The Union Square Subway Station is one of the largest and most complex in New York City. Sited between 14th and 16th Streets and between Broadway and Park Avenue, it services three different train lines accessed through six entrances. Passageways, bridges, and curved tracks were built at different times over many decades in the first half of the twentieth century. The complexity of this environment made it clear that a singular intervention could not compete with or have any effect upon the station as a whole. But it did seem possible to make the station itself do the work, to make it the very subject of the project, and that the repetition of an element could be used to infiltrate and affect this entire system.
In early visits to the station red lines were spray painted on walls around places or objects in disrepair. The project emerged out of this idea of red lining the station in order to expose its archaeology. In the process of remodeling, many elements of the original composite station and its early industrial architecture – stairs, lighting fixtures, mosaic tiles, and turnstiles – were replaced or overlaid. The project notes the disappearance of some earlier elements and focuses attention on the ones that remain. One of the challenges was to construct a way to attract an individual’s attention, to make space for a moment’s reflection in the context of the noise, density, and pace of this hectic public place.
One hundred and twenty-five red frame elements scattered throughout the multilevel station disclose themselves slowly over time. A sense of the early industrial architecture of this place comes through with the accumulation of fragments of images and information. At the same time these fragments offer a sense of intimate engagement: to look into one of the framed spaces is as though a secret is being sought and slowly revealed.