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Hudson Yards vs. Sunnyside Yards, what’s the difference?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week I was invited to speak to a group of architecture students about the Sunnyside Yards. Part of the presentation involved discussion of the Hudson Yards project over in Manhattan, and how it can provide a model for development of the Sunnyside Yard. This is a false equivalency being offered by the powers that be, for a variety of reasons. The first and foremost thing to mention is that the Hudson Yards sit over an outcropping of Manhattan Schist and Gneiss, which provides for a stable underpinning for mega towers. Foundations are somewhat important, my engineer friends tell me, and the Sunnyside Yards sits on a compacted pile of clay and sand which until quite recently (1909) was a swamp.

Actual rock underpinnings on the northwestern side of a certain Long Island are absent west of Maspeth. If you find yourself in Maspeth, look west at what would appear to be a soup bowl, formed by elluvial deposits left behind by post glacial flooding. The piles which the mega developments of Long Island City sit upon are thus more numerous, and driven far deeper, than those in Manhattan which is technically a ridge of igneous rock. Soil conditions can be “engineered around” of course, since – theoretically speaking – if you possess enough money and technical acumen, you could build a ladder to the Moon if you wanted to. It’s just not practical to build a ladder to the moon, but since when does practical consideration get in the way of our Mayor’s political calculus.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hudson Yards was a challenge to the construction and engineering crowd, but a staightforward one inasmuch as the trackage leading out of Penn Station is arranged in parallels as you’ll notice in the shot above. What that means, from a decking perspective, is that you can set out the beams and columns needed to support the above ground structure at regular intervals and you’re essentially constructing a grandiose table or bench supported by multiple legs. The main problem they experienced was how to coordinate the movement of equipment in the cramped quarters of Manhattan.

Sunnyside Yards is defined by a convoluted series of intertwined rights of way which criss cross each other. Some of them, like the “balloon,” or turnaround, track travel over sweeping arches to switches which feed into either tunnels or holding tracks. You’ve even got the busiest railway switch in the entire country in there, the Harold Interlocking. Sunnyside Yards is complicated, and is already the eastern focal point of the largest capital project in the United States – the long delayed and vastly over budget East Side Access project which will allow Long Island Railroad access to Grand Central Terminal via LIC.

Why is it so over budget and so delayed, you ask? Because the MTA didn’t take into account the presence of buried waterways around and in the Sunnyside Yards (which was a big part of the Pennsyvania Railroad’s construction efforts a century ago), which any Queens historian can tell you are the buried remnants of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary, and which once flowed to modern day Jackson Avenue and 29th street. Why do you think that section of LIC was called “Dutch Kills,” since it wasn’t named that for shits and giggles?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The parallel nature of the tracks at Hudson Yards allowed for the usage of an esoteric bit of kit called a Beam Launcher, pictured above. The Beam Launcher facilitated the placement of the deck’s supporting beams onto concrete foundation from above, literally lowering them into place from above. The big yellow thing above is the Beam Launcher, which was about 3/4 the length of a Manhattan block. Steel beams were unloaded from trucks, which in some cases were loaded up from barges, brought to the job site, and then manipulated into position. 

The beam launcher dealie is described in some detail, in this post from 2014.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 25, 2018 at 11:00 am

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