In pictures: How New York's subway cars end up at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean

A subway car heading for Davy Jones' Locker. Image: © Stephen Mallon.

When photographer Stephen Mallon was commissioned to produce a book of photographs in 2007, he settled on the theme of "recycling". He contacted a few relevant companies about the project, but then he stumbled across something called the Artificial Reef Project, which was recycling something far bigger than batteries or lightbulbs: it was turning decommissioned subway cars into reefs off the US's Atlantic coast.

Here's how it works. The tourism boards of east-coast states buy a boatload of the cars from New York's transit authority. Once they're stripped of their doors, windows, wheels and interiors, a barge filled with 30 to 40 cars chugs down the coast, and a metal crane, er, shoves them them into the sea.

On the sea floor, the cars are colonised by plants and animals, and, like natural reefs, encourage communities to grow. Over the past ten years, the Artificial Reef Project has dropped around 2,500 New York subway cars into the ocean. 

For those charged with delivering the cars, the journey from New York is long. Even areas off the coast of nearby states like Maryland and Delaware can take 24 hours to reach at the barge's 4-knot pace. Mallon has attended six drops since 2007, but on each he met the barge on a separate boat once it reached its destination, and took his images from there. This accounts for the photographs' immediacy: he's on a level between the barge and the water, watching as the 18-ton cars splash, then sink.

Mallon says he considered boarding the barge itself, to photograph the cars from above as they fell, but the crew weren't keen: "They told me it wasn't safe". Quite right, too, as the stacks of decaying cars aren't strapped in place. "One time, a car tipped over and landed right on the spot where I would have been standing."

The resulting collection of images, "Next Stop Atlantic", documents his six drops, and is part of a wider project on recycling called "American Reclamation". 

All Images courtesy of Stephen Mallon and Front Room Gallery.  One of the images from the collection will be featured along with other work by Mallon in the solo exhibition  “Patterns of Interest” at NYU’s Kimmel Galleries from Feb. 6 to March 15 in New York City. More of Mallon's work is available on his Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages. 

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.