Precedents of Arrival

As I mentioned in an earlier thread, my MArch thesis involves the design for a new Penn Station in NYC, with a particular focus on the idea of arrival and its implications. What does it mean to arrive, in the broadest possible sense of the word, and how can that be applied to the design of the station?

I tend to have a very pragmatic and technical approach to design, and I've familiarized myself with quite a few grand train stations as precedents, including the original Penn Station by McKim, Mead, and White. Left to my own devices, I could probably crank out a DD set in Revit by the spring, but that's not what a thesis is about.

I've been encouraged to broaden my idea of what makes a good precedent, and take a more holistic look at ideas of arrival, threshold, and gateway in architecture and urbanism. One example that has been suggested is the western approach to the Acropolis in Athens. (Unfortunately I've never been there, so I'll have to rely on secondhand information.) A more local example is the dramatic view of the Cincinnati skyline when one approaches via the long downhill grade on I-75 from the south: you come over a crest on the freeway, and the entire vista opens up right in front of you. There's no question that you've arrived in Cincinnati.

A third example: the entrance to Yosemite Valley via the Wawona Tunnel. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's, the 4000-foot Wawona Tunnel was carefully sited to provide the most dramatic view of Yosemite Valley upon emerging through its eastern portal. When you come out of the tunnel on Highway 41, you have arrived at Yosemite, even though you've technically already been inside the national park for the past 20 miles.

My questions to the peanut gallery: What are some notable moments of arrival, in architecture or otherwise, that I should look to as precedents? It could be at the scale of entering a room, entering a building, or entering a geographical place. Are there any particularly relevant readings you know of that I should be looking at?

Thanks in advance...

Aug 30, 13 5:31 pm

Not exactly a precedent of arrival, or arrival-threshold-gateway, but take a look at Le Corbusier's promenade architecturale formula as played out in several building designs.

3158 3158a 3158b 3159 3159a 3159b 3160 3160a 3160b

If anything, it might give you a better idea how architecture can deliver a sequential narrative. It also demonstrates how architecture can be used to deliver a destination.


Aug 30, 13 8:13 pm
chatter of clouds

But shouldn't you have an idea of how you want the arrival to relate to the before then after? The approach to the acropolis is very unlike, i would say, that exemplified by the case of Cincinnati which you mention above. Do you want an an axial paradigmatic experience ( arrival as a break and a new beginning) or a contextually infiltrating one where arrival is a mitigated by preemption or by spreading the experience out insiduosly. The latter is my impression of treading up the pikionis path. I guess this is a difference between the Greek and the Roman, what happens on the side and what happens in front. 

Aug 30, 13 11:00 pm
chatter of clouds

So Mies was a Greek, le Corb was a Roman?

Aug 30, 13 11:06 pm

A third example: the entrance to Yosemite Valley via the Wawona Tunnel. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's, the 4000-foot Wawona Tunnel was carefully sited to provide the most dramatic view of Yosemite Valley upon emerging through its eastern portal. When you come out of the tunnel on Highway 41, you have arrived at Yosemite, even though you've technically already been inside the national park for the past 20 miles.

Thank you for sharing that information and now I know who we have to thank for that careful planning that so many have been able to enjoy!  When teens armed with driver's licenses, we would time our arrival after driving through the night to see that view at daybreak.  Also, the Wawona Tunnel and the valley floor are at about 4,000 ft elevation, so one could almost get around the chain requirement in winter.  However, it is the fact that the preceding parts of Highway 41 you mentioned, near Chinquapin and also inside the national park, reach an elevation of over 6,000 ft., so snow chains it is.  Thanks for that picture.

Several Western cities have a procession on approach though, surprisingly, I don't think San Francisco is one of them.  It sort of does a "now you see it, now you don't" game.  I'm thinking of Seattle WA and Vancouver Canada.  With Seattle, all approaches are processions, from I-5 south, where the "Tukwila Hill" gives you the first glimpse of the skyline from afar, and the descent after passing Boeing Field gives you another shot of adrenaline while looking right at the CBD.  From the east, on I-90, it is also breathtaking.  The approach to Vancouver, from the south, along Canada 99 has a ridge with sparse housing that shields the view of the suburb of Surrey and, then, as the highway makes a wide sweep and turns north and is near the airport, the tops of the Vancouver high rises and the North Shore mountains are prominent.  Sometimes, mother nature is kinder to some cities than others.  While I have not been to Pittsburgh, the approach from the south, through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, opens up to a stunning view of the CBD located at the junction of three rivers.

I don't know how relevant this is, but some U.S. state capitol buildings seem accidentally sited while others are much more deliberate in this regard, with planned axes and the preservation of view corridors.  I've thought it would be interesting to determine which state capitol complexes have a sense of place, and which ones do not.

Aug 31, 13 1:36 am
boy in a well

fck it. just make your revit dd set and see how it goes.

what do a bunch of academics know anyway?

Aug 31, 13 5:53 am
Entry into Olmsted's major parks in Louisville was conceived as a process of shedding the city, decompression. Very clear physical conditions were implemented to achieve this goal. I'm sure that was not unique to here, but a strategy employed throughout their work of the period.

