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Understand Fulton Center's Giant Oculus As Its Opening Nears

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"It's been a long time coming," said Mahadev Raman, the Director of the engineering firm Arup Limited, at a panel discussion last week hosted by the New York Transit Museum previewing the new Fulton Center subway station. The station is finally set to open this Monday, November 10th, at 5 a.m., after years of setbacks from issues related to funding, Hurricane Sandy, and systems testing, according to the panel members. When asked for some more explanation of the delays, the panel looked at one another, shook their heads, and seemed to agree upon an unspoken response of "we don't have all day."

The new station was conceived back in 2002 in response to the devastation faced by the Financial District on September 11, but the need for station to be improved has existed for decades. "Many New Yorkers remember the 'spaghetti mess,'" said Vincent Chang, an architect for Grimshaw who worked with Arup to execute the design and the subterranean infrastructure that connects passengers to the 10 subway lines running through the center. "Our goal was to address what it's like to be on the subway, in an anonymous and alienating space."

The new station will contain 65,000 square feet of retail and will be visited by over 300,000 people a day (that's 85 percent of all downtown subway-goers). The centerpiece of the station is the 120-foot-high "oculus," designed by Grimshaw, with a "sky reflector net" by James Carpenter, which opens the ceiling to the sky. "We wanted to create something that is not just functional but also identifiable and attractive." While the oculus, roughly the same size as the Guggenheim spiral, will certainly be "identifiable" and "attractive," it might not seem obvious how a hole in the ceiling could ever be labelled a functional architectural element, but the panel members argued otherwise.

The opening of the oculus, covered by glass, brings in light, thereby reducing the need for electric lighting. It will also act a reservoir for the heat that rises from the subway line spaghetti, reducing the demand for air conditioning. If there were ever a fire in the center, the smoke would rise up in the oculus allowing for relatively safe passage beneath. The sky reflectors, the most traditionally artistic element of the design, are "differently oriented" to the sun, "scattering and recasting' light down through the aluminum paneled netting of the oculus, according to Carpenter. "The reflectors could actually act as a time telling device," said Carpenter. With the artistic element of the new center representing 1 to 2 percent of the overall construction budget of $1.4 billion, Carpenter may have also designed the most expensive and least practical clock ever.

Behind the netting of the oculus are three circular levels of retail space, which Chang referred to as "doughnuts of accommodation." The retail operations on these levels are intended to appeal to a broader range of people than just transit users, meant to make the center a destination in its own right. "Grand Central station is the obvious reference point," said Chang, "but I wouldn't want to purport a direct comparison."
—Evan Reeves
· Fulton Center's Sky-Capturing, 'Magical' Oculus Net Unveiled [Curbed]
· Checking In on the $1.4B Fulton Center Before June's Opening [Curbed]
· All Fulton Center coverage [Curbed]
· Fulton Center [official]

Fulton Center

Fulton Street and Broadway, New York, NY