At the opening of the exhibition on his World Trade Center Transportation Hub, on view now at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute though August 31, Santiago Calatrava’s presentation was impeccably well mannered. He juggled questions with ease, balancing the answers on the tip of his nose, before finally pulling the “child releasing a dove” formal metaphor out of his sleeve. Like his work or not, he is a magician, charming the public with form, feats of engineering, impossibly white compositions, and notions of public service. The Great White Spiny station marks a watershed moment for New York City. Even without the site's recent history, the project's overriding formalism and object-like nature represents an important point for architecture in the city. Given Manhattan's density there is an overriding need to fit in snuggly with one's neighbors. But this time we are getting an object in a field. Before you smugly think Calatrava and his team have created a sculptural memorial to themselves, he freely admits the building will outlast its designer. Perhaps, this is his media savvy working in overdrive, but even with my overly jaded feelings about the profession of architecture, I found his take refreshing. Without being bombastic or self-serving he noted although he loves Grand Central Terminal he has no idea who designed the soaring space. Should Reed & Stem and Warren & Wetmore feel insulted by their forgotten contributions? No, according to Calatrava. He understands when White Spiny opens for use, his role, his name, and his fame will eventually be lost, but the building will remain. With true graciousness he understands the public will see the building and not recall the designers. When asked if he thought the recent whirling drop in the economy had changed architecture and/or the architect's roll Calatrava took the chance to clarify the meaning of economy. The etymology, he pointed out, means “the order of the house” and by reseting the definition was able to speak to the shift away from glamor projects towards more public work and the lowering role of the starchitect and rise of newer, younger designers. Of course much of Calatrava's career has been built on large scale public projects (even as his office has designed its share of ultra towers in Chicago and Copenhagen) and his discussion of the new glory of public work could be thought of as a celebrating his own work. No matter. The Transportation Hub will require a Metrocard to ride the rails, but otherwise is open to public at no charge. This a real public project. The hub represents the return of “A”rchitecture to the public project in New York. For far too long the United States has selected its public projects based on merits of low cost and speed of construction. But design is now seen to carry value, even in the public realm. Many factors have led to this moment, including Ed Feiner's reinvigoration of the General Services Administration and New York City's emulation of these efforts, the slip/trip/ fall of the idea as market as king, and a new administration recommitting the country to the concept of engaged citizenship. These things are stirring and bring hope. In the end, however, hope can fade and results count most. Whether you like the building or the man or not, is not the issue. What is important is that something of great design and real effort is being built, and that we as a nation again care about the public realm and we as architects are able to play a roll in this process. Santiago Calatrava: World Trade Center Transportation Hub is on view Queen Sofia Spanish Institute at 684 Park Avenue, New York City, through August, 31.
Posts tagged with "Santiago Calatrava":
Yesterday afternoon in Denver, Colorado, President Obama signed the stimulus bill into law. The process of doling out the spoils begins, as we wait, and hope, for the desired economic recovery. One piece of good news for urbanites and green transportation advocates, the bill includes $8 billion for high-speed rail, according to Politico. Additional funding is expected at $1 billion annually for the next five years, through the normal budgetary stream. This represents a major increase in high speed rail funding. Last year, President Bush authorized $1.5 billion in high speed rail funding through 2013. Reportedly, Transportation Secretary Lahood has 60 days to plan how and where the funds will be spent. The rail funding is a special priority for President Obama, according to Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. “I put it in there for the president,” Emanuel told Politico. “The president wanted to have a signature issue in the bill, his commitment for the future.” The rail-heavy Northeast and the planned California high-speed corridor seem like obvious recipients. Doubtless some in Chicago, and the down state Illinois district Lahood previously represented, will push for a Midwest hub and spoke-shaped system centered in Chicago. While architects do not typically design rail corridors, they do design stations, like this Calatrava-designed TGV station in Lyon, and transit oriented developments. Wouldn't it be nice to buy your Acela tickets in surroundings like this? UPDATE: The Huffington Post has a link to a 2002 Federal Railroad Administration map showing possible high-speed corridors. Which lines will make the cut?
This week, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA) and Santiago Calatrava released renderings of the scaled back World Trade Center Transportation Hub. Gone is the sweeping column-free span, originally envisioned by the Spanish architect known for his expressionistic structures. Tapered columns have been added, which the Port Authority and the architect argue will speed along construction and reduce the amount of steel needed to complete the project. The skylights, which were to bring natural light into the mezzanine, have also been eliminated. This is only the latest compromise at the WTC site. As Alec Appelbaum wrote on October 2, a new report from the PA laid out plans for a revised timeline and simplified construction, including at the hub. When the report was released, the PA pledged to open the memorial in time for the tenth anniversary of the attacks. By Tuesday, Christopher Ward, executive director of the PA, speaking at a City Council hearing, pushed back the schedule for the public opening of the memorial to 2012. Calatrava has often said the new hub would rival Grand Central Terminal as one of New York's grandest public spaces. As his vision has steadily been eroded, it's time to ask if the space will be closer to the underground interior of Pennsylvania Station.