• Grand Central Terminal air rights

  • Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.
Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by Howard Sterenberg
As described in the 2013 first quarter of the NYCSHS Central Headlight, NYC financed the GCT project in 1902+ by selling the air rights over the new under ground yards. Most of those buildings are very large and some are quite tall. So normally buildings like that would have required piling to anchor them properly. So how did they anchor them? I talked with a civil engineer - who knows nothing about the GCT project - who told me they would have had to drive piling on the outer edges to support apparently very heavy truss' and then attach the buildings to the truss'. Given the extreme width of the yard area, they would have certainly needed piling at other points in the center of the yards I would think. But is that how they did it? Did they need to know at the time they were building the support system what buildings would be at each location; or did design a support system that would accommodate any building at every location? It's hard for me to imagine the enormity of that project.

Howard S
  by westshore94706
Don't know for certain, but suspect the NYC"s chief engineer for the project , Wilgus, directed his designers to identify optimal layout of track and building columns. Given the development of air rights buildings would occur over time, studies were probably conceptual in nature, identifying reasonable structural spans, column grid patterns, spatial dimensions for interior design issues, track layouts etc. and then leaving the detailed design to each building developer/design team.

The coordination ofstructural spacing (steel frame building) with track spacing is the first step in the process, overalying the building structural grid(s) on the desired track plan ( which I imagine to be the critical/leading parameter). This process would likely require several iterations with adjustment to both building frame and track spacing to optimize track layout and potential building footprints.

This process probably resulted in a grid with spacing of 20' to 25' between columns - possibly longer depending on depth of spanning members. 25' would be very reasonable span for building as standard steel beams can manage this span easily (I am currently working on a building with 33" girders spanning 40' and which carry common beams 21" deep spanning 40', spaced 10' apart - very light weight and bouncy floor). Longer spans over irregular track geometry would require plate girders/built up beam and would be desirable to avoid because of the additional cost.

The 25' spans would probably work well with regular track layout (keeping in mind the less restrictive clearances of the day) , dimensional requirements for residential and office spaces. For instances of curving track and irregular geometry, deep plate trusses - transfer beams, would span longer distances.

The grid of columns carry the weight to bedrock. Lateral motion could be an issue and some diagonal bracing might be required but could be coordinated with track layout and building design.

This is one architect's opinion on the conceptual planning - a structural engineer will have learned opinion/knowledge about the challenges of spans and lateral loads facing the design engineer of early 20th century steel frame buildings.

OK, back to work.