Architectural Record: Turnstyle in New York City

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Published in Architectural Record, June 2019

In New York, where real-estate costs are at a premium, it’s practically criminal to waste space—even the subterranean kind. One underutilized site was a block-long passage below street level that leads from the Columbus Circle subway station to West 57th Street. In 2014, local firm Architecture Outfit began working with Oases Development to devise a plan for the Metropolitan Transit Authority to transform it into a flexible underground food-and-shopping pedestrian street named Turnstyle.

The business opportunity was huge in a place traversed daily by 80,000 people, so the architects maximized the number of tenants—initially 34—giving them room to breathe. Two rows of small shops flank the corridor, the scale aimed at varying vendor types and minimizing vacancy periods. Large vendors can remove partitions to merge two or three shops.

The team visually opened and polished the site. Transoms above fixed- or foldingglass storefronts create the illusion of a lofty environment despite low beams. Mirrored panels and white-painted surfaces help distribute light. Perforated metal screens conceal overhead conduits, pipes, and HVAC equipment. Blackened-steel signage adds an urban vibe, as do black pavers arranged in the same pattern as Rafael Guastavino’s tile vaults at Grand Central Terminal. Elsewhere on the floor, additional kiosks sit on islands of light or multicolored tiles.

Still popular nearly three years in, the 30,000-plus-square-foot Turnstyle has managed to procure rents at market rates comparable to street-level retail and maintain 90 percent occupancy since opening. It has also generated more than 600 jobs. The project demonstrates how good design can engage the public and boost the business of shopkeepers.