It only took a day after Sunday’s opening for a candy bar wrapper to lodge beneath the new wooden bench of the 34th Street-Hudson Yards platform, and vague stains to appear on the station’s light granite floor tiles. Still, the dominant feeling of New York City’s first new subway station since 1989 is that of newness, and the fulfillment of an eight-year wait and $2.4 billion in funding. Soon it will be just another purple-colored point on the MTA map, now curving the 7 line 1.5 miles beyond Times Square. For a brief time, it’s all gleaming steel and fresh fluorescent lights.
The MTA anticipates the new station at 34th Street and 11th Avenue will eventually be the “busiest single station in New York City.” This is in part due to the huge luxury development rising at the end of the High Line, overlooking the Hudson River. It’s definitely an area of the city that was cut off from the subway, but the scrapped second station at 41st Street and Tenth Avenue once part of the project would arguably have supported a more underserved neighborhood.
Cranes tower by the glass station entrance designed by Toshiko Mori Architects as a sort of utilitarian take on Hector Guimard’s Art Nouveau Paris Metro entrance, with the Hudson Park & Boulevard landscaping of benches and plants winding alongside. Below, burrowed 125 feet into the Manhattan earth to dodge existing underground infrastructure like Amtrak, the Eigth Avenue line, and the Lincoln Tunnel, is the multi-level, climate-controlled station designed by Dattner Architects. Two levels of escalators (the longest in the city), and an Italian-designed inclined elevator, enable the descent into the column-free arched concourse and platform, which evoke the DC Metro although, alas, without the brutalism.
Like the Fulton Center complex opened last year with its gaping white oculus, the 34th Street-Hudson Yards favors a sterile futuristic aesthetic with long illuminated tunnels that would have been ready settings for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The white and metal palette is enlivened by two huge mosaics designed by Xenobia Bailey called “Funktional Vibrations,” both commissioned by MTA Arts & Design. It’s unfortunate some of their vibrant tiles weren’t allowed to creep onto the sleek concourse and platform, although the two pieces are stunning above the first bank of escalators and the information booth and ticket machines. True, they might not have much to do with the area’s former industrial history and waterfront setting, but she is an established figure in the New York art world and it’s exciting to see her intricate crochet work inspired by African-American patterns transformed into this huge, colorful mosaic mural built by Miotto Mosaic Art Studio.
The work with its overlaid circular patterns against blue feels as futuristic as the station itself, but with a warmth that’s missing in the greater architecture. Each of the city’s 496 stations is after all a portal for people’s lives and homes, and after the newness fades and the first dark gum globs stick forever to the tiles, they become daily personal spaces for the city. Whether this will be the city’s major hub in a few years remains to be seen, although what it seems to be inviting in more than anything is the passive modernism of the Hudson Yards construction around it.
The 34th Street–Hudson Yards is now open at 34th Street and 11th Avenue in Manhattan.