NEW YORK — A whole nation, if not the world, anxiously anticipates the day when they can visit the once melancholy location of the greatest terrorist attack in American history, and instead of reeling with the pain of loss and fear, look instead upon a place of hope and energy.
Santiago Calatrava intends to give us that hope. In fact, he wants to share that excitement and vivacity with the world, as New York welcomes her “tired, hungry and poor” to the new World Trade Center transportation hub, perhaps the most anticipated building project in New York since the battle between the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.
Calatrava is a rare breed indeed — a blend of engineer and architect, which allows for his projects the breathing room to let the needs of millions of commuters around the world speak to him in a way no other architect or engineer independently could manifest.
Most of Calatrava’s commissions are of the civil engineering variety: bridges, train stations. He is a humble man and states that building such things, being the architect is an experience of humility. He says the new hub is a “message of reconciliation,” is going to be “high-speed train” -ready, and that idea of a great building is “a lesson in humility. They are for everyone.”
Let’s come back to earth though for a second out of the clouds of hope and humility. New Yorkers aren’t an easy bunch to please, and the building of the new World Trade Center transportation hub hasn’t been an easy, wistful chore. There has been the eternal push and shove among the other buildings, the Port Authority, and Calatrava over what has become the city’s focus and fallout. But Calatrava explains that the cost is immaterial. This is being built for our children. It is priceless in its destiny and its necessity for the commuter.
The design itself explains this destiny. Calatrava adds that the design is inspired by a child releasing a dove. The child speaks of “the future of the city”, and the dove, of course, of peace. The sleek ribs protrude from the ground creating a canopy of white, forming Calatrava’s desired “luminous spaces.”
The hub is formed from three main spaces. There is an east-west corridor spanning a gargantuan amount of space for a real-estate indoctrinate city, 2,000 feet in linear grace. The mezzanine has a horizontal spread of 200 feet, and Memorial Hall lifts in vertical air.
“It is like a musical composition — the spaces, in this matter (it forms) a common language,” Calatrava said.
The hub itself serves many purposes, not just the purpose of moving millions of people through New York’s sometimes elusive tunnel system. It’s also providing an infrastructure, a plaza and “inter-modality, circulation between the other (new World Trade Center) buildings,” he said.
There has been a lot of talk on changes made recently, due to an apparent cost-factor, but Calatrava stresses, “it is very similar to its original design. (There have been) minor changes in details, and security.”
The manifestation of hope hasn’t been an easy process. Calatrava explained that on one hand the New York bedrock makes a great foundation, but is hard to move. They are also building 30 feet below the water table, and partially through bad soil, the remains of the compost from the extension of Manhattan — the island once ended at Church Street — then later filled in to Greenwich Avenue, and again to the West Side. Calatrava, however, said he likes a challenge.
The hub is expected to be finished four years from the date of the opening of his reception at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute, 684 Park Avenue. The exhibit contains a large model of the World Trade Center transportation hub, in which the viewer can stand inside of the model and get a 360 degree view of the true expanse, grace and linear flow of the project. There is also a gallery of small models of other American projects, including the 80 South Street building, in which blocks form singular homes, rumored to be in the $30 million dollar ballpark, and the gondola-lift connecting Brooklyn and lower Manhattan with Governor’s island. The exhibit runs through August 31.
Calatrava gains his inspiration for this project from a religious icon of New York architecture history: Grand Central Station. He cited Grand Central as “a model for the evolution of New York,” bringing to mind the timing as reminiscent of the economic struggle the city is again surviving through.
Isn’t this the true intent of the new hub — to show the city that it can always survive, no matter the odds? Some worry that the design is too new for New York City, but Calatrava can help ease that doubt, striving to build a monument to the city doing what it does best: changing, growing, advancing, surviving.
By the way: Because of a reporting error, Calatrava’s name was spelled wrong in this story