SOM revitalizes NY’s historic Moynihan Train Hall

Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the historic Moynihan Train Hall, a civic project that seeks to restore the grandeur of train travel in New York, is now open. Photo courtesy Lucas Blair Simpson/Aaron Fedor. Photo © SOM
Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the historic Moynihan Train Hall, a civic project that seeks to restore the grandeur of train travel in New York, is now open. Photo courtesy Lucas Blair Simpson/Aaron Fedor.
Photo © SOM

Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the new Daniel Patrick Moynihan Train Hall opened its doors on January 1 to New Yorkers and travelers from the Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak, the New York City Subway, and the entire northeast region.

Moynihan Train Hall expands the Pennsylvania Station complex with a 23,690-m2 (255,000-sf) rail hub in the landmark James A. Farley post office building. Situated across Penn Station, it reverses the dark, overcrowded experience many commuters have endured for decades. It brings light to the concourses for the first time in more than 50 years, increases total concourse space by 50 percent, and restores the grandeur that was lost with the demolition of the original Penn Station 50 years ago.

The original Pennsylvania Station was designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1910. It was a skylit, Beaux-Arts masterpiece that celebrated travelers’ arrival to New York City. After its demolition in 1965, only its concourses and platforms remained, and they were all underground in a space downgraded to accommodate only 200,000 people. Five decades later, the number of people passing through the station every day swelled to more than 600,000, while the Farley Building—also designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1913, with a grand staircase and colonnade that echoed the firm’s design for Penn Station—had become 95 percent vacant. Residing above Penn Station’s tracks, the Farley Building was an ideal choice for a new train station.

The new train hall, located in the former mail sorting room, is designed with a dramatic skylight that traverses the entire space—much like the original Penn Station did in 1910. The skylight, designed with the structural engineering firm Schlaich Bergermann Partner, is arranged in four catenary vaults. To support the structure, SOM uncovered the building’s three massive steel trusses, which had been invisible to the postal workers a century ago, and chose to reveal them as a major focal point of the design. With a web-like structure, the bolted trusses add an extra sense of lightness to the train hall, establishing a modern look and feel while displaying the workmanship of neoclassical design.

Each of the four catenary vaults is composed of over 500 glass and steel panels that come together to form a moiré effect. At the edges of each vault, the panels thicken to sustain greater structural loads, while at the apexes, which span 28 m (92 ft) above the concourse, the panels’ depth lightens to enhance the airy ambience of the space. The trusses are each equipped with new lighting fixtures illuminating the train hall at night. On the middle truss, a new clock—designed by Pennoyer Architects and inspired by the analog clocks that were once prevalent at the original Penn Station—marks the center of the room.

Along the eastern wall, four large light-emitting diode (LED) screens feature New York State imagery designed by Moment Factory, and help brighten the train hall at night. Hospitality spaces, including ticketing and information kiosks designed by SOM, Amtrak waiting rooms on the concourse level designed by Rockwell Group, an Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge by FX Collaborative, and a food hall designed by Elkus Manfredi, surround the space on two floors to establish an inviting experience that provides all the amenities a commuter will need. The signage and wayfinding identify the hospitality and platform entries by color to enable intuitive circulation through the station, an element that has largely been missing in the confusing corridors of Penn Station for the last 50 years.

For the long run, Moynihan Train Hall seeks to serve as an important precedent for redefining historic architecture. It targets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Transit certification through a variety of measures, from the natural lighting of the skylight to its use of new mechanical systems that improve the air quality within the century-old Farley Building. It adds much-needed circulation capacity—not only making commutes more convenient, but also safer, as it spreads the crush of people during rush hours, and enables better social distancing.

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