“Glimpse” is a new PYC series for on-the-go readers interested in concise, image-laden posts…
The well-lit Fulton Center will be completely opened within the next few months, but I was granted access to the construction site in late August, in the company of Daniel Peterson, PE, who came up with the floor plan for the Fulton Center. The design is meticulous; indeed, every nook and cranny in the complex has been carefully (and artfully) interconnected. It was a pleasure to explore the facility, and I’m sure it’ll be even more pleasurable once it opens with civic and commercial spaces, as well as with connections to the nearby PATH hub…
Daniel Peterson writes:
While the Fulton Street Transit Center oculus, and in particular its curved form, might seem inspired by Norman Foster’s work, I can tell you that the plan for the station definitely was not. In my role as Senior Transportation Engineer for Arup, I developed the plan for the station in a sketch I worked up on my train home, in response to a large ‘design objectives’ meeting with the MTA held earlier in the day (5/30/2002). Grimshaw was hired by Arup about a year later and was obliged to adopt our plan.
This original plan was modified by MTA’s decision to retain the Corbin Building, but only by being made smaller. The circular elements (the promenade ground floor and depressed “pod”), and the angled main staircases were retained. The upper floors were added later and retained the circular motif. In the initial sketch, fare control turnstiles were on the ground floor inside the entrances. We soon realized we could relocate the -1 to -2 stairs to the 4/5 uptown platform and move fare control between the pod and the platform.
Daniel Peterson continues:
Grand Central Terminal and its east and west staircases influenced my thinking regarding the FSTC design, including its vertical space and clearstory daylight above, and the actions of “descending into”, and “watching others”. While these GCT elements in no way resemble in plan the FSTC elements, in psychological intent, they do. The circular forms have their antecedents in the Smithsonian’s Museum of History and Technology, designed by McKim Mead & White, and today called the National Museum of American History; a building in which I spent countless hours as a young lad, courtesy of my inspired parents.
The ground floor and the pod were designed as circular spaces to provide an attractive promenade for circulation within the station and to drive my expectation that there ought to be an open dome above (I was thinking Pantheon, Monticello, not a hyperboloid, though I knew that whoever designed the opening would have to “reach for” the natural light). James Carpenter, who sought me out when he got the commission, got it exactly right. The circular plan also worked to bring the pedestrians into the pod at perpendicular angles. I felt this was a key design element because I wanted users to be able to naturally witness the movement of other travelers as each moved up and down the stairs and escalators (I had to fight to keep Grimshaw from turning the escalators parallel and the circular promenade into an orthogonal box). I also wanted users to emerge from the building into its corners, which is natural for circulation (direct to the street corner), but is also visually interesting through the perspectival changes encountered and from the greater light present in the open intersections beyond the doors and visible through the glass above them.
As one can see from my photos and Dan’s sketches…
The inbound pedestrian flows from the four corners of the station (originally extending to John St.) were drawn to a central area, which was then to lead to the 4/5 and other trains. This “central area,” which became known as the “pod” was depressed (-1) to lead directly into the uptown 4/5 platform. Once inside the relocated fare control, additional vertical circulation led down to the (-2) large concourse area (the open pool-like “basement” that the pod overlooks) which provided through connectivity between Dey St. the A/C mezzanine and J/M/Z and 2/3 lines, and the downtown 4/5 platform.
There very much was an intent on MTA’s part (from Peter Kalikow, MTA chairman at the time, and who interestingly owned the Telegraph Building, the 1923 HQ for AT&T, across Broadway) to bring natural light all the way into Fulton Center, down to the A mezzanine if possible. There was on my part also a very intentional user experience of moving into, emerging into the light as one left the station and went to one’s day in the city. The promenade was circular, and the pod below, naturally enough was as well, as I felt the curved edges more approachable for looking over and watching people on the escalators, down below or across the opening as they move through the station. I also felt the circular overlooks more conducive to creating self-defined spaces for waiting for a rendezvous. Curved edges seem to have a different, more approachable, attraction for people than orthogonal square edges, and looking into a circle, a different experience from looking into a square.
It is my sincere hope that users will enjoy a transformative experience as they leave and enter what is now called Fulton Center, an experience that keeps working for them, day after day; that fills them with a little bit of the energy and wonder of the city.
Daniel Peterson, PE
…. Yet ….
I think that the MTA’s budget should be partly incentivized by real estate revenues. The agency owns plenty of land that hasn’t yet been capitalized upon, including the Fulton Center. Whilst being a beautiful public space, the Fulton Center is nevertheless a low-rise building located in the heart of Lower Manhattan, arguably without an adequate amount of commercial space. What happened to selling air rights? Or, instead of spending a large sum of money relocating HQ to 2 Broadway, why not relocate above MTA-owned land?
Born and bred in Brooklyn, I am quite interested in how smart transportation planning — and in particular, in how transportation hubs — can transform cities and communities socially, economically, politically, environmentally, and of course, physically. I also am interested in the juxtaposition between international development and transportation, and in understanding comparative contexts so as not to “transport transportation“, but to translate (in)formal best practices.
However, my primary interest concerns transportation hubs, which I consider to be “transformation hubs“. When properly contextualized, I think that these transit-oriented cathedrals of powers, identities, and ideologies are paramount in order to achieve inclusive international urban development plans and policies, as well as in order to achieve financial sustainability for transportation agencies vis-à-vis ample civic and commercial real estate spaces.
Why do few projects seem to understand the importance of transit-oriented transformation hubs? Why is transportation ‘transported’ – instead of ‘translated’ contextually – from one area to another? Why are some (in)formal transportation agencies better than others? Do they have healthier public-private partnerships? More importantly, are their market-led incentives more catalyzing? Perhaps, yes.
These (in)formal, public-private partnership hubs must integrate commercial space in order to qualify as smart planning for the 21st century. Here’s an idealistic vision: How about a transportation hub with office space, retail space, affordable housing, rooftop farming, and solar panels? And community space for local meetings in order to assist with place-making efforts?
There are so many opportunities for the MTA to become a profitable agency, but the incentives are lacking, and MTA real estate throughout the five boroughs (and beyond) remains arguably underutilized, if not entirely unutilized…