SOM’s Moynihan Train Hall redefines rail travel for the Pennsylvania Station Complex

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill have transformed the landmark James A. Farley Post Office Building into Penn Station’s new train hall that opened to travellers earlier this month.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Jan 23, 2021

The new Daniel Patrick Moynihan Train Hall, named after the visionary United States senator who proposed the project in the 1990s, recently opened its doors to New Yorkers and travellers from the Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak, the New York City Subway, and the entire northeast region of the city. The train hall is meant to restore the grandeur of train travel among daily commuters, and is a monumental civic intervention impactful on a scale that the city bears witness to once in a long while. Located at the very heart of train travel in NYC, the way millions of people interact with the most populous city in the US, the longstanding project was inaugurated and opened earlier this month by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and SOM.

  • The new train hall expands the existing Penn Station into the Farley Building | Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    The new train hall expands the existing Penn Station into the Farley Building Image: Lucas Blair Simpson ©SOM
  • The new development boasts of an area of 225000 sq. ft. of intervention by SOM | Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    The new development boasts of an area of 225000 sq. ft. of intervention by SOM Image: Lucas Blair Simpson ©SOM
  • MTH Concourse Level: the existing steel trusses and skylight serve as a major focal point of the design | Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    MTH Concourse Level: the existing steel trusses and skylight serve as a major focal point of the design Image: Nicholas Knight, courtesy of Empire State Development

The project had been under development by the world-renowned architecture firm, SOM, for more than two decades. The final structure, is the result of conviction in the profound belief that “New York City is better because of projects like this” in the reassuring words of Laura Ettelman, SOM Managing Partner. Aside from the sheer scale of the project in civic, economic, social and public terms, the Moynihan Train Hall is an intervention bearing significant sentimental and historic value for the city. The original iconic Pennsylvania Station designed by McKim, Mead and White in 1910 was a skylit, Beaux-Arts building that “celebrated travellers’ arrival to New York City” in a monumental way, easily introducing and transitioning even interstate travellers into the never-resting aura and energy of the city. Stated to be a masterpiece of public architecture by many, the building sadly had to be demolished in 1965, while only its concourses and platforms remained in a dark, underground space downgraded to accommodate only 200,000 people.

  • LIRR Ticket Sales and Customer Service | Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    LIRR Ticket Sales and Customer Service Image: Nicholas Knight, courtesy of Empire State Development
  • Midblock Entrance Hall | Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    Midblock Entrance Hall Image: Nicholas Knight, courtesy of Empire State Development

In the current scenario, the number of people in transit through the bustling station swelled to more than 600,000 daily commuters. A chance of an intervention was seen in another iconic New York structure, the James A. Farley Post Office Building, also designed by McKin, Mead and White in 1913. Many of the original, iconic, and immediately recognisable architectural elements from the original Penn Station echoed in the Farley Building, which had of late been lying vacant. Its grandiose staircase and neo-classical colonnade invited a restorative, re-interpretative design approach, while the building itself was located above the original station’s tracks, proving to be the perfect spot for intervention. The new Moynihan Train Hall then expanded the Pennsylvania Station complex with a 255,000-square-foot rail hub, finding its home in this landmark building, another bearer of the States’ incredible legacy, an institution catering to a now near-forgotten practice and yet seminal in the nation’s development.

  • Aerial view of the Moynihan Train Hall | Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    Aerial view of the Moynihan Train Hall Image: Lucas Blair Simpson ©SOM
  • Closeup of the skylights from above | Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    Closeup of the skylights from above Image: Lucas Blair Simpson ©SOM
  • The skylights consist of four catenary vaults composed of more than 500 steel and glass pieces | Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    The skylights consist of four catenary vaults composed of more than 500 steel and glass pieces Image: Lucas Blair Simpson ©SOM

Located between the Eighth and Ninth Avenues and West 31st and 33rd Streets, the train hall seeks to reverse the dark, overcrowded experience that many commuters have endured on the older concourse for decades. Owing to SOM’s architectural design that also seeks inspiration from the complex’s significant history, it 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 half a century ago.

