The Triple Bridge Gateway establishes the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s 42nd Street Bus Terminal as a premier example of urban placemaking and identity lighting, by reenvisioning a structural rehabilitation to the bus ramps spanning Ninth Avenue in the district known as Hell’s Kitchen.
Buses and cars emerge from the Lincoln Tunnel, crossing over and under a complex of ramps and roads leading to the bus terminal and mid-town Manhattan. Four ramps span across the wide swath of Ninth Avenue. Previously painted a deep brown, these ramps characterized the unwelcoming landscape for which this neighborhood was once widely known.
In 1994, the Port Authority proposed a visual upgrade as a part of planned infrastructure improvements. The bus terminal, one of many transportation facilities owned and managed by the bi-state agency, is the largest and busiest in the nation, literally connecting the island of Manhattan with the North American mainland by way of the Lincoln Tunnel.
The local Manhattan Community Board conducted a Request for Ideas. The goal was to transform the overpasses, newly named Triple Bridge Gateway, into a distinctive landmark fusing utility with visibility. Local residents, businesses, students, designers, and architects submitted 44 responses. An exhibition and symposium were held to publicize the ideas.
The Port Authority initiated a Request for Proposals in 1994. In 2001, the project was undertaken by a multidisciplinary team including light artist Leni Schwendinger. The artist’s objective was to create a “luminous room,” a destination and a meeting place as well as a second “front door” to the Bus Terminal.
Design choices, from lighting to color pattern, were selected to emphasize the bridges’ I-beam structure, referencing 1950s industrial forms. Pendant-mounted, high-polish, adjustable reflector panels “pierce” the scrim, and metal-halide sources on the east and west walls of the underpass focus onto panels that, in turn, cast reflected light patterns onto the street. Reflections visually unify the bridges’ existing lines and spaces.
Lighting fixture selection was limited to industrial units that could withstand vibration and cold weather. Standard lighting fixtures utilized in innovative ways illuminate the metal mesh. Reflective panels produce a carpet of light onto the roadbed.
A computer-sequenced illumination scheme plays year-round on a weekly rotating schedule of visual compositions: Chambers of Color, a formal, defined, and discrete focus on the beam structure and corner shapes; Spectacle, a bright, bold “loud volume” composition; and Reflections, which creates dappled light on the roadbed.
The project cost was $2 million, which included additional architectural modification to the building such as a new titanium façade, storefront, marquees, and bus terminal signage, as well as the lighting project. Fourteen years after the Community Board survey was conducted, and eight years after its design, the project was unveiled in 2008.
Port Authority Engineering Department
Donald Fram (chief architect), Dale Serventi (senior architect), James McCormack (coordinating architect), Robert Parsekian (architectural graphic designer), Viorel Borza (electrical engineer), Fred Royer (mechanical designer), Stewart Sloan (senior structural engineer), Paul Salvatore (construction resident engineer), Manuel Ortega (construction engineer), Ken Wright (inspecting engineer)
Henry Stolzman (principal in charge), Kentaro Tsubaki (project architect)
Leni Schwendinger Light Projects
Leni Schwendinger (principal in charge); David Lander, Jodi Geroux, Charles Cameron, Eric Chenault (lighting designers)
Defoe Corporation (general contractor), Flack + Kurtz (electrical engineering), Hardesty & Hanover (structural engineering),Hellman Electric (electrical sub-contractor)
Going Sign Corp. (identification signage); Electronic Theatre Controls (dimming and control equipment); Hess America, Holophane, Insight Lighting, Kim Lighting, Let There Be Neon, Lithonia Lighting, Thorn Lighting (lighting suppliers); Total Containment Systems (chain-link fence)
“The strategic and graphic use of colored light transforms this typically dismal urban space into a memorable and pleasant experience for the commuter/visitor. It celebrates the industrial architecture rather than trying to conceal it. Simple and elegant.”
“Very successful example of an emerging phenomenon: transformations of unique urban areas from dreary and overbearing spaces into celebrations of local uniqueness.”