From the Jody Kriss Blog: Review of the WTC Transportation Hub

With many successful development projects across NYC, Jody Kriss is no stranger to the city’s stunning architecture. Though Jody Kriss and East River Partners tend to focus on honoring the design of historic structures, their developments have one major thing in common with the new WTC Transportation Hub; mindfulness of modern elegance and opulence. But, did Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus deliver on expectations?

The Oculus Strayed from its Original Design

Calatrava, a seasoned architect from Spain, has a fantastic track record when it comes to designing transportation-related structures all over the globe. For many, rebuilding the WTC area has been a spiritual and emotional experience, and Calatrava intended to honor this with his initial concepts. Originally, the structure resembled a dove being released from a child’s hand and was expected to cost about $2.2 billion to create. Commissioned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with input from the local police force and various other entities, Calatrava’s initial designs were repeatedly altered to address “security issues.” Back in 2005, Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Anthony R. Coscia explained that the changes “were all done in a way that stayed faithful to the original vision,” but even then, New York Times reporter David W. Dunlap wasn’t buying it. “It may now evoke a slender stegosaurus more than it does a bird,” he wrote, and based on reactions from visitors to the completed structure, it seems he was spot on with his assessment.

Visitors are Divided on Opinion

The total building costs came to about $4 billion, which New York Times reporter Michael Kimmelman estimates is about twice the amount it took to see Grand Central Station come to fruition, when adjusting for inflation. He refers to Calatrava as a “one-trick pony,” and goes on to say “the Oculus reveals itself all at once from awkward, tongue-shaped balconies,” and adds “The trip downstairs becomes a letdown.” From bad to worse, he picks apart the Oculus, “In its scale, monotony of materials and color, preening formalism and disregard for the gritty urban fabric, the hub is the sort of object-building that might seem at home on the Washington Mall.”

Paul Goldberger of Vanity Fair provides a wholly different point of view, calling the Oculus “the exhilarating nave of a genuine people’s cathedral.” He believes that Calatrava’s design consists of “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.” It’s hard to believe that the two reporters are even discussing the same structure.

It seems as if Goldberger and Calatrava share the same sentiment: that this is a highly-unique and opulent structure, created expressly for the people of New York. Very few municipalities have invested in providing something so grand for average citizens. “This person who is coming to New York to work very hard, one day may be living in a very modest house and may also be working in a very modest job, but for me, this person is very important,” Calatrava explained in an interview with Architectural Digest. For him, the structure was about honoring hard-working people and showing them how important they are to the community, and inspiring hope with symbolism found throughout.

No matter where you stand on the matter, one thing is certain. The Oculus is a piece of art, open to interpretation and subjective to tastes. The debate over its beauty and message will linger on for generations.