When New York City’s newest subway station, the Fulton Center, opened in November, comparisons to the soaring main hall of Grand Central—the city’s magnificent century-old Beaux-Arts railroad terminal and subway station—seemed inevitable.
The new center, which connects nine subway lines in Lower Manhattan, rivals Grand Central for providing a light, airy, and pleasant commuting experience, albeit it on a smaller scale.
“This new station makes traveling easier for subway riders, and is a beautiful public space for visitors and commuters to enjoy,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement that seems to sum up typical reactions to the new center.
The Fulton Center brought together five underground stations built by three competing subway systems—the IRT (originally designed by William Barclay Parsons in the 1890s), the BMT (which dates to 1913), and the IND (which began construction in 1925).
Although the various lines converged within easy walking distance of each other, the competing transit companies had no interest in making it easy for patrons to get from one system to the other. The result was a mind-numbing maze of dingy corridors that made transferring among lines a trying experience, even after the three lines were consolidated under the New York City Transit Authority in 1953.
All that has changed with the Fulton Center, which makes transferring among the nine lines (A, C, J, Z, R, 2, 3, 4, 5) convenient and rational—two qualities sorely lacking in the old stations, which forced travelers to navigate a confusing jumble of passageways with signage that was nearly impossible to decipher, even for veteran subway riders.
The centerpiece of the $1.4 billion station is a glass-and-steel structure at the corner of Broadway and Fulton streets that features a soaring glass oculus, 27-meters (90-feet) high, and a large atrium.
Within the 16-meter- (53-foot-) diameter oculus is a stunning stainless steel and aluminum sculpture that distributes light into the lower levels of the building. The Sky Reflector-Net (2013), an integrated artwork, is a collaboration of James Carpenter Design Associates, Grimshaw Architects, and Arup, commissioned by MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design and MTA Capital Construction Company (MTACC). It is composed of 112 tensioned cables, 224 high-strength rods, and 952
Parsons Brinckerhoff, in joint venture with Bovis Lend Lease, served as consultant construction manager (CCM) to MTACC, ensuring that construction was carried out in accordance with the approved design, and advising MTACC on issues that arose during construction.
Given the complexity of the new structure, and the need to maintain 24/7 passenger access to all subway lines, managing the construction process posed a number of challenges.
Before construction could begin on the main structure, four existing buildings had to be demolished. Meanwhile, an adjoining building— the 125-year-old Corbin Building—was rehabilitated to become part of the Fulton Center complex.
“Integrating an historic century-old office building with a modern, state-of-the-art transit and retail hub presented significant challenges for both our design and construction teams,” says Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, president of MTACC.
One of the major challenges during construction was consolidating multiple communications systems—for functions such as fire alarm, public address, and smoke exhaust—into a central command center in the new building. Other problems were posed by the need for construction crews to work around temporary corridors and covered passageways that were constantly in use by subway patrons.
Another vexing issue was installing the central architectural feature—the Sky Reflector-Net, which required crews to perform intricate construction while suspended in air. The artwork was constructed relatively early in the process and as a result acquired a thick layer of dust and dirt as construction progressed.
The initial cleaning of the sculpture left streaks and discoloration, which caused concern that the aesthetics of the building would be compromised. But after experimentation with various techniques, an effective cleaning process was developed, and the Sky Reflector-Net has emerged, as intended, as the focal point of the Fulton Center.
The Fulton Center has been leased to the Westfield Corp., which will maintain the public areas of the complex and administer the 6,000 square meters (66,000 square feet) of retail and commercial space planned for the center. As with Grand Central, the Fulton Center will offer high-quality shopping and dining to travelers and visitors.
Eventually, the Fulton Center will be connected to the nearby World Trade Center complex now under construction, offering a connection to the E and 1 subway lines and the PATH trains between New Jersey and the World Trade Center.
The Fulton Center is one of four MTACC projects to expand the transit system William Barclay Parsons designed more than a century ago, and the firm he founded is making significant contributions to each of them.