six hours.” Other team members included Williams Fellows Architects, which designed the plaza, Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners, iG Innovation Glass, D. Haller, Inc., and DMJM Harris.
The booth unofficially debuted in last year's hit movie I Am Legend, which “finished” the structure for its vision of a ravaged Times Square in the year 2012. “On the one hand, we're struggling to build it for real; on the other, I'm getting calls from the movie asking, ‘What color will the millwork be?’” Leahy says. “We were invited to see the Duffy Square set, which was built in this enormous armory in the Bronx, and there was the booth, built, if kind of trashed.”
TDF, which also opened a booth in Brooklyn, is confident its Times Square flagship will endure. “Instantly, it became what we always thought it could be,” says Bailey. “We don't have a lot of public gathering spaces in New York City, and this one allows you to stop, and look, at Times Square — and maybe get you off the steps and onto the line to buy a ticket for a show.”