Coney Island Stillwell Terminal

Brooklyn, New York

Coney Island has been visited by billions of people who come to enjoy the area’s beach, live entertainment, rides, art and food. However, it wasn’t until the Brooklyn Rapid Transit opened the West End Terminal in 1920 that this area was accessible to everyone.

Eighty-five years later, this aging station, believed to be the largest above ground rapid transit terminal in the world, got a much-needed makeover. In May 2004, after a $190+ million renovation, NYC Transit unveiled the new Coney Island Subway Terminal. The most unique part of the makeover was the 300-foot glass block wall mural that captures Coney Island’s history and serves as a natural light source for passengers.  Created by Artist Robert Wilson, the mural is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Arts for Transit program – a series of site-specific permanent artworks located in rehabilitated stations.

With the constant traffic and the rugged ocean-side environment of the station, NYC Transit architects immediately looked to glass block for the mural backdrop due to its success in other NYC Transit stations. Experts who served on other NYC Transit projects specifically recommended Pittsburgh Corning’s Vistabrik® solid glass block, which provides three inches of light-transmitting solid glass that is both aesthetically-pleasing and durable.

“We often recommend Vistabrik® glass block for municipal buildings, not only for its durability, but because the solid blocks are impact-, vandal- and bullet-resistant,” Nick Loomis, Senior Systems Engineer for Pittsburgh Corning, explained. “In fact, because of these characteristics, NYC Transit is one of the largest users of Vistabrik® glass block in the world,” Loomis stated.

Once the material was chosen, Franz Mayer of Munich, Inc., an international studio for glass design and mosaic works located in Germany, devised a way for Wilson’s artwork to be bonded to the 300-foot long, 17-foot high glass block wall. Yet one dilemma still remained – even though the glass blocks themselves were vandal-resistant, the art also needed to be protected.

Working closely with Pittsburgh Corning representatives, artists from Franz Mayer developed a process to bond the artwork in the middle of the two glass block pavers that are used to create the three-inch wide block. After splitting the Vistabrik® glass block in half, artists silk-screened the art to the glass pavers. After the artwork was applied to the pavers, they were placed in a kiln and baked into the glass. Finally, the glass block was laminated to another one-and-a-half inch stippled paver. The pavers were then bonded together using a PVB foil, which is the same material that is used in car windshields to make safety glass that is impact resistant.

The extreme size of the wall required specialized construction since installation specifications set by Pittsburgh Corning state that Vistabrik® glass block sections should be no more than 94 square feet. At the same time, the MTA required that the work would have no deterioration for 50-100 years.

To provide the additional vertical support needed to sustain the 17-foot high walls, NYC Transit architects and engineers designed a system in which masonry supports extending from the back of the wall were attached to tubular steel columns. After vigorous testing, the structure proved successful in meeting the safety criteria.

After more than two years of designing, developing and testing, the curvilinear glass block wall mural was completed, making it the largest and longest Vistabrik® glass block wall in the country.