Thursday, January 21, 2021

Barcelona, home to wonderful architecture

 

Statue by Joan Miró outside MNAC

The winter spike of COVID has prevented me from getting out and traveling. Even trips into my wonderful New York City have been on hold for over a month. So, I have dug into my archives. Today, I take a trip back in time to last trip to my favorite European city, Barcelona. 


Communication Tower at Tibidabo


Barcelona is a city that speaks to my heart. It was the base of the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. Today it offers a home to lively discussions and struggles around progressive issues. Most of all, Barcelona is a beautiful city, and one that is fun to walk around.



Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor at Tibidabo

St. Antoni Market

Much of Barcelona was developed in the middle of the 19th century, planned by Ildafons Cerdà. Cerdà’s idea was to provide modern places for people to live and work. Newly constructed buildings were designed with open courtyards to provide fresh air to all rooms, and limited those buildings in height, to allow light to reach the sidewalk. He also created a new design for streets. Cerdà’s plan opened up intersections by flattening the corners, making each on a small square.


Flattened Corner

Street design by Cerdà


When talking about Barcelona and design, we must include Antoni Gaudí. Catalan born and bred, Gaudí’s modernist style became the one of Barcelona’s identifying features. Two of his most famous buildings are on Passeig de Gràcia. Casa Mila, also know as La Pedrera (The Stone), is an apartment building, whose exterior looks like a stone cliff, with carved caves.



La Pedrera

 

Two blocks away is Casa Batlló. Originally built as an apartment building in 1877, it was bought by the Batlló family in 1903. They decided to redesign it for their family use, and turned the commission over to Gaudì. He created building that was literally fantastic, designing it to invoke the body of a dragon. Exterior portions are covered with mosaics that simulate the  scales of the dragon. Inside, Gaudì developed a style that used natural shapes as inspiration. From the doors, to the furniture, even the heating registers, he used lines and curves that mimic living things.


Air column in Casa Batlló. The blue tiles helped disperse light








Barcelona is a great city to visit. It is walkable, and there are beautiful buildings almost everywhere you look.    




 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station

 


Many years ago, New York City had two beautiful train stations. Grand Central Terminal, which is still with us, and received a major renovation a few years ago, was the terminal station for the New York Central Railroad. The other was Pennsylvania Station, which served the Pennsylvania Railroad. Both were grand architectural celebrations of train travel.

Old Pennsylvania Station via Wikicommons

Then, fifty-five years ago, the greed of the real-estate industry wiped out one of them ( almost the other). Pennsylvania station was subsumed under the rationale of using the space above the station to make a profit. So the old building was torn down, and replaced with the latest Madison Square Garden and a large office tower. Travelers and commuters were relegated to a warren of tunnels running underneath the buildings. 


Interior of the Old Pennsylvania Station

For fifty years many people have decried the destruction of Pennsylvania Station. The outcry led to development of “landmark preservation” laws. But, the condition of Penn Station continued to deteriorate for many years. Then, about thirty years ago, a call went up to convert the Farley Post Office Building, which sits across 8th Ave. from the station, to a replacement. The Farley building is the main post office for New York City, but has been mostly empty since USPS opened a large transfer center a few blocks away. In 2006, New York State purchased the Farley Building in preparation for starting construction of the new station. Between 2010 and 2017 work was done to expand the concourses and platforms below ground level. Then in 2017, construction on the new hall began, and on Ja. 1st, 2021 the Moynihan Train Hall opened to the public.

Entrance under Madison Square Garden

The Moynihan Train Hall, named for the late senator from New York, who fought for funding for the project, occupies what had been the cavernous mail sorting room inside the Farley Building. This allowed the architects to maintain the buildings Neo-classical structures, while creating a modern space for travelers. This is not a “throw-back” to the old days. The hall is sleek, with polished metal everywhere. The open space is covered by iron beams and a glass roof. It reminds me of some of the modern stations that have been built in Berlin, Germany.






 

The main entrances to the Moynihan Hall are on 31st and 33rd streets. The 31st street entrance offers direct access to the main floor of the hall. Over the lobby is a beautiful art piece, entitled The Hive. It is a three-dimensional representation of the office towers of New York. It was created by the Scandinavian art duo - Elmgreen & Dragset.



The Hive, by Elmgreen & Dragset


The 33rd street entrance brings travelers to the upper level of the hall. The lobby here hosts three stained glass pieces designed by artist Kahinde Wiley. Titled “Go”, it represents the freedom of travel through the view of African-American youth break dancing in the sky. The upper level, is where there is a balcony overlooking the main hall, and the Metropolitan Club, New York’s Acela club. This is also where there will be a food court opening in the Fall of 2021.


33rd Street Entrance

Detail from GO by Kahinde Wiley
 
Detail from GO by Kahinde Wiley
 
The Moynihan Train Hall will not invoke travel memories from the past. However, it is a wonderful, modern, and much needed upgrade. It provides relief to the overcrowded Penn Station. Most importantly, it gives train travel back the respect it deserves, and makes coming through New York City an enjoyable experience once again. 
 

Nuts and Bolts:
Moynihan Train Hall is located in the Farley Post Office Building, at 8th Ave between 31st and 33rd Streets.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Croton Gorge Park

 

Croton Dam

Every year, on New Years Day, New York State Parks sponsors “First Day” hikes in parks all across the state. Rangers, along with local experts on the history of the area, lead visitors in walks through the winter landscape. This year, I joined a First Day hike at Croton Gorge Park, in Cortland, New York.



Croton River


Retaining Wall of the Old Aquaduct

The Croton Reservoir is the oldest part of New York City’s vast water supply system. The first dam across the Croton River was finished in 1842, along with an aqueduct that used gravity to bring clean drinking water to the city. It was needed because the Hudson River near the city is actually  a salt-water estuary, and the city’s wells had become infiltrated by the salt water. This reservoir and aqueduct brought 35 million gallons of water to the growing city every day. The water traveled for 22 hours, through Westchester County, and Bronx, crossing the High Bridge aqueduct into Manhattan, before ending up at the 42nd street reservoir, also called the Croton Reservoir.


42nd Street Reservoir via Wikicommons


By the end of the 19th century, a new dam was needed at Croton, both to replace the aging earthen dam, and to expand the capacity of the reservoir. So a the building began, and in 1906, the dam was finished. Today, the Croton Dam is the fourth largest masonry structure in the world. The Croton reservoir now has a capacity of 19 billion gallons, and provides about 20% of the City’s water. A new aqueduct was constructed to carry the this expanded supply to the Jerome Reservoir in the Bronx, although it now passes through a water filtration plant that opened in 2015 under Van Cortlandt Park.


Highbridge Viaduct via Wikicommons


Croton Gorge Park is a gathering place for families and hikers. It is the northern end of the Old Croton Aqueduct State Park, which winds for 22 miles, from the Bronx. Also, the top of the dam is open to pedestrian traffic, and it is one of the few dams, post 9-11 that you can still walk across, giving wonderful views of the reservoir and the park below. There is also a short trail along the Croton River below the dam.



 



Croton Dam Spillway







Old Croton Aquaduct Trail





Nuts and Bolts:
Croton Gorge Park is located 2.5 miles east of Croton-on Hudson along route NY-129. The park is free and open to all. One word of caution, there is parking for only about 75 cars, so it  possible for the park to fill up, and this past summer, during COVID, weekend access was severely limited.