Underexposed | 12

Queens-Midtown Tunnel Ventilation Tower, Robert Moses Playground, New York, 2012

The imposing octagon­ of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel ventilation tower in Manhattan, together with its partner building on the opposite side of the East River, houses 46 immense supply fans which circulate air through the tunnels’ two tubes. The air within the entire twin tunnel system is recirculated every 90 seconds at a rate of three million cubic feet per minute.

The tunnel opened to the public in 1940, and a year later a playground was opened on the block of land surrounding the ventilation tower. The park was named after Robert Moses in 1982, the year following his death. Moses had initially tried to block the tunnel’s construction (he favored building a bridge), but eventually advocated for a (never built) third tube. Despite its improbable location, the mostly paved park has become a neighborhood institution, avidly used by local residents for basketball, handball, and roller hockey. Over the years a number of attempts have been made to build on the site. In the early 1980s Harry Helmsley tried without success to build a 50-story glass tower. More recently, a plan proposed the consolidation of UN offices spaces within a new building to be sited on the western portion of the park. But for now, the park bearing the name of New York’s most prolific “master builder” remains safe from development.

Stanley Greenberg is the author of Time Machines (2011), Under Construction (2010), Waterworks: A Photographic Journey Through New York’s Hidden Water System (2003), and Invisible New York: The Hidden Infrastructure of the City (1998). Greenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, and lives there now.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.



Photographer Stanley Greenberg’s monthly dispatches trace the myriad paths of the city’s infrastructural networks in great breadth and close detail.