Spandrel Graphic Moves Toward a Full-scale Mockup at Penn Station

East End Gateway (Rendering)Illustrative rendering of map graphic by SOM

A dramatic new glass and steel canopy will greet passengers descending into Penn Station, while those ascending will be welcomed to New York by the spandrel, which will be emblazoned with a bold and intricate map of the region. A spandrel is an architectural term for the space between the shoulders of adjoining arches and the ceiling or molding above. In the case of the East End Gateway, the spandrel is the curved ceiling above the three new escalators and stairway of the grand new entrance.

New York-based and woman owned design firm Creative Source recently presented enhancements to the spandrel’s color palette, and local graphics fabricator Duggal Visual Solutions made recommendations for fabrication and installation techniques. Final designs and prototypes are currently being developed. The team at AModernLI will be following along as this inspired graphic element moves from initial concept through design, fabrication, and installation and chatting with the impressive team of experts bringing the spandrel to fruition.

We caught up with East End Gateway Project Director Jolyon Handler of MTA Construction & Development to discuss the unique challenges of bringing such a bold graphic to life, especially in times of social distancing.

A Modern LI: This map graphic looks extremely impressive, how did the concept get started?

Jolyon Handler: The original concept was developed by the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). The entrance itself is the major visible architectural showpiece for the East End Gateway Project and we knew there needed to be some graphic element incorporated to span the immense curved ceiling that passengers would view upon entering and exiting the station. If you’ve just arrived at Penn and ascend up into the City via our new entrance, the map serves to welcome you to New York. For departing passengers, it depicts the greater region and popular commuter destinations.

AMLI: What are some of the unique challenges of turning a concept like this into a finished product?

JH: There are many steps needed to design, fabricate, and install such a unique graphic. For example, the design firm Creative Source, led by Carol Smith, has developed dozens of blue palette variations designed to ensure the piece will pop and provide passengers with a wow factor as they enter or exit. They’ve also had to design with the curved shape of the ceiling in mind trying to include as much of the region as possible without distorting the image. We’ve gone through several different iterations of how zoomed in or out the scale of the map should be. Additionally, any changes to the scale or the complex lighting design has cascading impacts to the color palette, so all the moving pieces have to constantly be balanced and readjusted to ensure the integrity of the finished product.

AMLI: How do you fabricate and install such a large curved graphic?

JH: Duggal Visual Solutions has tremendous experience fabricating and installing large graphics like this. They are exploring and testing many different methods for fabrication. Each vary in terms of cost, durability, ease of installation, feasibility for curved surfaces, and ability to show visual detail. Some of these methods include special paint with custom stencils, printing onto metal sheets, and printing onto film. Every last detail is vetted by and discussed with the team–including the size, shape, color, and position of the fasteners to make them as invisible as possible. Our goal is to create an iconic graphic that is cost effective and durable without compromising the visual integrity of the design that our passengers deserve.

AMLI: Wow, fasteners is really getting down to detail. How are you proceeding during the pandemic and managing social distancing and telecommuting?

JH: It’s been a tremendous challenge that the entire team has stepped up to meet. We have remained on schedule, despite the inability to view some of the spandrel materials in person. The team has held regular virtual meetings and we’ve been creative with our use of photography and video to show how various iterations of the design and fabrication methods might look from different distances and under changing lighting scenarios. We’ve been able to make interim decisions, which are all leading up to an in-person viewing of a full-scale mock-up of a section of the spandrel. We’ll be maintaining social distancing and limiting the number of viewers during the event. We’re all really excited to see the graphic come to life and figure out which option is the winner. Stay tuned.

The East End Gateway Project will include higher ceilings, new wayfinding signage, and improved access and circulation for the hundreds of thousands of passengers who traverse the corridors of Penn Station each day. Phase I construction is progressing without disruption to train service and with minimal impact to the overall passenger experience. Phase I will be complete with the opening of the new entrance around the end of 2020. Phase II work will entail the widening and improving of the LIRR concourse –with targeted completion in Q1 of 2023. For more information and construction photos, please visit the East End Gateway and LIRR Concourse project page on

Project team reviews fastener options during a virtual meeting on May 5th
Project team reviews fastener options during a virtual meeting on May 5th
The full-scale mock-up being assembled at Duggal Visual Solution’s Navy Yard complex for in-person evaluation on June 15th
The full-scale mock-up being assembled at Duggal Visual Solution’s Navy Yard complex for in-person evaluation on June 15th