On a recent Wednesday afternoon, before the crowd of rush hour commuters flooded Penn Station, a group of Untapped New York Insiders met up with SOM architects, Peter Fajak, AIA, Senior Associate Principal, and Manuel Schmidt, AIA, Associate Principal, for an inside look at recently completed renovations of the LIRR Concourse. Check out photos taken by Insiders below, and join us on the next Insiders adventure!
We started at the East End Gateway, a new entrance and escalator at 33 Street and Seventh Avenue that opened in 2020. This entrance provides direct access to the Long Island Rail Road’s main concourse and the 1, 2, and 3 subway lines. After passing under the glass canopy outside, a map of New York City floated above us as we descended the escalator. Once inside the station, a ceiling covered in panels backlit by LED lights sheds light on this once-dark corner of the LIRR Concourse. The panels change colors and serve as a passive wayfinding device. This new entrance took the place of a sculpture by Maya Lin, Eclipsed Time, which hung above the concourse for 25 years before it was removed in 2019 when construction was underway.
Though that piece of art was removed, many works remain, and some new ones were added. As we walked through the concourse, Peter and Manuel pointed out the terra-cotta bas-relief sculptures titled Ghost Series; Day and Night. These five sculptures by artist Andrew Leicester depict architectural elements of the original, lost Penn Station designed by McKim, Mead, and White. The biggest piece from the 1910 station that is resurrected in this work is Adolph Weinman’s sculpture, also titled Day and Night. This sculpture depicts two female figures that flanked the clockface at the entrance to the station. Other pieces you’ll see include “Mercury Man,” above one of the track entrances, and a toppled Corinthian column.
When designing the new concourse, the architects kept existing remnants of the old station intact, such as the iron and brass railing pictured above. Another remnant, well known to anyone who has taken our Remnants of Penn Station tour, is the cast iron partition at the Long Island Railroad waiting room and restrooms. It survived because it was walled off during the station’s demolition and subsequently forgotten for decades until it was uncovered.
Remnants of Penn Station Tour
Along with highlighting and restoring old parts of the station, the renovation brought many new improvements and additions. Perhaps the biggest change to the concourse has been the widening of the corridors and raising of the ceiling. The corridors have nearly doubled in width, from 30 to 57 feet. To accomplish this, storefronts were pushed back. You can see how far into the hallway they used to come out by noting the change in flooring in the photo below.
The passageways also gained height, stretching up to a maximum height of 18 feet in some areas. At that height, the ceiling of the concourse sits just below the mechanical systems running beneath the street. New digital signage and information screens, enhanced mechanical and electrical systems, fresh architectural finishes, and improved safety and ADA access complete the upgrades made to the station.
As we made our way towards Moynihan Train Hall, we stopped to take a look at the features of the West End Concourse which connects the A, C, and E subway lines to the LIRR, NJ Transit, and Amtrak at Moynihan. This concourse is covered in lights, screens, and art. The digital panels on the ceiling and blue and white lighting are meant to evoke the sky. You might even catch a kite floating by! The walls carry on this outside theme with silhouetted images of iconic New York City landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Bronx Zoo, and the Farley Post Office, among others. Large windows were added above the tracks to allow light to pass through and for riders to watch the trains on the platforms below. You can also find charging stations here!
We finished the tour beneath the massive skylight at Moynihan Train Hall. The hall was recently connected to the High Line via a giant timber bridge called the Moynihan Connector. You can find another remnant of the old Penn Station here too! There is a stone eagle head that once topped a sculpture on the 1910 Penn Station’s cornice, currently on display near the LIRR ticketing office.
We learned so much from Peter and Manuel and are grateful to the entire SOM team for leading this Insiders tour! Learn from more experts by joining our next Untapped New York Insiders adventure. Use code JOINUS for your first month free!
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