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Over the past four years we have steadily documented the progress of the Second Avenue Subway. On our annual pilgrimage into these surreal caverns, we once again descend into the “Thunderdome” 200 feet under one of America’s densest neighborhoods. Our tour was led by the MTA’s energetic President of Capital Construction Dr. Horodniceanu and Amitabha Mukherjee, Engineering Manager from Parson Brinckerhoff. 

Second Av Subway_New York_Bhushan Mondkar_Untapped Cities-016Dr. Michael Horodniceanu leading our group into the second avenue subway construction site

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Second Av Subway_New York_Bhushan Mondkar_Untapped Cities 17“Welcome to the thunder dome”- the shaft and elevator that ‘transported’ us  into the mysterious world of caverns

Construction of the Second Avenue Subway has progressed dramatically since our previous visit in July 2013. The gigantic muck houses that once occupied a substantial portion of 72nd and 69th Streets have disappeared, and the streetscape has (almost) been restored back to its original state with the exception of a few loading stations. Our makeshift gathering space, last year, is now an interactive Community information Center.

The caverns too, have a completely different vibe; the hulking machinery, water diffusing canons and shot-crete guns, which lent dramatic effects to the construction site last year, have transformed the cathedral-esque caverns into an engineering marvel, albeit still in its skeletal form. Our ‘hike’ over a rugged subterranean expanse has now evolved into an easy ‘walk.’ The rustic Manhattan schist now stands masked behind a finished concrete wall, which will eventually be adorned with some large-scale artwork by Chuck Close.

SecondAvenueSubway-Manhattan-NYC-UntappedCities-BhushanMondkar-00186th street station site- July 2013 

Second Av Subway_New York_Bhushan Mondkar_Untapped Cities-00486th street station site- May 2014

“Phase 1 of the project is now two-thirds finished.” said Dr. Horodniceanu,” and will carry the Q train from 63rd Street up to 96th Street.” Once the entire project is completed, the Q Train will continue northward to 125th Street in East Harlem, while a new T Train will run from 125th Street to Hanover Square in Lower Manhattan.

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As we navigated through 14 blocks of the tunnels, from the 86th Street station to the 72nd Street station site, the Second Avenue Subway revealed itself in its own charming, sometimes mysterious ways; reflecting dramatic views in puddles of water scattered throughout the expanse. We weaved through large monumental spaces and arterial tunnels, lit up in chiaroscuro lighting, creating pockets of surprise.  In the distance, an ethereal beam of light from the bustling world above illuminated the cavern and our hopes that this century-old project in-the-making is finally seeing the light of day.

Here are some glimpses of our journey through the Second Avenue Subway:

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Second Av Subway_New York_Bhushan Mondkar_Untapped Cities-001“Paint it yellow!” Workers waterproof the tunnel walls that will soon carry approximately 200,000 people aboard the Q train and hopefully T train.

Second Av Subway_New York_Bhushan Mondkar_Untapped Cities-003The complexity of  constructing a subway line through one of  America’s densest neighborhoods.

Second Av Subway_New York_Bhushan Mondkar_Untapped Cities-010The colossal cavern that will soon be transformed into the state of the art 86th Street station

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Second Av Subway_New York_Bhushan Mondkar_Untapped Cities-006Planned decades ago, the SAS is on its way to being completed by December 2016. 

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Second Av Subway_New York_Bhushan Mondkar_Untapped Cities-007South bound tunnel dug by the tunnel boring machine, aka the ‘mechanical earthwork’

Second Av Subway_New York_Bhushan Mondkar_Untapped Cities-012Entering the 72nd Street station site

Second Av Subway_New York_Bhushan Mondkar_Untapped Cities-01372nd Street station from platform level

Second Av Subway_New York_Bhushan Mondkar_Untapped Cities-008The scaffolding supporting the mezzanine level at the 72nd Street station

Second Av Subway_New York_Bhushan Mondkar_Untapped Cities-009The 72nd Street station from the mezzanine level

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Bhushan is an Architect and Urban Designer at Perkins Eastman. Get in touch with him @Bhushan_NYC. This article was written in part by Catherine Mondkar.

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