  • Metropolitan Lounge 2| Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    Metropolitan Lounge 2 Image: Nicholas Knight, courtesy of Empire State Development
  • Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge| Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge Image: Nicholas Knight, courtesy of Empire State Development

Housing itself in the former mail sorting room of the post office structure, the large hall is designed with a dramatic skylight overarching the entire concourse, literally akin to the original Penn Station building in 1910. The skylight combines modern parametric design and precise structural engineering by Schlaich Bergermann Partners, and is arranged in four catenary vaults, that in turn rest upon the building’s three original, massive trusses: engineering marvels to this day. Interestingly, the trusses were hidden for a more cosmetic design for the postal workers a century ago, but have now been restored and revealed as a major focal point for the new design, much in line with modernist principles. Each of the four catenary vaults is composed of more than 500 glass and steel panels that come together to form a moiré effect. A testament to neoclassical design in steel right at the onset of the industrial age in the US, the webbed trusses supporting the skylight add a sense of lightness to the otherwise massive train hall.

  • MTH Clock, Historic Steel Trusses| Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    MTH Clock, Historic Steel Trusses Image: Nicholas Knight, courtesy of Empire State Development
  • Escalators leading up to the concourse. The clock signifies the centre of the trusses. | Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    Escalators leading up to the concourse. The clock signifies the centre of the trusses Image: Lucas Blair Simpson ©SOM

At the edges of each vault, the panels thicken to sustain greater structural loads, while at the apexes spanning 92 feet above the concourse, the panels’ depth lightens, untangles, 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 guided many a commuter to work back in the day, marks the eclectic centre of the room. A dichotomy that has always rested at the heart of public infrastructure design, especially public commute, is unveiled here. Despite the massive sizes and areas allotted to projects of this nature, these are often more functional and need sizeable areas of space on ground for merely commotion, leaving limited scope and spots for design interventions. Holding the sunlight in its webs, the trusses and skylights thus feature prominently here as a defining element of the design, apart from an interior scheme that is largely adaptive.

  • Elmgreen & Dragset, The Hive, 2020: Stainless steel, aluminum, polycarbonate, LED lights, and lacquer. Commissioned by Empire State Development in partnership with Public Art Fund for Moynihan Train Hall| Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    Elmgreen & Dragset, The Hive, 2020: Stainless steel, aluminum, polycarbonate, LED lights, and lacquer. Commissioned by Empire State Development in partnership with Public Art Fund for Moynihan Train Hall Image: Nicholas Knight, courtesy Empire State Development and Public Art Fund, NY
  • Kehinde Wiley, Go, 2020. © Kehinde Wiley. An original work of art commissioned by Empire State Development in partnership with Public Art Fund for Moynihan Train Hall. | Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    Kehinde Wiley, Go, 2020. © Kehinde Wiley. An original work of art commissioned by Empire State Development in partnership with Public Art Fund for Moynihan Train Hall. Image: Nicholas Knight. Image courtesy of the Artist, Sean Kelly, New York, Empire State Development and Public Art Fund, NY
  • Stan Douglas, 22 April 1924 and 7 August 1934, from Penn Station’s Half Century, 2020. Ceramic ink on glass. One of nine photographic panels from Penn Station’s Half Century. Commissioned by Empire State Development in partnership with Public Art Fund for Moynihan Train Hall. ©Stan Douglas. Courtesy of the artist, Victoria Miro and David Zwirner.| Moynihan Train Hall | Skidmore, Owings and Merrill | STIRworld
    Stan Douglas, 22 April 1924 and 7 August 1934, from Penn Station’s Half Century, 2020 Ceramic ink on glass. One of nine photographic panels from Penn Station’s Half Century Commissioned by Empire State Development in partnership with Public Art Fund for Moynihan Train Hall ©Stan Douglas. Courtesy of the artist, Victoria Miro and David Zwirner. Image: Lucas Blair Simpson ©SOM

The overall interiors of the hall, selectively and tastefully done in a manner largely evocative of the classical schemes employed well until the 70s in America, include a number of hospitality spaces for commuters, designed by a group of collaborating stakeholders and designers. 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. The signage in an urgent blue and a new wayfinding scheme that identifies facilities and platform entries by colour enable intuitive circulation through the station, an element thought to be missing from the original station design and something absolutely essential in a digital age. The unified material aesthetic shared by the entire train hall, and inspired by the original Penn Station from more than a century ago, is bound by the extensive usage of Tennessee Quaker marble in the complex by SOM, a material that invokes “a sense of warmth, calmness, and grandeur that are central to the design”.

Comments

Comments Added Successfully!

About Author

Recommended

LOAD MORE
see more articles
2043,2150,2155,2163,1936

Keep it stirring

get regular updates SIGN UP

Collaborate with us

This site uses cookies to offer you an improved and personalised experience. If you continue to browse, we will assume your consent for the same.
LEARN MORE AGREE