Built in 1904 as part of New York City’s first subway line—the IRT—the Bleecker Street station retains much of its turn-of-the-century charm. It also shows its age in less appealing ways: The station’s platforms are narrow and inaccessible to the handicapped, water infiltration has marred its beautifully detailed tile work, and a direct transfer to the nearby Broadway-Lafayette IND station is only provided from the southbound track.
These flaws are all on the way to being remedied, however. The MTA, as part of its 2005–2009 capital program, has begun construction on a $94 million expansion and rehabilitation of the station. Designed by Lee Harris Pomeroy Architects (LHP) and Weidlinger Associates, the project is scheduled for completion in 2011.
Much of the work involves restoring the landmarked station’s historic architectural detail while bringing its systems up to contemporary specs. The project will clean and repair the white ceramic tile, mosaic bands, roman brickwork wainscoting with marble caps, and the eight blue terra cotta Bleecker Street name plaques. It will also replace the lighting and public address system and update the MTA’s maintenance facilities.
The bulk of the design and engineering work, however, surrounds the transfer between the Bleecker Street station’s northbound platform and the Broadway-Lafayette station. To achieve this, LHP and Weidlinger designed an extension of the platform 300 feet to the south, connecting with a mezzanine of the Broadway-Lafayette station that has been out of use since the 1960s. This mezzanine is the linchpin of the design, both containing the space for the elevators and escalators that will make both stations ADA compliant, as well as providing the transition point to tie them together architecturally.
“From an architectural point of view, we saw an opportunity to create a three-level atrium space that connects from the Broadway-Lafayette platforms to the Bleecker platforms,” said Jim Wright, project manager for LHP. “By visually connecting the stations, you provide orientation and security. You can see where you’re going.”
LHP took its design cues from a 1995 renovation of the Broadway-Lafayette station, which was first opened in 1936. That renovation, completed by New York City Transit’s Office of Station Design architects, created a double-height atrium space that opens into a gently curving mezzanine. LHP echoed this curve when carving out its own atrium and replicated the finishes of the earlier space. “The look and the feel will be of the Broadway-Lafayette station,” explained Wright.
The newly rehabilitated mezzanine will have its own distinguishing characteristic, however. At the top of the atrium the MTA is installing a honeycomb-patterned LED light sculpture by artist Leo Villareal, which is entitled Hive.
From a structural engineering point of view, the project presented challenges familiar to all who have sought to adapt and rehabilitate early-20th-century constructions. “Most of the drawings from 1904 that we were working with didn’t have all the information,” said Denis Galvin, an engineer at Weidlinger. “So we had to obtain a lot of our information from observation and measurements, and design around what’s there.”
Weidlinger called for a new tunnel wall in order to expand the northbound IRT platform. They will also construct a new platform, roof, and tunnel duct manhole, and re-support the roof. Completing this work has necessitated excavating along the IRT tunnel box structure adjacent to an existing six-story building, garage, and giant billboard. The foundations of all of these structures had to be deepened and stabilized. Weidlinger expects all of this work to be carried out without interfering with train or utilities service.
The MTA hopes that opening up this transfer point will improve its network performance in Lower Manhattan. The northbound IRT is currently under capacity during the morning rush hour. Once riders coming from Brooklyn on the IND can make an easy northbound transfer, the MTA expects more people to use this route, thus relieving some of the congestion from stations in Lower Manhattan.