Author : Robert Magdy Morgan

University : Columbia University, GSAPP

Status : MS/AAD, 2014

Advisor : Marc Tsurumaki

Title : Delancey Underground | Institute of Spatial Perception

“For space ‘is’ whole and broken, global and fractured, at one and the same time. Just as it is at once conceived, perceived and directly lived.”– Lefebvre

Below the street level lies an infrastructural sub-surface level of tunnels, pipes, transportation networks, and drain systems that are kept hidden. Occasionally, we are made aware of it through ground vibrations, steam rising from utility holes, subway ventilation grates, and storm drains. Spaces carved out that aren’t meant for the public, graffitied by art that wasn’t meant for an audience. Over the years, the underground space has accumulated layers of infrastructure, some of which were abandoned, unable to keep pace with the changing needs above. On the surface, the connection to the existing infrastructure is implicit. Commuting by train offers a brief experience of the subterranean city.

The project is an [ exploration ] of the contrast between complete immersion and exchange with the public to moments of isolation and removal from the ambiance of urban life where the city surface disappears. The varying degrees of engagement with the urban environment and awareness of what’s below is contrasted with the complete removal from the surface of the city and the stimuli encountered above.   

The complete immersion by carving below the surface and expanding the subway to bring [ awareness ] of the existing infrastructure just beneath the surface of Delancey Street is contrasted with the observation tower, which serves as a place for solitude framing views of the city from above.

The street surface acts as the facade, an extension of what’s below. The changing elevation shifts from light to dark, effectively experiencing the city from above and below. Descending below ground evokes [ emotions ] of unease, with the absence of external references light serves to delimit the excavated gallery space below, the retaining surface holds the earth back with slivers revealing what’s behind. The public gallery highlights the framework of the existing station and engages the senses and perceptual modality of the underground space.

A shift from hyper stimulation and complete immersion within the urban fabric to removal of stimuli as the project shifts from [ segmented ] public bands and extension of the existing abandoned station to private bands. The bands serve as the main organizational structure, creating a [ rhythm ] that shifts from the main public band on the north side that leads to the gallery to the administrative band that houses the offices, meeting spaces, and labs towards the south.

The shear between the bands allow for light and sound to filter in below and artificial light to radiate above, acting as a signifier. The slippages between each band serve as a visual reference to above, filtering light and sound to inform the space below.


S//A: What’s the most important aspect of this project that we should be aware of?
Robert Morgan_ The site selected for the Institute is located Below Delancey Street, a 60,000 sq. ft. abandoned trolley station in the Lower East Side, sitting below 3 vacant blocks. The institute is an extension of what lies below, a public interface, a manifestation of the existing, an archaeological exercise rendering the history of the subterranean city and what is typically hidden exposed.

S//A: What other fields outside of architecture interest you?
RM_ I was always fascinated by industrial design and fabrication in general and the process of how things are made.

S//A: Most important thing you learned in architecture school?
RM_ Two things: First was I learned to discard ideas and start over when new opportunities came up, it’s pretty liberating. Second thing architecture school taught me was how to effectively communicate the design intent of the project through the drawings. It’s always good to take a step back and see how best to advance the proposal and at the same time document the design. The drawing is a powerful rhetorical tool that can do both and help advance an agenda.

S//A: Describe your dream project
RM_ My dream project to design would be a brewery. It’s really the output of a process, pretty fascinating stuff. I tried my hands at brewing a few times. Nobody died drinking them, which is good.