Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Welcome to the Oculus

In a rare blip of good news, this week marks the opening of the much awaited, much anticipated, much debated Fulton Center. A $1.4 billion gleaming glass and steel behemoth, it's a strikingly bold move into the 21st century for the New York City subway system.

First conceived in 2002, right after 9/11, Fulton Center is a transit hub that pulls together a goulash of subway lines, namely the A, C, J, Z, 2, 3, 4, 5 and R lines. In addition, there will be "improved access" to the 1 and E lines as well as the PATH trains. In the annals of NYC transportation, this is a big effing deal. If you've ever tried negotiating the subway lines of Lower Manhattan, it's generally been a nightmare of ramps and staircases and seedy tunnels -- very often strewn with trash and bottles and reeking of urine. Also, these various subway entrances and connections were a test case in the limits of crowding humanity into tight areas, making Calcutta look spacious, and inducing numerous bouts of "walker rage."

Fulton Center corrects all this and provides subway riders much needed relief with widened tunnels, brand new staircases, and wheelchair access.

But it's the building itself that makes Fulton Center so impressive -- it looks like it has more to do with space travel than underground travel. Its exterior resembles the capital building of some alien planet from an old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (it has a baddass looking dome!). The interior appears to be the hybrid of the inside of a shopping mall and a space station -- a circular atrium, curving staircases, escalators, and numerous screens with dancing images. But the really impressive thing about Fulton Center, some would say the most "magical" thing about it is ... the oculus!

Ah yes -- the oculus!

“The lions at the New York Public Library, the clock in the middle of Grand Central terminal, and now, this jaw-dropping oculus." Thus spake MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast. He has declared that the interior of the aforementioned dome at Fulton Center will fast become one of wonders of NYC. Also called the Sky Reflector Net (no, not like the organization from the Terminator movies), the oculus is composed of 952 diamond shaped reflective panels that draw sunlight into the transit center in good weather and allow people to watch rain dance above them in lousy weather. It brings the millenniums-old natural world into this most cutting-edge example of modern building. And, sarcasm aside, it's really, really impressive.

In its every design and utility, Fulton Center demonstrates that the super-enlightened, super-tech future has arrived in NYC. It's good for the people riding the subways and negotiating the city, and it's a beautiful addition to the architectural splendors of the city.

Sadly, of course, it can't exactly change the behavior of subway riders but, hey, you can't have everything

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