New York Journal: Moynihan Train Hall Opens in Midtown

Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson © SOM

Ron Bernthal

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Designed by SOM, the new Moynihan Train Hall, which opened on January 1, 2020, completely reimagines the travel experience at the busiest transportation hub in the Western Hemisphere, and evokes the architectural heritage of New York’s original Penn Station.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) celebrated the completion of a long-held New York dream. The new, approximately $1.6 billion Daniel Patrick Moynihan Train Hall, named for the United States senator who proposed the project in the 1990s, has opened its doors to New Yorkers and travelers from the Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak, the New York City Subway, and the entire northeast region. It is one of the most monumental civic projects undertaken in the city in a generation, and transforms the way millions of people interact with one of the world’s largest cities.

Moynihan Train Hall expands the current Pennsylvania Station complex with a 486,000 square-foot rail hub within the landmark James A. Farley Post Office Building. Situated across Penn Station, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues and West 31st and 33rd Streets, it reverses the dark, overcrowded experience that so many commuters have endured for decades.

Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson © SOM

The new hall brings light to the concourses for the first time in more than 50 years, increases total concourse space by 50 percent, and restores the grandeur that was lost with the demolition of the original Penn Station in 1963.

“This is an incredibly important moment in the history of New York City,” said SOM parnter Colin Koop. “We’ve designed a place that evokes the majesty of the original Penn Station, all while serving as a practical solution to the issues that commuters in, to and from New York City have endured for too long. By connecting to our architectural past through the adaptive reuse of the Farley Post office building, we are breathing new life into New York, and recreating an experience no one has had here in decades.”

“SOM has been working on this project since 1998,” added Laura Ettelman, SOM managingn partner. “Our commitment to this project has been fueled by the profound belief that New York City is better because of projects like this.”

That original Pennsylvania Station was designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1910. It was a skylit, Beaux-Arts masterpiece that celebrated travelers’ arrival to New York City. After its demolition in the early 1960’s, only its concourses and platforms remained, and they were all underground in a space downgraded to accommodate only 200,000 people.
Penn Station
Original Penn Station (Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

Five decades later, the number of people passing through the station every day swelled to more than 600,000, while the Farley Building, also designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1913, with a grand staircase and colonnade that echoed the firm’s design for Penn Station, had become 95 percent vacant.

Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson © SOM

Residing above Penn Station’s tracks, the Farley Building was the perfect place for a new train station. “One of the most remarkable things about this project is the way that it transforms an under-utilized and under-appreciated building into a new, inviting front door for this city,” said Roger Duffy, the retired SOM Design Partner who led the project for the firm. “The train hall is at the core of this transformation. It is designed with lightness and warmth, which combine to reestablish the essence of what it means to come to New York.”

The new train hall, located in the 31,000 square-foot former mail sorting room, is designed with a dramatic skylight that traverses the entire space, much like the original Penn Station did in 1910. The skylight is arranged in four catenary vaults. To support the structure, SOM uncovered the building’s three massive steel trusses, which had been invisible to postal workers a century ago, and chose to reveal them as a major focal point of the design. With a web-like structure, the bolted trusses add an extra sense of lightness to the train hall, establishing a modern look and feel while displaying the workmanship of neoclassical design.

Each of the four catenary vaults is composed of more than 500 glass and steel panels that come together to form a moiré effect. At the edges of each vault, the panels thicken to sustain greater structural loads, while at the apexes, which span 92 feet above the concourse, the panels’ depth lightens to enhance the airy ambience of the space. The trusses are each equipped with new lighting fixtures that illuminate the train hall at night. On the middle truss, a new clock, designed by Pennoyer Architects and inspired by the analog clocks that were once prevalent at the original Penn Station, marks the center of the room.

Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson © SOM

Along the eastern wall, four large LED screens feature New York State imagery designed by Moment Factory, and help brighten the train hall at night. Hospitality spaces, including ticketing kiosks and information kiosks designed by SOM, Amtrak waiting rooms on the concourse level designed by Rockwell Group, an Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge by FX Collaborative, and a food hall designed by Elkus Manfredi, surround the space on two floors to establish an inviting experience that provides all the amenities a commuter will need. The signage and wayfinding identify the hospitality and platform entries by color to enable intuitive circulation through the station, an element that has largely been missing in the confusing corridors of Penn Station for the last 50 years.

Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson | Aaron Fedor © SOM

The interior spaces of the station, including the train hall, share a unified material aesthetic. Drawing inspiration from the existing, historic post office at the top of the Farley Building’s staircase as well as Grand Central Terminal, SOM designed the station’s interiors with Tennessee Quaker marble, a material that evokes that sense of warmth, calmness, and grandeur that are central to the design.

Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson | Aaron Fedor © SOM

Moynihan Station connects to nine platforms and 17 tracks that primarily service the Long Island Railroad and Amtrak. The station connects directly with the Eighth Avenue Subway, and plans are in the works to connect the entire Penn Station complex, including Moynihan Station, to MetroNorth and the AirTrain to JFK.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Moynihan-elevator-to-gates-_Train-Hall_Lucas-Blair-Simpson_SOM_08_jpg-1024x684.jpg
Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson © SOM

Moynihan Station is accessible through a variety of grand entrances. As part of the first phase of its construction, two new entrances on Eighth Avenue, designed by SOM, flank the Farley Building’s staircase, and lead directly into the train hall and the new West End Concourse, a significant widening of an existing concourse that serves as a connection between Penn and Moynihan Stations.

At entrances on 31st and 33rd Streets, SOM implemented new canopies to help identify the civic presence of the station and complement the arched windows of the Farley Building. Art installations by Elmgreen & Dragset at the 31st Street entrance and Kehinde Wiley Studio at 33rd Street, as well as a second skylight create an inviting experience, draw passengers in.

Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson | Aaron Fedor © SOM

The entrance on Ninth Avenue reshapes the Annex, an expansion to the Farley Building constructed in the 1930s that has served as a parking garage and office space for most of its life, into a 21st-century, mixed-use anchor for the neighborhood. The entrance is flanked by restaurants, and responds directly to the massive new developments to the west of the station. It aligns directly with the entry into Manhattan West, which was planned and largely designed by SOM, to create one contiguous pedestrian experience.

Inside, an east-west corridor is surrounded by retail and additional dining amenities, as well as circulation points to 730,000 square feet of offices for Facebook that spreads across four floors, along with offices for Amtrak around the train hall. The retail, much like that of Grand Central Terminal, elevates Moynihan Train Hall into a vibrant hub of activity, somewhat reimagining historic Annex.

None of this would have been possible without the world-class team that has been dedicated to guiding Moynihan Train Hall to completion, from the Office of Governor Cuomo and Empire State Development to Vornado Realty Trust, Related, the MTA, Amtrak, and SOM. It is the capstone project of Cuomo’s push to transform Penn Station, and the planning and construction of a major public facility in December 2020, amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, required a significant team effort.

In the long run, the Moynihan Train Hall will serve as an important precedent for redefining historic architecture. It targets LEED for Transit certification through a variety of measures, from the natural lighting of the skylight to its use of new mechanical systems that improve the air quality within the century-old Farley Building. It also adds much needed circulation capacity, not only making rail commutes more convenient, but also safer, as it spreads the crush of people during rush hours, and enables better social distancing. On a broader level, it is a new symbol of hope for the future, for the new Train Hall re-establishes an iconic station for New York, recaptures the original spirit of train travel to Penn Station, creates a new gateway to the city, and celebrates one of the greatest cities in the world.