The opening yesterday in Father Duffy Square of the new TKTS booth—conceived 35 years before the current trend in pop-up venues—was attended by Mayor Bloomberg, Bernadette Peters, and loyal members of the 69th, if not the naked cowboy. Even the original designers of the red steps, Australians Tai Ropiha and John Choi, were on hand, although organizers were quick to call their competition winning design (best of 683 entries from 31 countries) of January 2000, just a concept.
“They wrote the inspiring short story, we turned it into the movie,” said Nicholas Leahy, the principal in charge from Perkins Eastman, the architects who took over the $19 million project from Choi Ropiha.
The two Australians were just friends when they entered the Van Alen Institute-run competition, and now they are design partners of their own Sydney-based firm working primarily on residential, small-scale institutional, and urban planning projects in Australia and Asia. “It was a great experience,” said Choi. “And we continue to approach our work by thinking beyond the site and beyond the brief to find the bigger meaning.”
In the spirit of the film-making metaphor, we asked Leahy what of the original design ended up on the cutting room floor. The solar-powered LED lights lining the stairs, he said, went “quick, right out the window” as did the idea of structuring the building out of resin. The final building is made almost entirely of glass, including structural beams visible behind the ticket windows under the stair—a signature touch of engineers Dewhurst McFarlane who collaborated on the job.
As the military band warmed up and event organizers hustled everyone to their seats before it could rain, retired officers of Father Duffy’s regiment, the 69th, lingered on the glass stairway that rises right behind the beloved chaplain Duffy’s backside and that will be kept warm and de-iced—the stairs, that is—with thermal radiant heating. “Seems quite innovative”, said 69er John Kuhlmann, “and it sure isn’t the dead zone, it used to be.”