The George Washington Bridge Bus Station (GWBBS) is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (the Authority). The station is located at the east end of the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan. Designed by Dr. Pier Luigi Nervi, the noted Italian engineer-architect of the 1960 Olympic Stadium in Rome and other world-renowned structures, the GWBBS opened in 1963 in conjunction with the lower level of the bridge and the Trans-Manhattan Expressway (TME). Its juxtaposition, spanning over the TME is an innovative solution that provides buses traveling over the bridge direct access to the GWBBS, thereby preventing congestion along city streets. he facility was conceived as two structures located along Broadway, the West Building that houses bus operations and transit retail, and the East Building that provides bus circulation from inbound busses to their gates and public parking on its rooftop, as well as passive ventilation for the TME below. Two ‘bus-bridges’ above Broadway connect the two structures to permit the bus operation.
The facility’s architectural expression is a tour de force that incorporates concrete trusses and a unique butterfly-like roofscape above the West Building. The GWBBS was recognized by Concrete Industry Board at its completion. Unfortunately, from the time of its opening until the Redevelopment Program, the GWBBS suffered from a certain degree of benign neglect that is not unusual for this type of transportation facility.
In 2005, the GWBBS was identified in an Authority-wide study as a prime opportunity for revenue enhancement through a neighborhood and destination retail program. The resurging Washington Heights neighborhood had a need for improved retail, and the bus station was seen by the community as a catalyst for urban improvement. The Authority also envisioned additional modifications to the facility to improve the quality of service for bus passengers. A planning/design concept was developed by the Authority, which was put forth in solicitation documents to bring in a developer who would design, construct, operate and maintain the facility.
Bus Operation History – Innovative Planning Approach
The previous GWBBS bus operation utilized ‘pull-through’ bus gates on the facility’s uppermost level, directly below the signature Nervi thin shell concrete roof. This arrangement not only reduced the flexibility and quality of passenger service, but also limited the quality and quantity of retail development on the large floor plates below the rooftop bus zone due to the need for a vertical circulation core at each gate.
The innovative planning/design concept, shared with prospective developers, established a consolidated Bus Concourse, with a sawtooth arrangement for bus gates on the rooftop level. By eliminating the individual ‘pull-through’ gates, the Concourse concept proposed two vertical circulation cores: from ‘A’ train service and Fort Washington Avenue to the west (serving approximately 75% of the passengers), and from Broadway to the east. This eliminated the need for multiple vertical circulation cores to each gate. With all passenger services located on the Concourse rooftop level below the signature Nervi structure, the floorplates below were freed up for retail development. Additional multi-level retail was also proposed for the East Building along Broadway, envisioned to improve the Broadway commercial corridor with retail storefront in lieu of the existing blank walls.
In 2008, a developer was selected, and a collaborative design team was established. Although the GWBBS building is not a designated landmark, the design team treated it as such, and shared the conceptual efforts with the NY State Historic Preservation Office and NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. Great attention was paid to develop a ‘modern intervention’ that is respectful of the historic structure, in fact celebrates the structure, by its sensitive incorporation into the new program. The result is a project that is respectful to the character-defining features of the original design, while establishing a state of the art facility for the traveling public. The process to realize the design and construction was not easy, given the considerable technical problems of building over an interstate highway, as well as the inherent challenges of melding the new program into this historic 1963 concrete structure as designed by a modern master.
The exterior of the GWBBS, both the West and East Buildings, now has an updated storefront and graphic program that establishes a new level of urban design quality for the community. Approximately 120,000 square feet of retail has been incorporated into the development of the GWBBS ‘Mercado’, as the retail venue has been branded, which is seen as an amenity for the neighborhood, the traveling public, and those users who take advantage of the excellent subway connections nearby.
The new Pavilion Building, located under the butterfly concrete roof, is a fully air-conditioned frameless glass facility that provides passenger waiting and views to the bus gates as well as the Bridge and New Jersey. The design aesthetic is of its time, but timeless, creating a dialogue with the Nervi structure that establishes a clarity of distinction in a complimentary manner. The waiting area incorporates a visual connection to the incoming busses, with interactive electronic displays that provide real time bus schedule information. The electronic information is carried through to the bus gates, as well as the Broadway entrance beneath the historic Nervi entry canopy.
The interior retail concourses used by passengers to access the Pavilion is coordinated seamlessly with the Pavilion architecture by a shared aesthetic and finishes. The GWBBS now has a new lease on life, and the neighborhood has gained a superb amenity. All those involved feel confident that Dr. Nervi would have approved.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Architectural Unit is a unique organization of approximately 40 architects, landscape architects, and graphic designers. The Unit designs and collaborates with consultants to achieve high-quality projects that serve millions of traveling public within the New York City region. The Unit serves the PANYNJ Line Departments- Aviation, PATH, Tunnels Bridges, and Terminals, The Port of NY and NJ, and The World Trade Center in response to a $3 billion per year Capital Plan.
STV, founded more than 100 years ago, is a leading, award-winning professional firm offering engineering, architectural, planning, environmental, and program/construction management services to a diverse range of public and private clients. Consistently ranking among the top firms in the country, the firm provides multi-discipline services for transportation/infrastructure, design-build, energy, and institutional market sectors, among others.