US Building of the Week
Moynihan Train Hall
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
3. May 2021
Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson | Aaron Fedor © SOM
One of the most anticipated adaptive reuse projects this century opened on January 1, 2021, more than 20 years after it was first unveiled. Although Skidmore Owings & Merrill's design for Moynihan Train Hall went through numerous design iterations, a dramatic skylight over the main hall has been a consistent feature, a contemporary punctuation inside the century-old building. SOM answered a few questions about this much welcome extension of Penn Station.
Location: New York, NY, USA
Client: Empire State Development (in a public-private partnership with Vornado Realty Trust, The Related Companies, Skanska, the MTA, the Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
- Design Partners: Roger Duffy, FAIA; Colin Koop, AIA
- Managing Partner: Laura Ettelman, FAIA
- Project Architects: Jon Cicconi, AIA; Andrew Lee, AIA
- Project Manager: Marla Gayle, AIA
- Project Team: Joyce Ignacio, Andrew Melillo
Building Area: 255,000 sf
See bottom for list of consultants.
Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson © SOMWhat were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
This project has been in our office for more than 20 years. SOM first imagined what the train hall would look like in 1998, after Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was a longtime United States Senator from New York, proposed transforming the landmark James A. Farley Post Office into an extension of Penn Station. A project of this immense civic scale can take time to come together, but SOM has been part of the process nearly every step of the way. We’ve worked on multiple designs in the last two decades. But it’s also been a major team effort. What you see today is the result of hard work from the entire public-private partnership led by Empire State Development.
Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson © SOMPlease provide an overview of the project.
When Moynihan Train Hall opened on New Year’s Day, it marked the completion of what had been a long-held dream for New York City. It is one of the most monumental civic projects undertaken in the city in a generation, and transforms the way millions of people will interact with the city. The project extends Penn Station with a 255,000-square-foot rail hub that services the Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak. It also connects directly with the Eighth Avenue Subway, and plans are in the works to connect it to MetroNorth and AirTrain JFK. For every traveler who passes through the space, the architecture will restore the grandeur of train travel at Penn Station.
Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson © SOMWhat are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the project?
Moynihan Train Hall is inspired by the history of Penn Station. When the original station, which was designed by McKim, Mead & White, was built in 1910, it was a majestic, Beaux-Arts masterpiece. Its platforms were illuminated by a grand skylight that really celebrated what it meant to come to a city like New York. In the 1960s, when the station was demolished, its concourses and platforms were the only parts that remained, and they were all underground. It was cramped and dark, and by the time construction on the Train Hall had begun, about 700,000 people were passing through the station every day.
The design for Moynihan Train Hall reverses the experience that so 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. It evokes the aura of McKim, Mead & White’s design with a new, catenary skylight that traverses the entire main concourse. In the first few months since the Train Hall’s opening, we have watched the way the architecture has breathed new life into New York.
Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson © SOMHow does the design respond to the unique qualities of the existing building?
The skylight is not only inspired by the original Penn Station, but also the Farley Building as well. The Train Hall is located in the original mail sorting room, which was illuminated by a skylight for the first three decades of its life. The glass was covered over during World War II, so the design you see today restores the Farley Building to its skylit state.
The skylight is supported by three massive steel trusses that are original to building. What makes this so important is that these bolted trusses, which were not visible to the postal workers a century ago, add an extra sense of lightness to the Train Hall with their web-like structures. They establish a modern look and feel to the space while displaying the workmanship of neoclassical design.
Photo: Lucas Blair Simpson © SOM
The interiors of Moynihan Train Hall are also inspired by the design of the remaining Eighth Avenue post office, which has been operating for a century – even while the rest of the Farley Building became largely vacant. This historic space is finished in Tennessee marble, and that material is used throughout the Train Hall. It evokes a sense of warmth, calmness, and grandeur – three ideals that characterized the original Penn Station and are essential to any large, civic space.
Photo: Nicholas Knight, courtesy of Empire State DevelopmentHow did the project change between the initial design stage and its completion?
The project has changed significantly. In our original design, which was unveiled by President Bill Clinton in 1999, about 30 percent of the Farley Building would have been adaptively reused. A concave glass structure would have risen 150 feet above a ticketing hall to announce the civic presence of the station. Seven years later, we released our second proposal, which had a barrel-vaulted skylight and a plan for an entrance on Ninth Avenue in anticipation of new development farther west.
The final design includes so much more. In addition to maintaining the original steel trusses, we reshaped the Annex – a 1930s expansion to the Farley Building that has served as a parking garage and office space for most of its life. This part of the building will become a 21st-century, mixed-use anchor for the neighborhood. It includes an entrance on Ninth Avenue that aligns directly with the entry into Manhattan West, which was planned and largely designed by SOM, to create one contiguous pedestrian experience. This allows Moynihan Train Hall to span from block to block, and the east-west corridor inside is surrounded by retail, dining amenities, and vertical circulation points to future offices for Facebook, Amtrak, and the LIRR above.
Photo: Nicholas Knight, courtesy of Empire State DevelopmentWas the project influenced by any trends in energy-conservation, construction, or design?
Adaptive reuse is of course an essential part of building a sustainable future. One of our goals in this work was to make important upgrades to the Farley Building’s environmental impact. The project is targeting Silver certification in the new LEED for Transit category, and we hope to accomplish this in several ways. The skylight is one component – during the day, an immense amount of sunlight pours into the Train Hall. We have also updated the mechanical systems which have – very importantly at this time – improved the air quality in the century-old building, and a radiant heating and cooling floor system is efficiently regulating temperature throughout the main concourse. The entire process of designing these improvements also benefitted from our close collaboration with Skanska, who served as the design-builder and allowed the full design team to fully integrate with the contracting team.
Photo: Nicholas Knight, courtesy of Empire State DevelopmentWhat products or materials have contributed to the success of the completed project?
In addition to the Tennessee marble used inside to match the existing post office’s materials, our team, together with our restoration and preservation consultants, applied Boston terracotta on the exterior in portions of the facade that needed to be restored. Seele also provided the curved glass that helps maintain the skylight’s concave structure.
Email interview conducted by John Hill.
Photo: Nicholas Knight, courtesy of Empire State DevelopmentConsultants:
- Structural Engineer: Severud Associates
- Structural Eningeer (Skylight): schlaich bergermann partner
- MEP/FP/IT/Telecom: Jaros Baum & Bolles
- Civil/Geotechnical Engineer: Langan Engineering & Environmental Services, Inc.
- Lighting Designer: Domingo Gonzalez Associates
- Historic Building Restoration: Building Conservation Associates, Inc.
- Rail Engineer: Systra Consulting, Inc.
- Graphics and Wayfinding: Pentagram/Mijksenaar USA
- Acoustics/Audiovisual: Cerami & Associates
- Security Design: Thornton Tomasetti/Weidlinger Protective Design Practice/Ducibella Venter & Santore
- Vertical Transportation: Van Deusen & Associates
- Historic Preservation: Higgins & Quasebarth
- Baggage Handling Systems: BNP Associates, Inc.
- Industrial Design: Billings Jackson Design
- Train Shed Plumbing: WSP
- Train Hall Clock Design: Peter Pennoyer Architects
- Amtrak Ticketed Waiting Area Fit Out: Rockwell Group
- Moynihan Train Hall Brand Identity: Watson & CO.
- Code Consultants/Radio Design: Code Consultants Professional Engineers, PC