The ‘new’ gateway to Lower Manhattan

Manhattan commuters had already been using the Fulton Center, the suburban transit hub designed and rehabilitated in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, for months before it officially opened. Much of the complex was closed to the public, hidden behind hoardings and construction tarpaulin which concealed the architectural magnificence behind. But finally, almost a decade after the first contract for the construction of the complex was signed, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the operator of the city’s subway network, has stripped the tarpaulins and declared the complex officially open. The grand opening took place last 10 November.

Basically, the objective of the project was once and for all to put an end to the tangle of subway lines that converge on this part of New York’s financial district. These lines date right back to the construction of the New York subway a little over a century ago. Over the years, it’s a situation that’s caused no end of friction.
So at the opening ceremony last November, one of the stated aims of the new complex was to make the daily commute a little less arduous for the 300,000 people who are expected to travel via Fulton Center every day. MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast described the complex as ‘the next major public space in New York’. His declaration echoed those of Grimshaw, the architects responsible for the three-storey-high glass and steel oculus that caps the complex they dub ‘the gateway to Lower Manhattan’.

Behind the 140-foot façade of the entrance to the complex, a bank of escalators lead to the subway platforms 40 feet below street level. And up above, spanning the whole atrium, is the Fulton Center’s signature feature: the conical oculus, 70 metres high and 50 metres wide, created in conjunction with James Carpenter Design Associates. The oculus contains 952 perforated aluminium diamonds confined between upper and lower rings, the lower ring acting as the tensioning element. Called the ‘Sky Reflector Net’, this structure moves in accordance with the changing daylight and reflectance from the sky, meaning the dome is constantly changing tone. The intention, say the architects, was to give the complex its own sky—although one of the more the more mundane functions of the net is to act as a smoke evacuation funnel.

Fortunately, the dome can be admired from many points of the station, including the mezzanine between street level and subway, where there are shops, bars and restaurants.

Source and photo: Architectural Record

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