Wednesday night, Urban Omnibus, WNYC and friends gathered at the Atlantic Avenue – Pacific Street subway station to do exactly what every New Yorker tells you to never do: we stood still in a large group in the middle of a busy subway station and looked up. Luckily we weren’t pushed out of the way or ticketed for congregating without a permit, and instead listened as Fred Bland, Karrie Jacobs, and George Trakas enlightened us about the history of the station, the development of the neighborhood, and the experience of the commute.
Fred Bland, managing partner at Beyer Blinder Belle and masterplanner for the station’s renovation in the 1990s, reminded those assembled that what is now a sprawling maze of passageways, stairways and platforms was previously a narrow, choked set of pedestrian corridors linking together the 10 lines of IRT and BMT trains (transfers between the two sets of platforms required paying a second fare until 1967). Now, with inspiration drawn from such unexpected sources as the piazzas of Italian hill-towns, the transverses are wide, brightly lit and bedecked with art. The impressive “Hook, Line and Sinker,” created by environmental sculptor and friend of the Omnibus George Trakas, is installed throughout the station, in the masonry that lines the passageway walls, along the banister that leads up to the 2, 3 platform, and above commuters’ heads in the shaft of what used to be the entrance kiosk and is now the source of natural light for the concourse below. How often do you enjoy natural light while making a daily subway transfer? Bland’s idea to repurpose the former Times Plaza station-house to structure the skylights also serves to orient passengers to where exactly they are underground relative to what’s going on above.
Ongoing construction of the soon-to-open LIRR Atlantic Avenue terminal leave some passageways still restricted. Karrie Jacobs, contributing editor at Metropolis magazine and frequent user of the station, evoked the sensation of walking through a dream while commuting, unable to shake the feeling that the spaces just don’t make sense to one another. Mazes and crowds aside, the tour allowed us to stop and look at what we typically experience as a blur while we all rush through the station, from the particular type of granite selected for wall accents to a small peephole looking in on Trakas’ sculpture from the street above.
As always, thanks to everyone who joined us. Check out some of our photos below, and if you came along and have some of your own, add them to our Flickr group and tag them “urbanomnibus.” Don’t miss out on our next event. Sign up for our weekly email, become a fan of Urban Omnibus on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest.
The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.