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In Building Where Subway Tokens Were Counted, NYU Readies Hub of Media, Technology, and Arts

If by some strange occurrence you ever had the opportunity to take a ride on the “money train”—the armored yellow subway that clanged through the New York underground from 1951 to 2006, harvesting fares in pre-dawn hours—you’d have ended up in Downtown Brooklyn, the last stop.

Here, beneath 370 Jay St., the tokens, coins, and cash from the individual stations were unloaded and then hauled through hidden passages. The bags of treasure were carried up on freight elevators whose doors opened onto a noisy and crowded floor. Platoons of transit workers, arranged around heavy wooden tables or inside cashier’s cages, sorted and counted the revenue.

Today, the “money room” is silent, and the money train has been put to pasture, a case of murder-by-MetroCard some might say. Part of the two-car workhorse’s legacy is the Hollywood movie “The Money Train,” which starred Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, and Jennifer Lopez and featured an action-packed hijacking. But a more concrete link remains: 370 Jay itself. 

A collecting agent stands in the door of a Money Train checking the safety of the platform before exiting.

A collecting agent stands in the door of a Money Train. Most trains were staffed by 12 collecting agents and one supervisor, all armed and wearing body armor. Money Trains picked up revenue from 25 to 40 stations per run, six nights a week. Photo courtesy New York Transit Museum

Money Room employee uses the GPS 1000 high speed mixed currency counter and sorter to process 30 bills per second.

Money Room employee uses the GPS 1000 high speed mixed currency counter and sorter to process 30 bills per second. Photo Courtesy of the New York Transit Museum

Rising 13 stories, with nothing ornate to complicate its Modernist appearance, the white limestone facade includes neatly stacked rows of windows on four sides, 420 of uniform dimension. The building was the headquarters of America’s largest urban transit system in the same years that the money train ran, comprising every administrative unit from the Command Center to the Lost and Found. In 2006, when the building was more than a half-century old, all of the departments within were dispersed to several different locations throughout the city. Sitting vacant, the building fell into disrepair—a sore thumb wrapped in scaffolding.

subway sign

Photo by NYU/Sapna Parikh

Finally, in 2012, the city government, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and New York University signed a dollar-per-year lease agreement allowing the university to carry out a top-to-bottom rehabilitation and repurpose 370 Jay St. The $350 million-plus project is now well along toward completion, marking a milestone in the 21st century trajectory of the university and Brooklyn itself.

NYU’s engagement arose from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Applied Sciences NYC strategy to expand the city’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education in the service of economic development. The 2011 city initiative also provided incentives to Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island and to Columbia in Manhattanville.

When its lights are all back on, 370 Jay’s principal currency will no longer be tokens, of course, but rather ideas circulating in a leading-edge hub for research, education, and innovation in media, technology, and the arts. The waffle-grid façade will be luminous in Downtown Brooklyn, contributing to regeneration there and in Dumbo, the Navy Yard, and Industry City—locales where NYU has a footprint, or will. In the downtown area, the project is accompanied by another renovation at Rogers Hall, the main research building of the Tandon School of Engineering (formerly Polytechnic Institute, or “Brooklyn Poly”). “It’s unbelievable,” says Regina Myer, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, which has been in involved in the borough’s commercial, residential, and community renewal. “The turnaround of the building is so spectacular.”

370 Jay’s renewed interior will be replete with digital laboratories and studios. Many spaces of the building completed so far evoke the co-working spaces that have become au courant in the entrepreneurial world of technology. Several thousand faculty and students will eventually move through the facility daily. Under the building’s redesign by Mitchell | Giurgola Architects, NYU departments and centers rooted in the digital world will collaborate across disciplinary boundaries.

“Everyone in this building is focused on innovation and creativity, whether artistic or technological,” explains Joseph Juliano, vice provost for strategic planning at NYU. “The excitement of this kind of co-location are the unexpected results.”

370 Jay

Photo by NYU/Sapna Parikh

Housed on the 30,000- to 36,000-square-foot floors will be departments from Tandon, the Tisch School of the Arts, and the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

New space inside 370 Jay

Photo by NYU/Sapna Parikh

370 Jay interior

Photo by NYU/Sapna Parikh

The first unit to occupy the building, in early December, was the NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), with its primary focus on urban informatics. Over the course of the next twelve to fifteen months, 370 Jay will also house Tandon’s Computer Science Engineering and the Electrical and Computer Engineering departments, the Integrated Digital Media Program, and the Game Innovation Lab; Tisch’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, Games Center, and Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music; and Steinhardt’s Educational Communication and Technology Program, along with the Music and Audio Research Laboratory. The Courant Institute also will have a modest mathematical sciences presence.

