Robert Moses originally conceived of the Lower Manhattan Expressway project in 1941 and given the authorization to proceed in 1960. After numerous protests, including notable figures such as Jane Jacobs, the project which was to be an elevated highway was replaced by a sunken highway with adjacent parks and housing.
Then, writes Phil Patton in the Architects Newspaper:
In 1967 the Ford Foundation, whose new head was McGeorge Bundy (formerly National Security Advisor during escalation in Vietnam), asked Rudolph—known for large-scale projects—to imagine a development that ameliorated the impact of the highway. He proposed topping the sunken freeway with a series of residential structures, parking, and plazas, with people-mover pods and elevators to subways. The shapes of the buildings echoed the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges, and also recalled Hugh Ferriss’ ideas of bridge/buildings from 1929. Rudolph’s idea was organizing a new city core around modes of movement.
“This plan, unlike most, does not propose to tear down everything in sight; it suggests that we tear down as little as possible,” Rudolph said about the project at the time.
Rather than challenging the need for a massive highway that would have destroyed most of SoHo and Tribecca, Rudolph believed architecture could make the most of the given situation.
In 1971, the project was ended by Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
Decades later, a similar scale project - the 'Big Dig' in Boston - would install the 1.5 mile-long Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway series of parks and public spaces above its new underground highways.
To see more renderings of what might have become of New York, click the links below: