Whither Underground? Architects Bring the 7 Train to the Far West Side

Event: No. 7 Line Subway Extension — Planning, Passengers, Program and Form
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.11.11
Speakers: Judith Kunoff, AIA, LEED AP — Chief Architect, MTA New York City Transit; Beth Greenberg, AIA — Principal, Dattner Architects; Patricia Kettle — Associate, Dattner Architects; Mark Walker, AICP — Senior Supervising Planner, Parsons Brinckerhoff
Organizer: AIANY Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Section of the #7 Line expansion.

Dattner Architects

If all goes according to schedule, subway riders will soon find it much easier to get to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and the Far West Side. The $2.1 billion expansion of the #7 line from Times Square to a new station at 34th Street and 11th Avenue is expected to open in December 2013. Built to facilitate the commercial and residential redevelopment of the Hudson Yards area following its 2005 rezoning, the new terminus is designed to handle up to 27,500 commuters during the morning rush, making it the MTA’s largest single-line station.

The architectural form is primarily driven by passenger capacity and life-safety considerations, said Judith Kunoff, AIA, LEED AP, chief architect at MTA New York City Transit. Beth Greenberg, AIA, a principal at Dattner Architects, laid out the basic plan: a tunnel will head west under 41st Street and curve south at 11th Avenue. The main passenger entrance will be sited on Hudson Boulevard between 33rd and 34th Streets, and will incorporate ticketing on an upper mezzanine with two 85-foot shafts for escalators and inclined elevators (the city’s first) diving westward down to the lower mezzanine. Stairs will then descend to the subway platform 130 feet below grade. A second entrance will stand at Hudson Boulevard and 35th Street.

Mark Walker showed animations generated by Legion, a program the team used to model crowd behavior and look for likely congestion points. “We were literally sitting in a dark room looking at dots,” he said. “They behave like New Yorkers,” he added as brightly colored specks swarmed through a schematic station plan.

Though National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) safety requirements require that passengers be able to evacuate within six minutes of an emergency, the station’s great depth makes this difficult. To ensure people could survive a longer evacuation, Greenberg explained, “We needed a very strong mechanical system, which was a huge driver of the form and volume.” In fact, the volume of the smoke-ventilation system, concealed within the dropped-ceiling “cloud” running above the lower mezzanine and above the trains, nearly equals the volume of the platform itself.

Patricia Kettle, of Dattner Architects, discussed the station’s architectural finishes: the granite porcelain tile and stainless steel, chosen for their durability and longevity, should be familiar to any long-time straphanger. Provisions for advertising and public art are also included.

Some audience members inquired about the feasibility of extending the #7 line west to Secaucus, NJ, but Kunoff said that topic was beyond the scope of the presentation. As for the possibility of later adding a cut-and-cover station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street, she said it “is not precluded, but it’s not easy.”