Illuminating Fulton Center

John Hill
6. April 2015
Photo: David Sundberg/Esto

A large oculus designed by James Carpenter Design Associates, Grimshaw, and Arup reflects sunlight into the subterranean spaces of the Fulton Center subway station in Lower Manhattan.

The most visible part of the oculus, which protrudes above the steel-and-glass box building that fronts Broadway one block east of the World Trade Center site, is the Sky Reflector-Net, an integrated artwork by James Carpenter Design Associates, Grimshaw Architects and Arup that is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Arts & Design program.

The centerpiece of the new Fulton Center, the artwork slowly reveals itself as one moves from the street...

Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

...through the glass doors and across the mezzanine that wraps the multi-story atrium...

Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

...where the diamond and triangular aluminum panels come into view...

Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

...and then the artwork reveals itself in its entirety overhead:

Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

The Sky Reflector-Net is a majestic top to a building that serves 300,000 daily transit users across 9 subway lines. While technically an artwork, the large-scale installation is an integral part of the architecture, functionally serving to bring natural daylight to the walkways two stories below street level. It does this by angling the oculus to the south and reflecting the changing daylight across 952 reflective perforated aluminum panels. It is also a complex piece of engineering, both in terms of its tensile structure and mechanically, since the oculus doubles as a solar chimney for venting warm air from the building.

Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

According to the MTA, the approximately 70-foot-tall suspended Sky Reflector-Net is composed of 112 tensioned cables, 224 high-strength rods and nearly 10,000 stainless steel components. The cable net installation was led by Enclos, with fabrication and material provided by Tripyramid Structures, following an initial concept developed by Schlaich Bergermann und Partner's New York office. The aluminum panels were manufactured by Durlum in Germany with a reflectivity of 95%.

Section through Sky Reflector-Net (Drawing: © Arup)

The Sky Reflector-Net cost $2.1 million, a large sum for an artwork but only around one-tenth of one percent of the $1.4 billion budget for the whole project, which also includes a new passageway to the a subway station one block away, the renovation of an adjacent historical building that serves as an access point to the Center, and other features not evident when standing below the oculus.

Not surprisingly, the MTA is very proud of the project, and they have created a number of short films that give a peek into the Sky Reflector-Net's construction and provide more information on the outcome of a collaboration between artist, architect and engineer:

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