Michael Fishman – Urban Answers
GOAL: Improve Customer Experience from Ground Breaking through Ribbon Cutting
Construction Staging By Design.
Construction staging is as an urban design exercise in and of itself, especially for facilities that
need to maintain operations during reconstruction. Public infrastructure projects from
highways to schools, hospitals and transit, can be easily accessible while under construction and
improve levels of service upon ground breaking. When this approach is taken from the start of a
project’s construction rather than simply as a goal for the final condition, the results can save
time and money as well as become welcome processes in the evolution of facilities and
communities. For the everyday users of these facilities to be at the forefront of decision making
for construction staging, it is critical that mobility and safety are maintained or improved during
Beyond designing each phase of a given project with the public in mind, adjacent sites and
communities must consider one another especially when they are in close proximity or multiple
projects are taking place at one time. We must look at projects from two perspectives in this
Macro Scale - planning beyond the limits of a project site within the urban context.
Micro Scale - way finding and signange elements on a phase by phase basis.
Signage and way finding are critical elements to maintaining clarity and levels of service for
pedestrian and vehicular patterns. Integrated design of each phase for the best passenger
throughput can include all types of media, from radio and TV to internet and paper flyers,
which train and inform the public.
Often it is impossible to know the limits of the staging strategy until a project is underway.
Anticipating this uncertainty with options and strategies for improvisation and flexibility in the
field are required, such as redundant loading / unloading areas or multiple entrance / exit
points. In this way construction choreography ensures that public access remains as good or
better for facilities under reconstruction as it did before the construction process began.
Consolidated Edison East River Repowering Project
Herculean efforts were undertaken to decommission Consolidated Edison’s Waterside power
plant on Manhattan’s east side and repower the 14th Street ‘East River’ power plant 20 blocks
south. However, aside from awe inspired travelers on the adjacent FDR Drive who witnessed
the complexities of this structure as it was dismantled; residents, tourists and businesses were
largely unaware that a major infrastructure project instrumental in providing basic energy
requirements to their communities was going on all around them.
At the macro scale, natural gas
was being brought in from
Canada affecting communities
from the Upper West Side to
the East Village. Steam needed
to be connected along 1st
Avenue between the
Waterside and East River sites in a 10’ diameter main. Cut and cover technology was originally
the preferred construction method to minimize costs. However, it was quickly determined that
the inevitable disruption to major hospital facilities located along this stretch of roadway,
minimal surface area for staging of equipment / materials and protection of the infrastructure
asset itself all pointed to a better solution: tunnel the steam main 40’ below the City’s surface.
In addition to making construction invisible to
the community, hospitals and daily traffic
patterns, the opportunity to piggy-back other
utilities within this tunnel off-set costs and
legal issues disappeared saving valuable time
At the micro scale, 80 ton boilers needed to
be installed at the East River Site. Bringing the pieces in one by one and
assembling the boilers on site was assumed to be the preferred
construction method given the inability to move such large objects through
bridges and tunnels to Manhattan. To save time, money and risk, the
process it was determined that the process was better served by
assembling the boilers off site and floating them in overnight to 14 th Street
at the East River. The construction choreography required FDR Drive
closures in the midnight hours but put no oversized vehicles on NYC
streets, did not impact rush hour traffic and was accomplished in a fraction
of the time.
The Brooklyn Museum of Art
During reconstruction, attendance at The Brooklyn
Museum of Art increased. How did the massive
internal and external renovation accommodate this
growth? How did the reconstruction process not get
in the way of accessibility?
By turning the reconstruction into a public event, people were not dissuaded from coming to
the Museum during construction and often they were encouraged. First Saturday’s are now a
tradition that makes use of the underutilized space in back of the Museum designated for
parking. During reconstruction, the lobby was unavailable. Inviting people to the Museum, on
its face, seemed counterintuitive. The theme of construction signage was used as way finding
and education to connect the public to the reconstruction process. A mini exhibit on the
history, staging and purpose of the project met people upon entrance to the museum, involving
the public in the project itself.
A Major Upcoming Challenge: Moynihan Station and Madison Square Garden (Micro)
Either reconstruction project, Penn Station or Madison Square Garden has the potential to
cause major disruption to travel patterns throughout the area. Staging for shows at the Garden
is already quite extensive. Maintaining operations for both the Garden’s activities and the
commuters who rely on Penn Station while reconstructing both facilities on top of one another
must be dealt with head on as the primary goal for staging these projects reconstruction.
Moynihan Station Adjacencies (Macro)
The fact is that many New Yorkers will not know midtown west without massive construction
projects once they finally get underway. How will all of these projects be coordinated to have
the least possible impact? What are the advantages to considering them in relation to their
neighbors? There are orders of magnitude here (capital construction, affected commuters,
debris removal and material delivery) that require us to invent an area wide construction
methodology. We can shift priorities to coordinate decision making, save time, money and
improve the environmental quality of construction. Eliminating confusion for daily users, we
must design each phase of construction with their commute time and safety as the top priority.
It is important to answer these questions as planning for the west side proceeds. Striking
findings can be revealed when the customer experience is put ahead of other factors during the
construction staging process. Taking this concept to the extreme has already brought about
conclusions that could save west side projects time and money. What if, for example, the
multiple west side projects were considered with waterborne and rail as the primary means of
material and debris transport in and out of Manhattan? The scale of the west side and the
efficiencies of rebuilding by water (as NYC was originally built) could spawn an industry of
construction staging regionally on our abandoned waterfronts.
In this case, choreography of construction over the next quarter century will allow New Yorkers
to be aware and proud of the progress being made in our City while we are under construction.