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News March 2012

New York’s Nervi-designed Bus Station to get a lift

March 21, 2012

If you’ve traveled through the George Washington Bridge Bus Station recently you’ve probably found it dreary and deserted—vacant storefronts and more pigeons than people at the ticketing level. This is about to change as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a private developer move forward on a $183 million dollar overhaul of the station.

The GWB Bus Station is one of the city’s finest examples of bold engineering in the service of architecture, in this case, structural concrete. It was designed by the celebrated Italian engineer-architect Pier Luigi Nervi, working in collaboration with the Port Authority’s chief engineer John Kyle, and completed in 1963. The roof comprises 26 poured-in-place concrete triangular sections, 14 of which angle up from center columns creating monumental wedge-like peaks and with 12 flat triangles between the peaks. The trusses supporting the peaked roof sections are artfully cast concrete echoing the cross bracing of the bridge towers. (These structural forms are not easily described. You should visit the bus loading platform.)

The redevelopment project, being carried out by the Port Authority and Maryland-based George Washington Bridge Development Venture LLC, will add 90,000 square feet of new retail space. Some of this results from building on an existing parking lot and some from consolidating bus operations on the top level of the station under the Nervi trusses. The new design moves the passenger waiting area from the current windowless space on the second-level to a glass-enclosed area below the roof. Commuters will experience the dynamic forms of Nervi’s structural concrete and have a panoramic view of the bridge and Palisades beyond.

The Port Authority is working with the architecture and engineering firm STV on plans, details of which are not final. On February 1, Community Board 12’s Land Use Committee held a hearing at which the Port Authority and developer presented the project. Nina Rappaport represented DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State and spoke to the station’s architectural significance and the need for ongoing design review. On February 28, Community Board 12 voted to approve the project. In its presentations the Port Authority acknowledged the historic significance of the rooftop truss level and noted that it had consulted with the Landmarks Preservation Commission regarding plans for the renovation and new bus loading platform. (The station is not an individual landmark as buildings owned by the Port Authority are exempt from NYC Landmark Law.) The Port Authority has also agreed to convene a preservation advisory committee for the project.

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the station’s opening. A renovation that breathes new life into Nervi’s architecture and the Washington Heights community is an excellent way to celebrate the station and its architect at this milestone. The project will dramatically change much of the original station, however the fact that all parties involved have publicly acknowledged the significance of Nervi’s upper level structure is positive. DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State plans to keep a watch on the project.

 

George Washington Bridge Bus Station, Pier Luigi Nervi, 1963.
Image: Library of Congress
image: K. Randall