As fate would have it, I had the opportunity to view Santiago Calatrava's creation when I visited the 9-11 Memorial, The World Trade Center site, just a week ago. While I wasn't overly impressed with the Memorial Museum itself (it might be that for us New Yorkers and Washingtonians who felt the overwhelming fear, panic and horror on that blazingly bright, blue September morning, the exhibition fell a bit short) but as we walked down Greenwich Street, weaved through all the construction detours, I kept seeing these sparkling white ribs in the distance and wondered what the hell they were. When we finally emerged onto the Trade Center Plaza and were confronted with Calatrava's soaring masterpiece, I was stunned. As an architect, I am familiar with Calatrava's work (recipient of Architecture's highest honor, the American Institute of Architect's "Gold Medal" in 2005) his designs are immediately identifiable, imaginative and creative beyond belief and, yes, inevitably accompanied by cost over-runs and controversy.  Frankly, it doesn't matter to me.  The very presence of this magnificent structure says all there is to say about what public architecture should be - but isn't - particularly here in the United Sates of America where government is demeaned and pubic architecture is often mean, shabby and ugly.

But I have a feeling the after the dust settles (both literally and figuratively since the Transportation Hub is not yet complete) New Yorkers are going to be thrilled that their city has received this gift from Santiago Calatrava.  It is a brilliant piece of architecture.

Here are the facts of the Oculus:

The state-of-the-art World Trade Center Transportation Hub, when completed in 2016, will serve 250,000 daily commuters and millions of annual visitors from around the world. At approximately 800,000 square feet, the Hub, designed by internationally acclaimed architect Santiago Calatrava, will be the third largest transportation center in New York City, rivaling Grand Central Station in size. Westfield will develop, lease and operate a major retail space at the WTC site, including in the Transit Hub.

The WTC Transportation Hub's concourse will conveniently connect visitors to 11 different subway lines, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) rail system, Battery Park City Ferry Terminal, the World Trade Center Memorial Site, WTC Towers 1, 2, 3, and 4, the World Financial Center and the Winter Garden. It will represent the most integrated network of underground pedestrian connections in New York City.

When completed, the “Oculus” will serve as the centerpiece of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, incorporating 78,000 square feet of multi level state of the art retail and dining. The concourses emanating from the Oculus, when complete, will link the entirety of the site above and below grade, with an additional 290,000 square feet of exciting, multi-level retail and dining space, making the World Trade Center a destination location as the focal point of the entire Lower Manhattan District.

Close-by to the Transportation Hub is the Vehicular Security Center and Tour Bus Parking Facility (VSC) construction project. As part of a comprehensive plan developed by the Port Authority, the VSC will be a state-of-the-art security screening checkpoint for all buses, trucks and cars accessing the WTC site and parking facilities. When complete, this structure will reach five stories underground into a basement with connecting ramps leading to the parking and below-grade facilities of all of the adjacent projects on the 16-acre WTC site.

And here's a critical piece by someone I often disagree with.  But not this time.

"Despite Its Price Tag And Deference To Commerce, The Impact Of The Space And Its Crowning Oculus Is Undeniable, As Paul Goldberger Writes."

Everyone knows that the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, designed by Santiago Calatrava, was insanely expensive—close to $4 billion at last count—and everyone knows that its design is just a little bit hokey, as if it were assembled out of dinosaur bones that were too big to fit into the Museum of Natural History. What most people don’t know is that if you can get yourself past all of that, and manage to push the dinosaur metaphors and the bird metaphors and all of that money out of your mind, you can have an architectural experience there that may renew your faith in the potential of the public realm in New York.

The Oculus, which is the name that has been given to the central space in Calatrava’s sprawling complex—the first sections of which open to the public on March 3 (the rest will open late this spring)—is the exhilarating nave of a genuine people’s cathedral. It is a room that soars; under a great arc of glass, Calatrava has put together curving ribs of steel to make a space that is uplifting, full of light and movement, and capable of inspiring something that has been in particularly short supply at Ground Zero, which is hope.

NOTE: It's unfortunate that in is this mean spirited age of "Government Isn't The Solution, Government Is The Problem" and "Cutting Taxes Creates Jobs" and "The Private Sector Can Do It Better," attention to the role that pubic buildings play in our collective self-definition and cultural self-worth (to say nothing of national pride) has been so eroded that typically what we wind up with are mean, cheap and ugly public buildings.  Ironically, or perhaps not, reflective of our debased state of affairs today.    

Thank God for Santiago Calatrava!  

Here's a couple of pics of his other works:  

Santiago Calatrava is Spain's gift to the world of architecture. We are all very lucky.     


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