The Schmooze

Calatrava's Matrix-Like New York Transit Hub Fails To Inspire

Five months ago, as I left work on my first day at the Forward and my third day as a New Yorker, I caught a glimpse of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub’s spiny white exterior.

“That,” I thought, gleefully, “looks like a New York type of thing.”

Indeed.

Unfortunately, it is probably not a New York Type of Thing in an especially positive way. The New York Times’s Michael Kimmelman wrote an excellent explanation of the ways in which the hub’s construction, which cost a cool $4 billion in public money, has been a much-overpriced, much-overhyped vanity project for the city rather than a meaningful addition to its landscape. No need to add to his thoughts – “what an epic boondoggle the whole thing has been” – on that subject, as they’re more thorough and more enjoyably damning than any I might add could be.

Instead, I made my way to the hub to investigate its aesthetic merits, Perhaps, my editor suggested, I might find the structure – designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, of very distant Jewish heritage – spiritually moving.

Unfortunately, now possessed of a proper New York sense of skepticism, it was my cynicism rather than my soul that found validation. It turns out it is extremely, extremely difficult to figure out how to enter the hub’s center, the hall beneath said spiny exterior, called “The Oculus.” Walking around the structure, currently foundered in the middle of an inaccessible construction site wasteland, I looked desperately for a sign directing me to “The Oculus.” No such luck. (I considered asking for directions, but the prospect of asking a security guard to please direct me to The Oculus seemed like a good way to accidentally end up in the Matrix, so I deferred.)

Settling instead for the West Concourse, the other element of the hub now open, I found myself in a very clean, very white hall overarched with curving beams reminiscent of the spikes outside. It was calm – too calm. Climbing a set of stairs to view the hall from above, I realized that the beams, before they meet the ceiling, are backed with long, narrow white lights, which look suspiciously like sleep chambers from a science fiction movie. Perhaps I would have been safer looking for the Oculus.

Altogether, the hub is currently much too confusing and slightly too construction-bound to be truly spiritually compelling. Better luck, perhaps, with the next boondoggle the city decides to pursue.

Contact Talya Zax at zax@forward.com or on Twitter, @TalyaZax.

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Calatrava's Matrix-Like New York Transit Hub Fails To Inspire

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