New York’s Pennsylvania Station is much more than a transit hub. It is the busiest transportation facility in the Western Hemisphere, it is at the heart of the northeast corridor, and it is the lynchpin to reimagining both its neglected neighborhood and new equitable development throughout our region.
Penn represents the gateway for a region in the midst of a housing affordability crisis, and its rejuvenation represents the potential for more equitable development across the tri-state area. While the government’s current plans for a new Amtrak station in the Farley building is a step forward, it is a form of inequitable development because Amtrak users are the most affluent users of Penn Station. Even proponents of the Farley project have indicated that it will be used by at most twenty percent of Penn Station’s users, leaving eighty percent, or some 500,000 daily commuters, in the rabbit warren of passageways under Madison Square Garden. It is unthinkable that over a billion dollars of public funds would be spent to better the safety and well-being of the station’s wealthiest users while the less moneyed majority would remain in a congested, unsafe, inhumane dungeon across the street.
Unless we act, this situation will be exacerbated by regional growth trends as indicated in the Regional Planning Association’s Fourth Regional Plan. The Plan makes it clear that the most available land for the development of affordable housing in our region is in the parking lots located along our commuter rail lines. As the Plan indicates, the demand for multi-family, mixed-income, transit-oriented development with strong access to the region’s employment base will only increase in the coming decades, but this necessitates regional infrastructure that is both robust and equitable. We cannot place more demand on Penn Station, particularly its commuter facilities, without enhancing capacity, safety, and user experience for all of Penn’s users, regardless of income or social status. A further burden on the corridors beneath the Garden will be the much-needed construction of Gateway, the Federal plan for creating two new tunnels under the Hudson, which as proposed will expand rail capacity but will not expand station space. While growth, be it from building more equitable development throughout the region or from new trains coming through new tunnels under the Hudson, is a good thing, it must be paired with a Penn Station that works for everybody.
Beyond these very significant concerns, Penn Station is also a symbol, from the extraordinary engineering feat it and its trans-Hudson tunnels represented in 1910, to the demolition of McKim, Mead & White’s beaux arts spectacle in the 1960s, to its future disposition in the coming years. Penn Station symbolizes, for good or bad, who we are as a society. Its future asks whether we still believe in the idea of the public, whether we believe in a shared civil society, whether we can still come together to imagine a future as collective as it is bright.
Our proposal imagines the station as a new public commons, a civic space both sober and soaring, an idea born out of architectural restraint during a time that asks us to do more with less. By proposing to recycle the superstructure and foundations of Madison Square Garden once the Garden has a beautiful new home 800’ away in the west end of the Farley building, our proposed station creates a grand commuter pavilion at minimal public cost and disruption. This new commuter pavilion reinforces other proposals for the area, including an Amtrak station in the east end of the Farley building, improved entrances and concourses to the north and west, and most importantly, the tracks and platforms proposed to be built to the south as part of the Gateway tunnel project. The definition of success is new capacity, a new station, and a new neighborhood.
Architecturally the proposal builds upon the palimpsest that is Penn, with layers of history revealed from McKim’s original balustrades, to the reuse of the original station’s mezzanine levels, to the reimagining of the Garden’s roof as a hovering mural of New York. Building upon the circular precedents of Philip Johnson’s New York State World’s Fair pavilion and Pan Am’s “Worldport” building at JFK, the structure of the Garden is reclad in a double-skin glass wall that transmits light but not heat. A sawtooth pattern in the glass picks up changes in light through the day, acting as a sundial for travelers as they ascend from the platforms. The station is passively heated and cooled, allowing for a 25’ high open entry threshold around the entire perimeter of the cylinder, which will enable far better emergency egress. Blast proof glass will protect the new station, and smoke can be purged quickly through the oculus in the ceiling in the event of a fire.
Beyond the specifics of the building however, this proposal provides the opportunity to reimagine the entire neighborhood as a destination rather than a repellent, with a new Madison Square Garden, new office, housing and hotels, new eateries, a small public park, all at the heart of our city. At the center of the new district will be a grand public space without a grand public price tag, a chance to reaffirm our belief in civic infrastructure and our shared public realm.
Credits: Structural, Protective Design & Sustainability Engineers: Thornton Tomasetti Sustainability: Level Agency for Infrastructure Cost Estimators: Dharam Consulting Architectural Model: Tenguerian Architectural Models Architect: Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU)
Credits: - PAU - Ruchika Modi - PAU - Christopher James Botham - Thornton Tomasetti - Gunnar Hubbard - Dharam Consulting - Andrew Smith - Thornton Tomasetti - Robert Smilowitz - Dharam Consulting - Toby Lawes - Thornton Tomasetti - Thomas Z. Scarangello - PAU - Vishaan Chakrabarti - Level Agency for Infrastructure - Byron Stigge - PAU - Diego Soto Mandrinan - Thornton Tomasetti - Raymond Daddazio - Level Agency for Infrastructure - Jorge Juan Cornet - PAU - Bryan Dorsey - PAU - Antariksh Tandon - Thornton Tomasetti - Robert Otani - PAU - Skylar Bisom-Rapp