Maybe granite and porcelain aren’t the best choices for a subway station floor


It doesn’t make sense to lay the floor first. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As more details emerge about the MTA’s construction budget crisis, I keep coming back to Scott’s comment about the MTA and crown jewels. How do you balance form, function and visual appeal?

Right now, the MTA is in trouble. As the Daily News noted yesterday, steel and concrete prices have “jumped 91% and 25% respectively” since the MTA budgeted for their projects. Considering how big a role steel plays in the subways, that jump has led to skyrocketing costs. But steel and concrete aren’t about making stations luxuriously opulent.

Rather, granite and porcelain make stations overly expensive, and now, the MTA is saying that granite and porcelain have to go. Pete Donohue has more:

Transit officials looking to save money may swap plans for fancy granite subway and train station floor tiles for a more economical – and drab – concrete. The potential savings are significant and the issue is generating strong opinions. “For me, this is a no-brainer,” said Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Barry Feinstein, calling granite a “very expensive amenity.”

According to NYC Transit, the MTA’s largest division, it costs $1.7 million to install granite flooring in the standard subway station, compared with $421,000 for regular concrete. After considerable expenditures, it is also scrapping a third type of tiling material: porcelain, which has been used exclusively in underground stations for the past eight years. Since then, 22 stations have received porcelain tile floors, at a typical cost of $1.4 million per station.

Those porcelain surfaces have not held up well and are cracking and chipping, said NYC Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges.

Now, I’m with Feinstein. The only way to describe this option is as a no-brainer. But MTA board member Andrew Albert brought up another point. “A lot of people don’t believe a station renovation project is done unless the floor has tiles,” he said. “It doesn’t look finished.”

And here’s where I think the MTA is messing up their construction plans. Why does the porcelain and granite look so bad? Why does it chip so easily? Because construction crews are installing the decorative aspects of the new stations well before they should be.

Take a walk around the 59th St-Columbus Circle Station right now. It’s a mess. Construction walls are everywhere. Walls, ceilings, floors and staircases are all in various stages of completion. Dust floats through the station faster than pedestrian can maneuver. Yet, despite the mess, the new, fancy floors are already installed on the platforms, and they look terrible. They’re disgustingly dirty and slowly getting ruined. They’re also about six months old.

Now, I have to ask: Does this make any sense? Usually in a construction project, the fancy, delicate parts go last because heavy machinery and constant work will ruin them. That’s exactly how the work at Columbus Circle has turned out.

Clearly, the MTA needs to find a balance between building a functional transit system under budget and constructing something that looks nice. But the first place to start — besides in cutting down porcelain and granite use — should come in the planning stages. Put in the fancy stuff once it won’t get destroyed by ongoing construction.

8 Responses to “Maybe granite and porcelain aren’t the best choices for a subway station floor”

  1. mg says:

    I like whatever material Paris uses on the floors in the Metro. It’s black, pretty smooth and kind of shiny but doesn’t seem to get slick when wet. It also doesn’t look as grimy and is probably much easier to clean (no tiles = no cracks to get filthy)

  2. Marc Shepherd says:

    You have a good point about putting in the floor before the rest of construction is finished. I’ve noticed myself that the tile floors are filthy by the time the renovation is completed. But I do think that a tile floor adds immeasurably to the esthetic value, and in percentage terms it’s a miniscule portion of the overall cost.

    Stations like Archer Avenue/JFK and Fifth Avenue/53rd Street give a pretty good idea what a station looks like when esthetics are totally thrown out the window.

  3. The Secret Conductor says:

    The only thing I can think of as to why the MTA puts in the floors before they are finished with construction is because of lawsuits by people who trip on the bare concrete and such.

    Atlantic Ave looks horrible because they put the floor in months before they were done with the other things they were doing… just for them to do more stuff a few months later.

    I have worked for the city, I have worked briefly in arch and construction and I get the delays, lack of money, change orders and so forth, but i do not understand some of the big (and little) mess ups that they do with some of these projects.

    The hub should have stayed as close to schedule as possible SO THAT they could avoid the situation that is currently effecting the budget; inflation. If the work cold have been done on time (or at least 6-7 behind schedule) the costs would not have gone up so high.

    I also think the hub was a little to extravagant to begin with. Take a look at Howard Beach JFK on the A line. that is an example of good design that can be maintained (cleaned) and looks good at the same time. what is a bad example; Jamaica Van Wych on the E line. great looking station but very hard to maintain (clean) and after more than a decade it is looking pretty bad.

    The hub should be redesigned (with the light still coming to the station) and re-bid and then instead of the MTA handling the construction, let the city agency handle the construction (or at least lead the project) and try to get an anchor store or corporate company hold down a major space for the mall (like they do with other malls and office buildings)… maybe that will work.

    Also, lets get Albany to help pay for this (and other) projects. We really REALLY need to invest in the subway system. 2 million more people are projected to live in the city, the system is already headed toward max capacity with the current population and when that traffic congestion plan comes in play, look out! Do the right thing Albany! You are going to get the tax money from all those new employees going to work, all the new businesses that will grow from reliable service… look at the L line, there is no way all those people would live along that line if the service was the same as it was 5-6 years ago.

    sorry for the rant… lol

  4. Peter says:

    The first generation of TA tile flooring, in stations like Grand Central & Herald Sq., was (IS) a miserable failure, in design, execution & maintenance. Poorly chosen material, commercial porcelain tiles suitable for perhaps a shopping mall but never intended for the harsh NYC subway environment, disintegrated, and continues to disintegrate, looking worse than the bare concrete it replaced. The second generation, a composite of epoxy and stone chips, called “Granirex”, was installed in many stations in the 1990s, and is also a failure, being prone to cracking and slippery as ice when wet (NB Broadway & 50th St when it rains? – LOOK OUT!!). The next iteration was actual granite tiles, about a half inch thick. Attractive, durable and probably INSANELY expensive, installed. Nice, durable, appropriate, but not immune to cracking, either. Next up, another porcelain-like tile, matte-
    finished in varying shades of grey, now being installed throughout the system in this Capital Program cycle. It will probably fare no better than earlier materials, and be dependant on the surface it is being applied to, and the skill with which it is installed and maintained.

    Why tile in the first place? As stated above, because it attractively unifies the appearance of the station and looks nice when new. But lets face it – its not only the Subway – its the FLOOR of the Subway. A place that must be considered as something MADE to get dirty. Materials meant to look good are simply incongruous. You might as well tile the trackbed, too.

    If a modern appearance is desired, why not simply pour concrete that has granite or other colored stone aggregate in it? For a tile-like appearance, grooves (expansion joints) can be run perpendicularly every 12 or 16 inches. It’ll look just like tile to most folks, but wont require the exopensive maintenance that tile does.

  5. Check my post of February 1st.


    Concrete is not only cheaper, it can be every bit as attractive as granite or ceramic tiles, and longer-lasting, and easier to maintain (removing gum is a cinch). And concrete that has been sealed in this manner is also slip proof.

  6. David says:

    I am at this station two times a day and I couldn’t agree more..


  1. […] floors of the New York City subways take center stage. Last year, the problem focused around rising concrete and porcelain costs. This year, it’s all about […]

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