Transportation Case Study: Traveling In Style - Facility Executive Magazine - Creating Intelligent Buildings

The Whitehall Ferry Terminal in New York City gets a new look and upgrades services for travelers.
The Whitehall Ferry Terminal in New York City gets a new look and upgrades services for travelers.

Transportation Case Study: Traveling In Style

Transportation Case Study: Traveling In Style - Facility Executive Magazine - Creating Intelligent Buildings

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the August 2006 issue of Facility Executive

Infrastructure is a crucial aspect of any successful city, and New York is a prime example of a location that requires state of the art transportation facilities. Every day, thousands of people travel throughout the city’s five boroughs using mass transit. Some go by train, others use the subways, and still more ride the ferry system. With the recent opening of two new Staten Island Ferry terminals and additions to the fleet, it is fair to say that those traveling on the boats are experiencing the best the city has to offer these days.

One of these new facilities, the Whitehall Ferry Terminal in Lower Manhattan, opened in February 2005 after employees and passengers relied on an interim building for more than a decade. Marking a new era in the city’s transportation system, aesthetics and sustainability joined security and safety as important aspects of the project.

John Giaccio, Associate Deputy Commissioner of Security and Facilities Management for the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), calls the new facility “a refreshing experience” compared to the previous terminal. Having been built in 1954, that terminal did not have many windows or amenities. (The original terminal was constructed much earlier, in 1907.) So, when a fire damaged the facility in 1991, the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) set out to improve the terminal.

The entry hall of the new facility, measuring 75′ high, is one example of the focus on aesthetics. Enclosed in a glass façade, the 19,000 square foot waiting room makes visible panoramic views of the harbor and downtown Manhattan.

“Waterfront viewing and public access were among the main goals,” explains Giaccio. “9/11 changed some of that thinking, and security was a tremendous factor in this project. However, the team worked to stay true to the original aims.”

Open Minds For A Design

Before coming to a final decision on the design in 1999, the city looked at many possibilities for the new terminal. After the fire in 1991, EDC and DOT announced it would sponsor an international design competition as the vehicle for selecting an architectural firm. In addition to EDC and DOT, agencies that weighed in on the submissions included the New York City Departments of Environmental Protection, City Planning, Parks and Recreation, and Cultural Affairs. The Staten Island Ferry Riders Committee, the Staten Island Borough Board, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were also among those involved.

Approaching the terminal from the water, ferry riders can view the solar photovoltaic array on the rooftop viewing deck. The 40 kilowatt system can produce 52,00 kilowatt hours of energy annually. Photo by Matthew Hanlon, New York City.

Between 1992 and 1999, there were several designs chosen as the winners for the project. However, these plans were not brought to fruition for a variety of reasons. Along the way, though, some notable ideas were considered.

The 1992 design, for instance, featured a giant clock located on the harbor side of the terminal. Designed by the firms of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates and Anderson/Schwartz Architects, both of New York City, the 120′ wide clock—actually an electronic depiction—was intended to give the relatively modestly sized terminal a significant presence against the backdrop of the city skyline.

On the practical side, passengers on the boats would have been able to see the time as they approached land. Though chosen in 1994, the design was ultimately rejected by the city.

The second winning design was submitted in 1994, which also took into account a reduced budget from the city. Produced by Whitehall Architectural Design—the New York office of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Anderson/Schwartz Architects, and TAMS Consultants, this program introduced sustainability to the project. An angled roof above the terminal’s entry hall integrated an array of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels across the entire roof.

In the end, the design that won the competition was produced by the Ronald Evitts Architect and Schwartz Architects (the successor to Anderson/Schwartz Architects) firms. An earlier feature, a glass façade located on the harbor side, was not present in this design. However, the glass curtainwall surrounding the terminal’s entry hall and allowing for natural light to enter the interior did remain.

Sustainability Enters The Picture

The sustainable aspect introduced to the project in 1994 was widened in the final design to include other strategies. Though the solar energy system was scaled down from the previous level to a 40 kilowatt system, it was given the prominent position on a rooftop viewing deck. There, the PV panels would also serve as a canopy to shade people observing from the vantage point.

The sign on the street side entrance of the ferry terminal is visible both night and day. Behind the sign, the glass curtainwall lets natural light enter the waiting room area inside. Photo by Matthew Hanlon, New York City.

Giaccio adds that DOT is considering giving the public a deeper view into its use of solar energy by placing a kiosk in the waiting room that will illustrate in real time how the system is working.

“Efficiency was the driver behind the decision to incorporate renewable energy,” explains Giaccio. “As a public entity, we also want to lead by example, and we had the opportunity to do that with this project.”

Additionally, the waiting room area was designed to incorporate a radiant heat floor—warmed from below by water filled tanks—along with a highly efficient cooling system. During the heating months, the radiant floor could be an asset in keeping down costs, according to the facilities department.

This prediction was accurate. Says Giaccio, “The radiant heat warms the floor, and the stone material of the terrazzo floor holds the heat very well. As a result, we don’t have to operate the boilers as often, because the material stays warm for a long time.”

