UB's School of Architecture and Planning
Grand Central Terminal
Institute of Architects
Beyer Binder Belle
role was different than that of a design architect or a project
manager in that I conveyed the partnersí design ideas through
a set of construction documents and specifications."
Michael L. Jankowski
'85, puts his UB architectural training to work in restoring a glittering
York City's renowned Grand Central Terminal, with its great arched
windows, gleaming marble floors and soaring barrel-vault ceiling
sparkling with 2,500 gold-leaf stars representing the winter night
sky-not to mention a grand concourse larger than the nave of Paris's
Notre Dame Cathedral-was an engineering feat of unprecedented
glory and magnificence when it was completed in 1913. But the
National Historic Landmark did not age gracefully.
By the 1950s, the once-noble structure
fell into disrepair-and disrepute-as scores of undesirables began
to take up residence in its grimy, crumbling waiting rooms and
its seemingly endless maze of dim underground passageways.
In the late 1960s, however, thanks to
the impassioned intervention of preservationists, city managers
were persuaded to collaborate to save the terminal. By 1975, the
late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had lent her fervent support to
the campaign. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld the New
York City Landmark and Preservation Commission's jurisdiction
over Grand Central, and America's most famous railroad landmark
was spared the fate of her doomed sister terminal, Penn Station,
which had been unceremoniously demolished in 1964.
Today, after the most expensive facelift
in modern U.S. architectural history-more than $200 million-Grand
Central Terminal is once again a synergistic showpiece of the
very best in American architecture, aesthetics and engineering.
One individual who can take personal and
professional pride in this accomplishment is Mark Nusbaum, AIA
(American Institute of Architects), who received his undergraduate
and master's degrees from UB's School of Architecture and Planning
in 1983 and 1985, respectively.
Nusbaum, a native of New Rochelle, New
York, and an associate at Beyer, Blinder, Belle-the Manhattan
architectural and planning firm that created the master plan for
the terminal-served as project architect for much of Grand Central's
"My role was different than that
of a design architect or a project manager in that I conveyed
the partners' design ideas through a set of construction documents
and specifications," he explains. "You're really developing
a set of drawings that contractors can build from. I'd been doing
this for a while on projects before Grand Central came along.
I think there was careful consideration [in the selection process],
but I also think I was the right person at the right time. I was
just finishing up a project and needed an assignment, and this
jumped on my desk." This was not the first involvement Nusbaum's
firm had with the restoration of Grand Central.
"The project was actually in the
office for 11 or 12 years," Nusbaum says. "We were hired
by the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Metro-North back in
1988 to do a master plan. It amounted to about $450 million, but
they didn't have the money to do it all at once, so while I was
working on other projects, there were people in the office already
working on Grand Central.
"Things were being done kind of piecemeal.
By the time I got to it, in 1994, they were in the phase of the
project where they wanted to restore the main concourse with the
sky ceiling. I spent '94 through '96 working on the drawings.
Then, what Beyer, Blinder, Belle likes to do-and it's proven very
effective-is to pack up the team that has been working on the
project and move them right up to the site to physically oversee
In this case, a team of five to seven
people, headed by Nusbaum, spent three and a half years in the
terminal. "We did the drawings, we knew the project, and
what we did was to make sure that the contractor was performing
his job according to our drawings and specifications," Nusbaum
says. "We wanted that quality, so we were up there monitoring.
It was a battle every day."
That uncompromising drive for excellence,
he says, was nurtured and developed during his student days at
"Every day I take what I learned
at UB with me to work," he states. "We all worked very
hard there, and we were all very competitive, and we all wanted
to be the best architect in the school. But there was a sense
of camaraderie, too. What all my professors had in common was
that they demanded excellence. To present a project to the faculty
that was poorly designed-or worse, incomplete-risked embarrassment
in front of other students. We all feared that."
At UB, one of the many faculty members
who had an impact on Nusbaum was Bonnie Foit-Albert, M.A. '75.
"I took design courses with her my freshman and sophomore
years, before being accepted into the School of Architecture and
Planning as a junior," he recalls. "She was the one
who introduced preservation to me. That was something I really
wasn't geared to: I wanted to design new buildings, and all of
the courses I took basically were to do new buildings."
That training was put to work almost immediately
when Nusbaum started at Beyer, Blinder, Belle. His first few projects,
including one for the Yale University Department of Anthropology,
which was housed in a Victorian home in New Haven, were preservation/restoration
jobs. Larger-scale projects followed, and Nusbaum soon developed
a reputation for working on multiyear, multimillion-dollar-and,
in the case of Grand Central, multiblock-projects.
logistical challenge of the Grand Central renovation, Nusbaum
points out, was that "we had to restore a building that a
half million people walk through every day, without interrupting
the flow of commuters. And, believe it or not, of those half million
people, only about 130,000 are commuters-everybody else is crossing
through it to get to another street."
That uninterrupted flow was accomplished
by creating a 40-foot-wide by 120-foot-long "bridge"
on tracks that slid over the main concourse. Completion of the
bridge alone, which extended from the east end of the concourse
all the way to the west end, took eight months.
As part of the restoration, the terminal's
retail complex was expanded. Like other aspects of the project,
this was greeted by positive reviews. "Grand Central probably
was one of the first indoor malls in the country when it opened
in 1913," Nusbaum notes. "Back then, it had everything
a traveler needed. What we did was expand that retail presence
and provide a higher level of service for commuters. You can still
get your shoes shined, but now you can also buy Godiva Chocolates
or pick up something from Starbucks."
Additionally, an alleyway off Lexington
Avenue was tapped for a new entrance, as well as a food market.
"It was designed so that commuters going home from work could
pick up something on the way to the train," Nusbaum explains.
"But what we've discovered is that about 40 percent of the
people who buy food there are Manhattanites, so it's been an enormous
Inside the cavernous concourse, where
the gold-leaf constellations on the 120-foot-high sky ceiling
sparkle once more, an east grand staircase-which was depicted
in the original plans of the terminal in the early 1900s but never
built-was added to mirror the grand staircase on the opposite
side. A fiber-optics lighting system was installed to replace
the 40-watt lamps that had served as the stars of the constellations.
Every step of the way, Nusbaum notes, each significant change
had to first be cleared by the Landmark and Preservation Commission.
Demonstrating his love of the project,
Nusbaum conducts seven or eight tours annually of the Grand Central
for the 92nd Street YMCA, a New York City cultural institution.
And this past fall he volunteered to host a special tour to 40
UB alumni, family and friends.
"The true measure of the success
of and interest in an alumni program like that tour," comments
organizer Helene Blieberg, B.A. '77, vice president and executive
director of the CBS Foundation, "is if there are as many
people there at the end as there were at the beginning. At Grand
Central, everyone stayed."
Michael L. Jankowski
is assistant director of alumni relations at UB.