Grand Central Terminal: A “Fun Palace” of Musicians
Or: An Interstitial “Place Of Assembly”, Part I
Transportation hubs are intriguing settings in which individuals willingly abandon their desire for control over their personal space to gain mobility. In New York City Subway this offers a rare opportunity for active encounters between riders from across the entire income spectrum. This proposal identifies underutilized spaces and infrastructure in Grand Central Terminal and advances a solution for reclaiming them for new collective events, more particularly musical performances by subway musicians.
The re-imagined terminal is a ‘place’ where encounters develop into participations and shape an ‘enduring assembly’ of ephemeral events. It employs cybernetics to enable an ongoing mediation of space-time-event dynamics through public participation in order to maintain its ‘relevance’ and ‘spontaneity’. This helps the terminal continuously recreate its ‘uniqueness’ and, correspondingly, regenerate ‘rent’ opportunities for its owners.
While specific to a site and a program, the proposal seeks to provide a vehicle for a broader discourse on new ways of appropriating existing settings for new collective events in cities enabled through utilization of new technology.
In subway trains individuals’ prioritization of mobility over personal space finds a distinct social dimension; With stops along a wide range of neighborhoods, each subway line is a cross-section of the city’s demographics. Consequently, each train car shapes a potential place for encounters among riders from different socioeconomic backgrounds who temporarily expose themselves to others and to “otherness” and attain a “multi-sensory sensibility to random interaction”. (Lévy, 2012) This is specially the case in New York City Subway where riders’ average income can vary as much as 180,000 (from 20k to 200k) dollars in two consequent stops. ( New Yorker, 2015)
Grand Central Terminal in New York City is a particularly intriguing example of such encounters for a variety of reasons. It has the world’s largest number of platforms (44) and covers forty-eight acres of some of the most valuable land in the world. The station attracts 750,000 people each day to visit, shop, and travel. With 21.5 million annual visitors the terminal is the sixth most visited tourist attraction in the world.
What makes Grand Central Terminal a suitable setting for what this proposal seeks to accomplish is not only the large numbers; Grand Central Terminal is the only privately owned train station in New York City. New York Subway System itself is an anomaly to transport environments in the U.S.; in a city that surpasses country averages of poverty rate and income inequality, “all income groups ride the transit system”. (Perrotta, 2015) These two anomalies firstly exemplify a transportation hub’s full potential as a place of encounters, and secondly present a rare opportunity for re-engaging with the capital that has traditionally shied away from investing in transportation—a hesitation rooted in fears of contributing to an “organic growth in social capital” (Harvey, 1989) that investing in means of transportations as ‘fixed capital’ necessitates.
The spatial configuration a terminus train station like Grand Central Terminal is particularly intriguing: the collision of grand forces of money, space, and, capital finds an apparent and clear expression in terminal’s bottle-shaped anatomy. From an analytical standpoint, the spatial clarity facilitates a more concrete understanding of these shaping force and allows for a fruitful re-negotiation of their dynamics: in Grand Central Terminal a parallel arrangement of trains must transition into a serial arrangement before a train can depart. This inevitably generates temporal departure gaps which, on platforms, translates into an ever-changing number and configurations of train cars waiting their turn to depart.
In an extraordinary cycle, a spatial attribute (configuration of platforms in plan) generates temporal inefficiencies (schedule gaps) which in turn results in spatial opportunities (unused spaces in empty trains) of vastly different nature and scale, a cycle from large to small, from static to dynamic, and from permanent to ephemeral. Should these underutilized spaces be reclaimed, the terminal can accommodate events of equally different nature.
Fall of 2016