New York City Subway

Fall 2006

Our culminating project with visiting professor Scott Summit had us taking a product we loved and redesigning it based solely on materials changes, all the geometry would stay the same. I chose the R160 subway car, the latest addition to New York City's fleet. This project was a combination of the qualitatively etherial and the quantifiably material. In other words, trying to understand how real, solid objects affect emotion and experience.

Through observation, interviews, and hands on research, I learned a great deal about what it is to ride a subway. What follows is several proposals for the material makeup of the subway car, each of which would better different aspects of the experience.

Alert waiting passengers which cars will be more or less full

The combination of Tactex and LEDs will serve to alert people waiting for the train as to which upcoming cars will be more full or empty. Tactex, a pressure sensative material, would be able to estimate how many people are in each car. Given this information, the LEDs built into the floor of the station can glow red or green, creating an ambient display which alerts waiting patrons where they should stand to enter the least crowded car.

Turn window space into information space

By replacing the polycarbonate windows with OLED displays, the space once used only briefly, can now be used at almost all times. When the train is in the tunnel, the windows can display upcoming station information, transfers, time remaining, etc. When the train rolls into a station, the displays switch to show the designation of the train people are about to board.

The windows, often subject to vandalism, can be covered with a thin cellulose sheet. It's recyclable and sustainable, meaning it's a perfect candidate for a disposable layer to be put over the front and back of all the windows. Instead of a vandal scratching up an OLED display, he/she is only scratching up a thin sheet of natural, recyclable plastic that can be replaced in minutes.

Reflect the hue of current natural light

The static light that is omnipresent on the subway car, no matter what time of day it is, can easily disconnect you from the outside world. To combat that monotony, flat source OLED lighting will be able to turn entire panels into light sources with variable hues. An environment that mimics the natural patterns of the light above ground helps to keep the people riding connected with the world above them.

Allow MetroCards to biodegrade into water

How often is it that the majority of litter in a subway station is made up of MetroCards? By replacing the current plastic with a Polylactic Acid, the cards can fully biodegrade. PLA is a polymer made from predominantly corn starch and water which, given time, returns to its constituent parts. Instead of the MetroCard being the final form of a batch of petroleum, it can be a temporary state for renewable chemicals derived from plants right here in our own back yard.

Transfer natural light from the street down into the station

The light in a subway station can be pretty grim, being unendingly artificial. One way to work against this is to take natural light and bring it into the station with large-core optical fiber. Large-core optical fiber is a material that can capture light from a wide angle and funnel it to whatever destination the cable leads. In essence, itÕs a way to bring natural light down into the station. In addition to making the station a more habitable place to be, it will also alleviate the high cost of artificially lighting a space for 24 hours a day.

The portfolio of Michael J. Levy.