Photo Credit: Lucas Blair Simpson | Aaron Fedor
Walking from the current Penn Station to the new Moynihan Train Hall makes me feel like Dorothy when she awoke in Oz and her life was suddenly in color. The transition to Moynihan Train Hall is staggering. It is bright, welcoming, comforting, and practically changes your mood as you make your grand entrance.
Ilva Dodaj, Senior Associate at Domingo Gonzalez Associates (DGA) provided me a tour of this stunning facility. Ilva was the lead lighting designer for DGA on the project and highlighted a bit of history as we toured. She explained, “This was NYC’s primary USPS facility, designed by McKim, Mead & White when it opened in 1914.” She pointed to the massive trusses that were preserved from the original design which contained skylights that were covered during World War II, and explained that the roof was removed and replaced with a vaulted skylight. The 3160 panels, consisting of over an acre of glass, allow natural daylight to enliven the train hall.
While I have seen and participated in many great lighting jobs in my career, Moynihan Train Hall is different. There was a certain level of grandness and awe that I wasn’t prepared for. Something else that struck me was Ilva’s passion; later I would learn why this project was so personal for her.
Ilva worked closely with DGA’s Domingo Gonzalez and A.C. Hickox, VP and Managing Principal. After the tour, I interviewed the trio to get more details.
AC explained that they began work in 2014. In keeping with the postal facility’s conversion to a major transit hub, DGA brought its extensive experience with rail facilities to the project. Domingo emphasized their continuous internal diligence as they made note of changes in code and technology. He insisted, “You can’t do one sketch in 2014 and think that you are done; you have to constantly revisit your initial premise.” Domingo cautioned that while much technology was evolving, other technology was disappearing.
The design team wanted to celebrate and highlight the historic trusses and envisioned using light to call attention to important events and holidays. In 2014, DGA knew that RGBW technology would be the workhorse for the project, and scanned the market to find only a handful of viable manufacturers. It was evident that Color Kinetics had the best technology at that time, although other manufacturers were considered. However, as plans began to solidify, the design remained with Color Kinetics as their fixtures continued to increase in efficiency and improve in near-field color mixing. Ilva elaborated, “Given the space constraints, the fixtures had to be both powerful, compact and fully concealed. In circulation areas, the iGuzzini Laser-blade provided visually uniform illumination while maintaining an extremely quiet ceiling plane. Moynihan Train Hall is one of the few major transit hubs where the luminaire’s source brightness is so consistently well shielded.
In the train hall, DGA specified continuous linear four-channel RGBW fixtures for the massive skylight and trusses. Approximately 15 default lighting control scenes were developed by the design team in collaboration with the stakeholders. The standard white scene, which is set to 3000K, is envisioned for typical nights. This default setting includes a few incursions at sunset and sunrise where the color temperature shifts to mimic the sky plane above. Domingo added, “In 2014 we did not have the term ‘circadian lighting’ in such common usage as today. The design speaks to the evolution of technology, the evolution of technique, and the evolution of awareness.” A.C. added that at the outset of the project, considerable thought would be needed to mitigate the potential for high contrast ratios between daylit and adjacent circulation spaces, due to the significant amount of daylight coming into the hall. Ilva explained that each of the skylight openings is framed with a linear light which adjusts color temperature to complement daylight values from sunrise to sunset and adjust intensity to complement bright daylight at this transition zones.
Ilva explained that to the untrained eye the skylight may appear to be conventional clear glass. However, she clarified that it is actually a sophisticated parabolic cutting-edge 3D steel geometric assembly composed of 3160 insulating glass panels treated with frit, film, and various environmental coatings that modulates the extent of daylight entering the hall. During the day, the goal of the lighting design is to complement the presence of daylight while still highlighting the trusses. Ilva added, “The interstitial space within the trusses is always lit to give the appearance of layered illumination, even when cast into silhouette by bright natural light.”
At night, the lighting strategy celebrates the space while still maintaining a sense of transparency beyond. Lighting the facades that bound the skylight became critical in order to reinforce that sense of transparency.
“…during the day we have natural transparency through the skylight, and at night we have some recollection of that transparency, so it’s quite wonderful and magical and yet such a simple idea.” ― Domingo Gonzalez
The lighting controls were designed in coordination with electrical engineering firm JB&B, and featured Crestron controls. The design automatically adjusts in the presence of natural light (yielding energy savings), and the fixtures can be individually controlled in single foot increments. Domingo explained, “One of the great challenges of atrium lighting is to make sure that the system responds not just to a bright sunny day, but to a partly cloudy afternoon or even a grey and overcast day. The Crestron system is responsive to that changing dynamic, and we took an active role in crafting the lighting control vision.”
The project, a generation in the making, was championed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and led by New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation. The public-private-partnership succeeded in converting the historic Farley Post Office into a modern transportation hub, on time and on budget. Moynihan Train Hall is the embodiment of what can be achieved when the public and private sectors work together in a partnership. Stakeholders included Vornado Realty Trust, Skanska, Amtrak, the MTA/LIRR and the Port Authority of NY & NJ. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill served as design architect, and architect of record.
Ilva explained that working with so many organizations was a tremendous experience. She credited success to A.C. and Domingo, who have vast prior experience juggling the needs of multiple stakeholders. In response to these complexities DGA conducted many mockups, some onsite and several in their offices, which helped facilitate critical decision-making, integrating input from the stakeholders at various stages of the design process.
As I mentioned earlier, there was a passion from Ilva that I have rarely encountered. In our follow-up interview, she explained that Moynihan Train Hall was a full-circle effort for her. Before her career in lighting, she trained as an architect and coincidentally, the very first presentation she ever gave in architecture school was on the original McKim, Mead & White designs for both the 1914 Post Office and the original 1910 Penn Station, so when this project landed on her desk, the circle was completed. Obviously familiar with the original Post Office design, she now had the opportunity to serve as the lead lighting designer for its transformation!
By the time this issue is published, Domingo will have taken a trip that departs from Moynihan Train Hall on Amtrak, and I asked him what he expects to experience as he enters the station as a passenger. He responded, “There will be a mixture of elation, pride and a great sigh of relief that it all did what we thought and hoped it would do.”
1. Stanly Kubrick filmed Killer’s Kiss in 1955 from this same building. It was generally regarded as his worst film.
2. The Hive Commissioned by Empire State Development in partnership with Public Art Fund for Moynihan Train Hall.
• Design Architect: Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill
• Engineer: JB&B MEP
• Lighting Designer: Domingo Gonzalez Associates
• Structural Engineering: Severud Associates
• Certification: Pursuing LEED Silver
• Truss/Skylight/Facade Lighting: Color Kinetics
• Circulation Lighting: iGuzzini
• Truss Downlights: Luminis
• Amtrak/ LIRR/ Baggage/ Waiting Rooms: USAI, VODE
• Linear Lighting: Lumenwerx
• Controls: Crestron
• Square footage: 255,000
• Average daytime lux: 6000 – 1500 (daylit) – 300 – 200 (electric-lit spaces)
• Average nighttime lux: 200 – 100
This article was originally featured in the April issue of designing lighting (dl)