Terminal Condition. Spring 2012 Netlab Studio
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
Network Architecture Lab
Professor: Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D.
Assistant: Leigha Dennis
This studio explores the re-construction of a large-scale infrastructural element in the city, specifically the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. A structure of 1.5 million square feet, passed through daily by hundreds of thousands of commuters, over seven thousand buses, and thousands of automobiles, providing parking for over 1,000 spaces for automobiles on top, surmounting a subway below, linked to the Lincoln Tunnel through massive ramps for vehicular traffic, and accommodating a significant shopping area, the PABT operates in a realm between building, city, and infrastructure. We are interested in this overlap as a venue for experimentation in programming and design.
As the largest commuter facility in the city, the PABT is a necessary part of everyday life for hundreds of thousands of workers in the city. The PABT was constructed in response to growing traffic congestion in midtown produced by the operation of eight independent bus terminals in the area a decade after the opening of the Lincoln Tunnel in 1937. Costing $24 million, the PABT bus terminal started operations in December 1950, consolidating eight independent bus terminals located in the midtown area. The building has been expanded twice to accommodate growing bus traffic: in 1963 a $30 million expansion added new decks and in 1979 a north wing was built at a cost of over $160 million, integrating with the original structure with a bridge over 41st street through a series of massive X trusses designed by Port Authority chief structural engineer Eugene Fasullo.
Bringing over 50,000 sightseers to the city daily, most of whom stop at Times Square, the PABT has been a key player in midtown, caught up in a longstanding crime problem that only abated during the last decade. With a new, modern exterior and a tiled interior resistant to vandalism, the 1979 reconstruction was intended as an architectural solution. But the expanded space quickly wound up serving a growing population of hundreds of homeless people, drug dealers, and male prostitutes while the “Minnesota Strip” on Eighth avenue outside became a site where newly-arrived runaways of both genders, particularly from the Upper Midwest, would be pressed into prostitution. Soon, the brutalist trusses became seen as a symbol of the decay of the Times Square area. In response, the Port Authority invested significant funds in the redevelopment of the neighborhood and implemented crime prevention strategies. The building is now vastly safer, but with the successful redevelopment of Times Square, the PABT is one of the last vestiges of an older, less commercialized New York. Over the last decade, the Port Authority was working with the Vornado Realty Trust to construct a skyscraper over the north wing, which was built with the possibility of exploiting its air rights in mind. Plans for a forty-story office tower by Richard Rogers including a rooftop garden and eighteen new bus gates came to naught when the Chinese developer pulled out this past November.
In this exercise, we set out to develop new hypotheses for the future of the PABT which we see as needing to respond to a world in which mobility is as much a matter of portable networked telecommunications devices as travel. With the resurgence of bus travel, the Terminal has the opportunity to become an even more significant gateway into the city for both commuters and visitors. Containing significant retail space, the PABT is a major center of commerce in the Times Square area. How do we make a building that embraces civic, commercial, and infrastructural spaces while remaining secure?
This studio understands the architect as a builder of not merely physical edifices but also social, conceptual, and technical structures. Our interest is to use architecture and the most advanced thinking in network culture to construct new and better ways of life. In doing so, this studio is engaged first and foremost with institution building and shaping of social behavior.
We will begin the semester with team-based based scenario plans. Students will identify the drivers in society, technology, economics, ecology, and politics likely to impact the building over the next generation. These scenario plans will be communicated through the technique of architecture fiction. A review exploring these scenario plans will be held in mid February.
Students will individually develop detailed proposals for the reconstruction of the building by mid-review in March. These proposals will take the form of books that define the mission and goals of the reconstructed PABT and a preliminary idea for an architectural program.
As a Netlab studio concerned with the topic of mobility, this studio will be the first prototypical studio in the GSAPP Cloud. To this end, students will be expected to maintain Tumblr blogs of their research and to keep up with the online work of other students. All student work will be posted online and aggregated to the emerging GSAPP work site.
Students will be responsible for devising programs for a 21st century PABT. With the scenario plans from the first part of the studio in hand, students will be asked to identify the programmatic direction of the new PABT. Crucial to this will be a balance between city, building, and infrastructure. How can the building maintain its own identity while integrating better with the urban environment surrounding it?
