What makes Times Square Times Square? Is it the people? The lights? Whatever your answer, one thing is undeniable: there is no place in the world quite like it. In honor of the Square's centennial, the Times Square Alliance, founded in 1992, is kicking off its first annual Design Times Square-a selection of sites chosen to represent an iconic cross-section of Times Square both old and new.

The 39 selections, picked by a jury of six noted design professionals including architect Hugh Hardy and Van Alen Institute director Ray Gastil, have been grouped into four sub-divisions: interiors, architecture, public space/art, and signage. It is no surprise that signs have their own category. Signage is an integral component to the make-up of this historical district, recognized even by the area's zoning laws, which specify that illuminated signs must decorate the façades of all new buildings within the core Times Square area.

The Alliance invites the public to cast a vote for their favorite designs. But as the 39 contest selections show, Times Square lighting isn't just about the signs. As befits something as bright and brash as this neighborhood, light is an integral component in almost all of the selections. The influence of light can be subtle, as in the subdued interior lighting of the W Times Square hotel; or it can be as obvious as the 10-story light show at the New 42nd Street Studios. The Design Times Square project aims to be more than just a pretty face, however. As project manager Eddie Nelms explains, 'a major role of the program is to capture the iconic essence of the neighborhood, so it is not lost despite the drive for development.'

'We want this to be a kind of mood ring for the country,' says Alliance president Tim Tompkins. 'With signage, whatever new technology comes out is shown off, not just technically, but creatively. As an element, the signs of Times Square are constantly changing. And good design is good for business.' Go to www.timessquarenyc.org/design to view selections. Voting ends December 1. kl