For all the attention directed to designing space for individual programs, special care has also been given to designing collaborative spaces.

Imagine, then, ascending the stairs or escalator at the Jay Street station, which is to be reconstructed to improve connections to the subway concourse. You’ll first pass under the L-shaped building’s portico, past solid rectangular columns, entering through the doors of a glass-front lobby. The building encompasses 500,000 square feet in all, extending north to south on Jay Street, and east to west on Willoughby Street as well as along Myrtle Avenue, now Renaissance Plaza. Its lobby tops out at an elevation of 20 feet.

Photo by NYU/Sapna Parikh

Photo by NYU/Sapna Parikh

On the ground floor, the general public will be able to avail themselves of a multipurpose space that will feature exhibitions, lectures, and tech-themed events linked to work going on in the building, or visit commercial spaces, perhaps a restaurant and a retail establishment. Around the building’s southeastern corner, a transparent portal will open to a performance and presentation space with about 60 seats. It has been dubbed The Garage, as it is a former loading dock, not to mention a handy metaphor for the music and technology development work that will going on at 370 Jay.

An open, grand staircase leads from the building’s lobby to the second floor, where the majority of the collaborative spaces begin. Indeed, this level will include a series of motion-capture studios—black-box environments for recording the movement of objects or people for video games, filmmaking, computer animation, and research, along with a state-of-the-art Audio Lab, planned to be the finest in the city. This overall 7,000-square-foot Media Commons will not only be a space for collaboration between academic units in 370 Jay, but programs across the university as well. In addition, a large, un-programmed space here will be used flexibly for computer training, hack-a-thons, and cross-disciplinary work.

Finally, the second floor will include a spacious student lounge with an attached grab-and-go café, along with a 190-seat auditorium.  

Construction workers have replaced every window in the building and, for environmental purposes—cutting the need for cooling—sun screens of varying depths were installed according to the façade’s solar exposure. These not only control solar radiation but also provide visible texture on the facade.

Natural light is maximized, filtering through all the floors. Glass-enclosed offices run along the northern and southern sides of the building, while all the windows on the eastern and western sides are unimpeded, heightening natural light to striking effect. On many floors, students can perch on cushioned stools and study at tables extending all the way down the western corridor. The tables’ hardwood is recycled from the counting tables of the building’s own former money room on the second floor.

There are many new project rooms, listening rooms, conference rooms, and huddle rooms – all kinds of enclosures and open spaces, many with rolling equipment and other adjustable features to appeal to a wide range of users.

Photos by NYU/Sapna Parikh

Auditorium under construction

Not only does 370 Jay have wonderful horizontal circulation—an essential feature for a building with floor plates of such extensive sweep—but it also offers impressive vertical circulation, with nine passenger and three freight lifts, as well as three fire stairwells, each with windows of their own.

Wood accents set off the polished concrete, Terrazzo, or carpeted flooring throughout, while interior staircases, such as a spiral rise, link adjacent levels in parts of the building in order to connect different research communities. Seating varies in design and color, enhancing comfort and attractiveness.

The most technically challenging aspects of the project are the double-height, live audio recording studios for the Clive Davis Institute. The studios combine the fifth and sixth floors in order to meet height and acoustical requirements. While the original architects may never have imagined such a use, they designed a building so structurally robust, the construction of the studios is being accommodated without the need for overwhelming incursions.

Until NYU came along, 370 Jay St. was a long-empty “blight,” recalls former Brooklyn State Senator Daniel Squadron. But when the work is done, it will be a Downtown Brooklyn anchor, both in digital and non-digital ways, and both commercially and residentially, he says.

Squadron, along with then-Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, joined with other civic advocates to bring together the university, the city government, and MTA to get the project moving.

Photo by NYU/Sapna Parikh

Lost and Found at 370 Jay

If you lost something on your journey, you could come to 370 Jay Street and retrieve it, and those items not claimed were, after an appropriate amount of time, sold at auction. The department saw thousands of forgotten umbrellas, hundreds of lost wallets, musical instruments, crutches, bicycles and even a jar of ashes inscribed “My Loving Wife, Ida.” Photo Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

A few years ago, the New York Transit Museum had an exhibit on the old transit headquarters, recalling a Lost and Found Department chock full of orphaned umbrellas; an automated machine that allowed clueless travelers to punch in a destination and receive directions printed on a receipt; and the subway system Command Center, whose long and branching electro-magnetic status board signaled track congestion with tiny, flickering lights.

Though the digital era has transformed the modern workplace, including that of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the revamped 370 Jay St. will still channel the industriousness that animated the old MTA headquarters. The transit agency’s familiar acronym may one day stand for something else in the minds of students and researchers—media, technology, and the arts.

Attention all passengers: The future is arriving. Get ready to board!