While everyone knows that the proposals five development teams have offered up for the MTA's West Side rail yards are likely to change, the NY Times' architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff made it clear that he hopes they do, with a withering review of the five plans. Noting the great opportunity that developers have, Ouroussoff says the designs "are not just a disappointment for their lack of imagination, they are also a grim referendum on the state of large-scale planning in New York City."

And it gets better: Ouroussoff slams the process of urban planning from the MTA and importance of "profit margins above architecture and planning." (Money is an issue, since developers will have to build something to cover the existing rail yards, a project that could run $1 billion.) He likes the plan from Extell the best and raises the issue of Extell being an underdog (because it doesn't have experience with projects this big) and the likelihood that Extell will be dismissed while lesser proposals with corporations to anchor buildings will be welcomed:

This is not how to build healthy cities. It is a model for their ruin, one that has led to a parade of soulless developments typically dressed up with a bit of parkland, a few commercial galleries and a token cultural institution — the superficial gloss of civilization. As an ideal of urbanism, it is hollow to its core.

Ouch. Let's hope that various powers that be at the MTA - and elected officials and development companies - were reading the paper this weekend. The public has a chance to weigh in on the designs at the display of the models (at a storefront at the northwest corner of East 43rd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue). Below (and after the jump) are some choice observations from Ouroussoff on each of the plans. And check out this 2005 video of Ouroussofff on Charlie Rose, discussing the state of architecture.

  • Related Companies' plan "would transform the site into a virtual theme park for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation" (not a good thing, we take it) and the buildings would create "an imposing barrier between the public park and the rest of the city to the east."

  • The Durst Organization and Vornado's joint plan is "slightly less disturbing" than Related's, but the plan's "real precedents are the deadening elevated streets found in late Modernist housing complexes." Deadening is not a good thing!

  • Tishman Speyer's design by Helmut "at least seems more honest" (than the Durst-Vornado) but "the design looks like a conventional 1980s mega-development: an oddly retro vision of uniform glass towers set around a vast plaza decorated with a few scattered cafes."

  • Brookfield Properties' plan has "real architectural talent" but the talent gives "sophistication without adding much substance." Why? The "retail mall and commercial towers along 10th Avenue" gives "the public park an isolated feel" and a "hotel and retail complex cuts the park in two, so that you lose the full impact of its sweep."

  • However, a plan from Extell, one of the supposed underdogs, is the "only one worth serious consideration" for "those who place urban-planning issues above dollars and cents" because it "tries to minimize the impact of the development’s immense scale." Points for its proposal to build a suspension deck - not a platform - over the rail yards which would offer "generous public space and a less brutal assault on the skyline."

See more renderings here. Curbed readers thought the Brookfield design was best, and the Observer also suggested Brookfield was a favorite (the Brookfield design also eliminated the superblocks and "reinstates streets").