Other strategies approved by the city to save energy were daylight dimming controls, demand based ventilation through the use of carbon dioxide monitors, high performance glazing, efficient centrifugal chillers, 85% efficiency boilers, and hot water pumps with variable frequency drives. Many of these strategies were recommended by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which conducted energy analyses of the proposed designs.

Working with Steven Winter Associates, a firm based in Norwalk, CT, NYSERDA found that the recommendations would reduce the building’s energy use by 40%—compared to a design in compliance with the state’s 1991 energy code. As a result of implementing the energy efficiency strategies, Whitehall Ferry Terminal was deemed a high performance building by NYSERDA under its New Construction Green Building Performance program.

Many Moving Parts

Construction of Whitehall Ferry Terminal began in early 2001. DOT determined that ferry service would continue throughout the entire process, and to facilitate this, it had an interim terminal built alongside the site.

Providing uninterrupted service to the approximately 60,000 commuters and visitors using the ferries each day presented challenges. “We had to meet constantly with the contractors to ensure our ferry service was not compromised in any way,” explains Giaccio. “Among other things, this involved directing riders through different areas of the terminal during the various phases of construction. Communication between the operations staff, EDC, and the contractors was certainly crucial to making this happen successfully.”

And while the terminal staff worked to ensure its internal operations remained intact, the project team encountered challenges beyond its borders. The complexities of New York City’s underground utility and transportation systems were among the factors the team faced. In recalling the construction, which lasted a little more than four years, Giaccio explains, “Lower Manhattan has a tremendous amount of unmapped and undesignated utilities underground. In addition, there are many structures underneath the facility site, including a subway station, that needed to be accommodated.

“The foundation of the building had to be redesigned several times,” Giaccio continues, “because if utilities were not on the map, we did not know what was underneath until digging began. Like any unexpected factor, this set us back in the schedule, but it was not critical.”

When redesigns were required, as was the case with the building foundation, Earth Tech, a New York City-based architectural firm, was the point of contact. EDC hired the firm to ensure that any changes during the process were in compliance with building codes. “If we needed to redesign an aspect of the facility,” says Giaccio, “Earth Tech helped us to facilitate the change.”

Sailing Into A New Era

When the new terminal opened to the public on February 8, 2005, it was hailed as a milestone for New York City. Speaking at the ceremony, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “Today is a great day for Lower Manhattan and Staten Island. Instead of scurrying through dark and dilapidated terminals onto 40-year old boats, passengers will travel through architecturally exceptional, airy terminals onto a state of the art fleet.”

The event was also attended by Congressman Vito Fossella, DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, and EDC President Andrew Alper, which reflected the collaborative nature of the project.

“To see the project complete has been very rewarding,” says Giaccio. “Having a brand new terminal makes everyone happy. Visitors have reported to us on many occasions that the new facility is a 100% improvement over the old terminal.”

While it may sound simple, Giaccio notes that some of the rider satisfaction is due to the presence of five escalators which support the prime mission of the terminal—transporting people to and from the waiting area to the ferries. The previous terminal contained just one escalator for ferry riders to use.

In addition to the rooftop viewing deck, ferry riders enjoy other amenities, such as an assortment of concession stands, which occupy 6,000 square feet.

The waiting room is also complemented with a functional art installation of granite benches, entitled, “Whitehall Crossing.” Divided into three serpentine rows within the space, and giving riders an attractive place to rest, the benches were created by artist Ming Fay, who was commissioned through the city’s “Percent for Art” program. This program is administered by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, which helps to fund art installations for construction projects in public spaces.

In order to ensure the terminal remains a top-notch facility, DOT has taken several proactive measures. For one, there is now a ferry terminal manager on site at all times. “This newly created position serves as a constant presence,” explains Giaccio. The terminal manager complements the terminal supervisor, a position that existed prior to the opening of the new facility.

As would be expected, security is also a very important issue at the site. Whether on the lookout for vandalism, rider safety, or threats of terrorism, the surveillance team at Whitehall Ferry Terminal is always on duty. Staff members have the ability to monitor the facility both inside and out 24 hours a day.

Another service crucial to the terminal, especially in light of current headlines, is the ability to maintain power for operations in the event of a utility problem. The solar energy used by the terminal is one way the facility management department ensures consistent power for a portion of the facility’s needs. However, the team has also installed diesel generators on-site to supplement power needs in case of a power loss from the utility company.

In describing the terminal’s capabilities, Giaccio says, “A few months ago, we performed a ‘pull the plug’ exercise to find out how we would fare if we lost total power from Con Edison. We found that in the event of a blackout, we would have enough emergency power to sustain ferry service.” Giaccio notes that some energy loads, such as air conditioning, would be shed in this scenario; however, other operations, including lighting and escalators, would continue to function.

Judging from the continual service provided while the project was underway, DOT will remain proactive in ensuring a positive trip for ferry riders. Whether entering the Whitehall Ferry Terminal from the harbor side or from the street, the thousands of people who use the Staten Island Ferry each day are welcomed with an efficient and attractive building. Riders are sure to enjoy the facility for years to come.

This article was based on an interview with John Giaccio ([email protected]) and from project literature. To learn more, visit, and click on “Mass Transit.”


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