The hour-long episode discusses all the welding, wiring, and safety inspections that take place for every single unit of the R160 released.Without any spoilers, let’s move on to how this episode, and the show, can influence designers and architects:

We have all heard of Mega Factories– the larger than life, super intense and awe-inspiring show from NatGeo, which covers some of the modern world’s great mechanical constructional wonders. Hyper chains like IKEA, Frito Lay, Coca-Cola, and Budweiser are just a couple of episodes of the Three seasons, 21-episode series. However, the show mostly focuses on the automobile sector, namely the supercars and wonder machines – The Ferraris, Rolls-Royce, Audi, and the likes.

For petrol heads, this series is the holy grail – an insight into the how and why of the most powerful cars to ever be produced- the Ferrari 599 GTB. Fiorano car on which the very first episode in 2006 was based; to the most famous helicopter, the Apache in the Boeing factories; to the Bugatti Veyron, which is the fastest production car in the world. Automobiles are not the only super-machine, high on gas transport that the show focuses at length. One often-overlooked sector is public transportation, and Mega Factories S6E03 – NYC Subway Car that aired on Nov 12, 2006, focused on the production of the R160 Subway Car.

Before we move to what this show means for a designer, let us talk of some technical specifications of the R160 to understand precisely how this tech works. The 60 feet car can host 202 people with 56 seating and runs at 90 km/hr., along with a 38,6000 Kg non-loaded weight. The per axle power is 161 HP. The R160 has been functional since 2006.

The hour-long episode discusses all the welding, wiring, and safety inspections that take place for every single unit of the R160 released. The 90-day construction process is completed in Lapa, Brazil by the French company Alstom, and an insight into the workings and precision that go into the development of the R160 will keep the ones interested in mechanical engineering completely engrossed with its vibrant imagery of the construction process. The real thrill, however, is towards the end of the episode where they reveal the disposal process. All decommissioned subway cars are submerged deep 20 miles off the Maryland coast, to create an artificial reef for marine life. Something is satisfying about watching a mega-ton grey monstrosity ending its service at the bottom of the ocean, taking with it the memories of the millions of passengers. It now hosts millions of fish and marine biology, a perfect homage to its purpose – helping out life. 

Without any spoilers, let’s move on to how this episode, and the show, can influence designers and architects:

  • Attention to Detail:

The most noticeable inclusion here is the precision, accuracy, and detail which goes into creating a machine that needs to last 40-50 years, day-on-day, covering millions of miles. The majority of the episode deals with just that- the thousands of wires, all plugged into apt sockets, the tons of metal all crafted into the right shape and size, the attention paid to every groove and every corner – something essential for a machine which has so many lives on-board. For a designer as well, the focus is on making sure, first and foremost, that their design is safe and long-lasting. It is possible only through careful crafting, revision, and analysis of the design and understands how each detail fits into the bigger picture.

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R160 Subway Car Design: ©www.nycsubway.org
  • Big Picture:

The R160s is a working machine with hundreds of moving parts and a dynamic working condition but remains functional for half a century. The same standard of reliability should be aimed for by architects as well, while of course understanding that the expectations from a building or monument would be 100s of years longer. For example, while it may be faster to use lower-quality materials, less tech, and less labor in creating a subway car that lasts only a handful of years. The R160 is designed, to last, keeping in mind the big picture- that the city of New York. The city is so highly dependent on its underground system, that even a small disturbance in its functioning, like a broken car; failing brakes or less-than-ideal speed and capacity can drastically cost the city and the people. Architects keep this mind – you are not designing for just the small group of people directly linked to your creation- but for the entire population indirectly affected by it as well.

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See the bigger picture:©image.shutterstock.com
  • Taking Help:

An NYC Subway Car must go through uncountable stages of planning, construction, repair, and maintenance and just a handful of people can’t manage it all. The subway requires specialization in different fields – traction experts, design experts, electrical experts, etc. and the same applies to design as well. The success of a project depends on the background contribution of others- the electrical engineers, the civil engineers, the landscape architects, and the material expert, to name a few – and the help provided by them can be underestimated. Always remember- you do not need to be the jack of all trades; you carefully need to involve the ones who are the masters of theirs.

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Working for a team: ©sandler.com
  • Renewability:

While modern architects are aware of the importance of sustainability, renewability, and environmental impact of design, only a few think long enough to the disposal/retirement of their creation, which might be due to the fact very few architects have to ever deal with this. Just as the R160 is disposed of, not through polluting methods like incineration, landfilling, or scrapping but through the eco-friendly and cheap technique of submersion, designers must aim too for their creations to be as easily deconstructed, or renewed. The marine life that the retired R160s will be supporting forever near the Maryland coast is in a way the circle of creation, we have taken the material from the land, and returned it to the sea to create a thriving ecosystem.

Documentaries for Architects: Mega factories super subway cars - Sheet4
Subway Car as Reef: ©6sqft.com

While we can cover more on the subject, watching the episode will help you form your interpretations and thoughts, and maybe provide a new outlook to design. The show is available on Disney+ in India and on natgeotv.com.

Anchal Tibrewal
Author

Anchal Tibrewal is a young architect and a nature enthusiast. Her work has led her to believe in the minute details that make all instances of architecture a reality. She is driven towards a sustainable design that has a strong relationship with the contexts it represents.

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