The NYC subway system is a vital part of New Yorkers’ daily lives, but the public’s experience with it is too often ugly, brutish, and not short enough. While proximity to a great public realm in New York is the single most important factor for value in the city (location location location), the demeaning environment of most of our public transit infrastructure is alienating, and represents a missed opportunity to create an environment that is valued by the public and thereby well maintained. The lack of engagement that we have with subway stations in particular results in them being perceived as merely maintenance challenges, rather than contributing to the public realm in a meaningful way. Consequently, the public has no sense of ownership and civic responsibility when it comes to these important places. And while the city over recent decades has continued to grow and become more congested, the city’s supporting infrastructure and associated public realm has not, for the most part, kept pace.

We have focused on an architectural response to these conditions at a test-case site, at the intersection of the Bowery and East Houston Street in Lower Manhattan. This location was selected because the intersection ranked among the most dangerous in NYC, and the associated 2nd Avenue F train stop ranked among the lowest in customer satisfaction. The proposal focuses on the existing surface street intersection and the adjacent station, transforming them into an interconnected series of public places, above and below ground, that provide a new venue for civic engagement.

Like the “Social Condenser” projects of the early 20th Century Modern Project, this proposal overlays intersecting programs through circulation, creating a venue that allows for a range of communities to meet. By actively engaging and participating in public space, the public ensures its upkeep and maintenance.

With three traffic lanes and one parking lane in each direction, there is underutilized space at the surface level. Our proposed intervention envisions an intersection that calms traffic, while reclaiming, for pedestrians, areas that were previously dedicated to cars alone. A new roundabout at the intersection’s center manages large traffic volumes and reduces conflicts; curbs and medians are enhanced with green space and widened to shorten crosswalk distances, and a dedicated bike path will further contribute to the intersection’s new role as not just a conduit, but a destination.

At the heart of this roundabout is a partially sunken plaza and amphitheater, the outer perimeter of which will guide surface traffic and introduce a safe barrier between cars and pedestrians. This sunken plaza will provide a sanctuary for transit users, members of the community and tourists alike, and will function as a venue for performances or impromptu gatherings. This space is connected to the adjacent subway station via an expanded mezzanine level and new entrances, resulting in a completely reimagined station that dramatically improves the transit experience by making the transit entrance into a social space. Our design concept positions the subway station as a point of respite, a great place in which to gather both for transit users and all others, and where the social life of the city is enhanced. And public space needs to be well-used and appreciated in order for it to be maintained and sustained over time.

Jonathan Cohn and Shao Lun Lin, Perkins Eastman

Image courtesy of: Perkins Eastman