Paul Willen is best known for the visionary plans that led to the transformation of Manhattan's vast waterfront – turning it into a vibrant setting of new parkland and residential/office communities. The first of these was the groundbreaking Lower Manhattan Plan (1966), followed by the Hudson River Linear Park (1980), and Riverside South (1990).

This vision, stimulated by the environmental movement of the 1960s, had two goals: to open the inner city to the magic of the waterfront, and to surround the city with a continuous ribbon of park and public activity. This precedent has led, in the last few decades, to an outburst of plans and construction throughout the New York harbor and along riversides throughout the country.

Paralleling these large-scale plans, Paul Willen has maintained an active architectural practice – starting with his work on Marcel Breuer's Whitney Museum (the grand stairs). Among his projects are the Racquet Club & Apartments in Shanghai, Trail Creek Village at Killington, Vermont, SE Loop in Rochester, World Plaza and the Sheraton Hotel in Queens, the Rosenthal Library at Queens College, and the Bell New Town at Isfahan.

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