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Governor’s Island Vent Building: An Architectural Gem

The elegant octagonal building off the tip of Governor’s Island was designed by some of the most famous architects of the 20th century. The Hugh L. Carey (formerly Brooklyn-Battery) Tunnel Governor’s Island ventilation building was designed by famed architects McKim Meade and White.  

As construction for the tunnel was getting underway, a design contest was held in 1941 by the then New York City Tunnel Authority to find a winning design for what was then called the Mid-River vent building. The 125x125-foot octagonal shaped building was to be built on an artificial island just off the northern tip of Governor’s Island.

The winners were announced in July 1941 in The Octagon, A Journal of the American Institute of Architects which said, “The culmination of months of effort on the part of a group of civic minded citizens in conjunction with the Fine Arts Federation of New York, and the Committee on Architectural Competitions, A.I.A, with the sympathetic cooperation of the Tunnel Authority.”

The Governor’s Island vent building is one of four ventilation buildings housing dozens of giant fans responsible for pulling vehicle emissions out and pumping fresh air into the tunnel every 90 seconds. In addition to the Governor’s Island vent building, there are two in Manhattan – a small building in Battery Park and another across the street, which was featured in the Men In Black movies. The fourth building is in Brooklyn near the entrance to the tunnel.

The Governor’s Island vent building is 126 feet above mean high water and is connected to the tunnel at its deepest point, 140-feet below the East River. The building’s original glazed brick façade was replaced with synthetic materials in the 1980s. The current beautiful granite surface was installed in 2005.   

Work on the tunnel began in October 1940 but the project was halted in October 1942 by the federal government because steel, iron and other construction materials were necessary for the war effort. The tunnel officially opened on May 25, 1950.

The former Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which was renamed in honor of former New York Governor and native Brooklynite Hugh L. Carey, is the longest continuous underwater vehicular tunnel in North America, measuring 1.7 miles between portals.

 

Brooklyn toll plaza with Governor's Island vent building in background
Brooklyn toll plaza with Governor's Island vent building in background
The Governor's Island vent building frame goes up
The Governor's Island vent building frame goes up
The Governor's Island vent building almost completed
The Governor's Island vent building almost completed