In the wake of an era defined by the attention-seeking strategy of shaping, it is only appropriate to ask if architecture shouldn’t lose its singularity and obsession with performance. Can we develop architectural strategies aimed at producing less individualistic works that operate in a more ambient register, embracing formlessness instead of shaping, works that build intensity more subtly rather than giving it away all at once, works that question the boundaries between the city and the building rather than affirming them?
With regard to the site, students will be encouraged to consider the extension of the PABT into New Jersey through the Lincoln Tunnel and the dedicated Exclusive Bus Lane (XBL) that stretches from the New Jersey Turnpike onto Route 495, underneath the Times Square area through the underground subway station and the subway routes beyond.
Students will work with roving engineers from ARUP during the semester to address the immense requirements of the PABT and the prospects for the construction of their project without disrupting the terminal’s operation.
Ultra-realistic perspective and Photoshop-based montages are banned in this studio. We propose that this sort of representation is inappropriate, corresponding to what Mark Fischer has dubbed “capitalist realism,” a condition in which we are offered nothing but the present the eagerly wait for the next thrill the system has to offer. Evacuated of any critical intent, such work only cements the false notion that modern technology has made communication transparent.
But more than that, if all architects produce a form of science fiction, then to paraphrase William Gibson, we need to remember that as we construct futures, all we have at our disposal is the moment that we are currently living in. The moment we construct a future it starts to age rapidly. Since the crash, along with the development of technologies that were formerly consigned to an endlessly deferred proximate future such as near-universal wireless Internet, locative media, tablet computing, and touchscreen interfaces, it seems that we have exhausted the era of the next new thing, of rapid technological and cultural development and obsolescence.
Thus, envisioning the future through architecture forces us to follow Alex Galloway’s suggestion that “all media is dead media,” to understand that appropriate representational strategies that might resist capitalist realist representations might emerge out of a new understanding of what Gibson calls a “long now,” a temporally stretched condition out of which we can freely recombine material and representational motifs.
We will look at forms of representation immanent to our topic at hand, from schedules to traffic engineering plans, flowcharts, to exploded axonometrics for vehicle parts. Such diagrams not only offer rich territory to mine for representational strategies, their close study allows us to better understand the topic we are involved in. Precise, unshaded hidden line drawings, plan, section, elevation, and axonometric offer us a carefully and logically articulated system of delineation appropriate for a bus terminal.
20% Attendance and Participation
Students are expected to attend studio sessions, be on time, and ready to discuss their work at every session. Students are expected to participate in group discussions, to cooperate with other studio members by offering criticism, advice, and good spirit.
Group meetings, regularly scheduled once per week allow us to share our research and constantly re-tune our method and approach to the material.
Students are expected to be at pin-ups and reviews on time with work ready to present. Students who are not ready at the beginning of the pin-up or review forfeit the right to receive criticism. Students are expected to contribute to pin-ups and reviews, both in terms of criticism and questions as well as by working in a team to ensure that rooms are ready to present in (adequate chairs, projectors, and so on).
Students will be graded on the originality and rigor of their concepts. All students need a coherent thesis in this studio.
Columbia teaches in English. There is help available for difficulties with the English language in the university, but lack of understanding is not an excuse.
40% Execution and Presentation
A good concept means little if it is poorly executed or presented. Presentation and execution are not trivial, nor are they mere “polish,” rather the choices made in presentation and execution should inform, and be informed by, the concept.
Students are expected to render and present their work clearly, succinctly, and elegantly.
Work should be thoroughly and represented.
 Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism. Is There No Alternative, (Hampshire, UK: Zero Books, 2009).
 Scott Thill, “William Gibson Talks Zero History, Paranoia and the Awesome Power of Twitter,” Wired Underwire Blog, posted September 7, 2010, http://www.wired.com/underwire/2010/09/william-gibson-interview/all/1.
 Alex Galloway, “Cory Arcangel (Beige) and Paper Rad’s The Mario Movie" (2005)http://www.deitch.com/projects/press_text.php?pressId=29. Michael Parsons, “Interview: Wired Meets William Gibson,” Wired UK posted October 13, 2010, http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-10/13/william-gibson-interview.