Not just Ellis Island, but the Ellis Island process/sequence for 19thC immigrants would be good to explore.

Dulles' shuttles were always magic to me, as compared to long concourses or open tarmac.

Obviously, for me, sequence of events and transitions is key. Similar to Quondam, I guess.
Aug 31, 13 8:17 am

"Precedents of Arrival" is simply architectural bullshit. You're designing a train station, a building with a very specific set of purposes.

The primary experience people are going to have is the quality of their journey through the station. Does it provide clear navigation and easy access to required functions? When I go to a train station I expect - and expectations are the key here, at least from the "visitor" perspective - clear signage / instruction / traffic flow / etc. I want to be able to find - from any spot within the building - the ticket office, boarding platforms, rest rooms, exits, coffee shops, etc. On the municipal side there is maintenance, security, traffic control, delivery and waste removal, etc. This is not some esoteric metaphysical exercise, it is a dedicated functional space with very specific requirements.

A couple weeks ago I flew out of JFK on AA. The AA terminal there is utterly devoid of signage for anyone less than a gold club member. I navigated by listening to the people at the front of various lines asking direction of AA employees - not once but repeatedly - the very same questions I was going to ask. First to find the "self check-in", then to find the baggage check-in, then to find the baggage drop. There was not a single sign indicating where any of these things were or how to use them, nor was there an arrow on the floor or any other indication of how to proceed. With hundreds of people milling around - all burdened with luggage - it was all but impossible to figure out what to do. Interesting to note that there was no shortage of AA staff on hand to patiently answer the very same questions time after time by the thousands of people who move through there every hour.

This is either the absolute worst planning I have ever seen or it is simply designed to make you want to buy a business or first class ticket to avoid this debacle. It would be cheaper and far more efficient having all those employees actually check you in rather than repeatedly guiding people through the "self check-in". In hindsight it's funny because of how stupidly conceived it is. At the time it was infuriating, and the *perfect* preparation for going through to the security screening.

Maybe you should focus on required practical functions. After that you can wrap it in some psuedophilosophical bullshit.

Aug 31, 13 12:00 pm

I have a few years experience working on transportation projects around NYC in a professional capacity, so I'm certainly very mindful of the pragmatic considerations in addition to the "psuedophilosophical bullshit". I don't see them as mutually-exclusive, and in my view, the clarity of circulation should be a major factor in the sense of arrival. At Grand Central Terminal, for example, circulation pathways are simple and intuitive -- to the point where wayfinding signage isn't even really needed -- and there's no question that you've arrived in NYC when you walk through that main concourse.

Above all else, I want this to be a realistic project that could actually be built, and not just an academic exercise in paper architecture. That said, I feel like I have a pretty solid grip on the technical and pragmatic considerations, but I need a more robust theoretical underpinning for the design. Why is Grand Central such a better experience of "arrival" than the current Penn Station? While being able to easily find your way from Point A to Point B is certainly a factor (and I know both facilities like the back of my hand, so it's a non-issue for me), it's not the only factor.

As for the AA terminal at JFK, I went through there last weekend on my way back to Cincinnati after my summer co-op in NYC, and my experience was identical to yours. It was an absolute nightmare. It's not a bad space architecturally, but the airlines have gone out of their way to dehumanize every aspect of air travel they can think of.

To everybody else, especially Quondam, thanks for your feedback. This is very helpful. Keep it coming...

Aug 31, 13 12:43 pm

Be sure not to let "knowing something like the back of your hand" influence your perception of it. A first-time visitor will have a very different perception.

I didn't mean to imply that signage was a good solution, in fact it's generally a band-aid for bad design.

Aug 31, 13 1:31 pm

I think there are limitations to the equation posed by the existing building.  I don't remember Penn Central and Grand Central very well anymore.  So, one can either make the arrival sequence memorable upon arriving to check-in, from the outside, or upon arriving from the trains themselves, upon finishing a trip.  If you've been to Los Angeles's Union Station, there is quite a sequence from the platforms, through long concourses from the train (and now subway) platforms, which then release you into the grand lobby of this building, which seems to have elements of Spanish Colonial and train station vernacular at the same time.

I guess you have to decide if you want this sequence upon arriving, upon getting off the train, or both.

Aug 31, 13 3:28 pm

You know when you have arrived at Mount Rushmore....there are four President's  on the face of the mountain before you.  The rest of the fluff is not necessary.  You could be walking up a dirt path driving down the highway. They are bigger than life, in many ways.

Aug 31, 13 5:09 pm

May I point out one thing? Train stations, air ports, and bus depots have both Arrivals and Departures. These transcend the architectural, and have implications for the traveller, especially since this person is doing both, simultaneously. As a person who's done his fair share of picking up, and dropping off, I feel connected to that experience as well. So, how are these complexities designed?

Sep 3, 13 9:26 pm

I'm looking at the arrival sequence from both directions: arriving at the station on a train and going forth into the city, and arriving at the station from the street or subway and then departing on a train. For the purposes of this thread, though, I didn't want to get too specific about train stations or transportation facilities, and keep the discussion as broad as possible.

Sep 4, 13 5:16 pm

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