The subway entrance above Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station has a secret wellspring of life inside: an installation called Line (Sea House) by the artist George Trakas, commissioned by MTA Arts & Design, and created in collaboration with diDomenico and Partners in 2004 that takes up the entire original Beaux-arts fare control center. The project used artistic vision, architectural experience, and the space’s unique potential in order to create a more pleasurable and aesthetically pleasing transit experience. Trakas and the architects worked together to create a a plaza, skylight, staircase, and corridor made of limestone, brushed steel, and granite, and Trakas designed a massive steel boat-like structure that sways high above the ocean of travelers beneath.
The preexisting configuration of subways and rails at the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station, in conjunction with its location at the lip of the LIRR’s Terminal, presented the perfect challenge for a joint effort incorporating both art and architecture. The space, far taller and more spacious than it appears from the outside, was selected by Trakas because of its structural beauty and expansive nature. It was made to feel even airier when the architects installed a skylight in the ceiling, allowing the tunnel below to fill with natural light.
From inside the above-ground kiosk, visitors can look through a peephole equipped with a lens to see the boat-shaped contraption made of stainless steel hanging just underneath the glass, as well as a granite wave that crests at the meeting place between the passageways that link Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street.
The project’s aquatic-inspired name recognizes the convergence of the two streets named after the two major oceans. In some ways, subway stations are like oceans, constantly moving and churning out tides on a regular schedule, and Brooklyn is at its heart a waterfront town. Hook, Line and Sinker (the name for the entire work) takes note of these roots as well as its location’s contemporary needs to create a place that is at once a hub of travel and a still place in the midst of the rushing sea.
In the 1990s, these stations were a congested tangle of passages that linked 10 lines of IRT and BRT trains. Since then they have been smoothed and streamlined so that the tunnels are spacious and many are enhanced with art and innovative design efforts.
Trakas drew inspiration from sources as varied as the piazzas of Italian hill towns. A self-described environmental sculptor, Trakas was born in Quebec but has lived in New York City since 1963. He often uses recycled materials in his work, and has designed a waterfront nature walk at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn, among other installations.
For the past thirteen years, Trakas’s innovative subway station design has opened a portal to the world above, serving as a way for passengers to orient themselves after being spun around several times by the frequently disorienting train rides. This portal allows for something especially rare to happen: on sunny days, the subway station fills with light from the skylight above, reminding travelers on the often stormy sea of New York City’s transit maze that there is a world outside the underground.
For more, check out this article about 20 examples of original subway art and the Untapped Cities Underground Tour of the NYC Subway.