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Calatrava's World Trade Center Hub Is a 'Glorious Boondoggle'

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Santiago Calatrava's World Trade Center Transportation Hub has been referred to as many things, amongst them a "self-indulgent monstrosity," a "kitsch stegosaurus," and "LOL-ugly." It has also been endlessly derided for doubling its budget, making it the most expensive train station in history. Now, for NY Mag, Andrew Rice adds his two cents to the ongoing debate of the hub's architectural merit, the role of Calatrava's ego in its completion, and the calamitous process behind its rise, acknowledging that the project is indeed a "boondoggle" but a glorious one at that. In no less than 5,000 words, Rice expresses what he sums up so succinctly in one straightforward sentence, "Of course, you can simultaneously admire the design's ambition and wonder whether it was worthwhile." Now, the most informative, telling, and humorous lines from Rice's epic retrospective.

1) "Calatrava expects the building—and its architect—to be vindicated once the public is able to experience it in full."

2) "No recent addition to the cityscape has aspired to combine public utility and aesthetic daring to the same degree."

3) "While much of what's been built at the World Trade Center is sealed off as fortified office buildings or dedicated to commemorating deaths, Calatrava's subterranean expanse is supposed to be animated by the bustle of everyday life."

4) "'If we were looking at it today,' says Patrick Foye, the [Port Authority's] executive director, 'we might come to different judgments about how those dollars ought to be spent.' In private, Foye is apparently openly hostile to the project. 'He thinks it's a boondoggle,' says a former government official who remains engaged with the redevelopment of the World Trade Center. Even if so, once you're inside, it's a magnificent boondoggle."

5) "'We wanted to give the sense that it is not the tower that makes the place,' Calatrava said, referring to One World Trade Center, 'but the station.'"

6) "'I was also chosen,' [Calatrava] added, 'because I presented an idea.' That idea—a soaring response to the September 11 attacks—was initially irresistible. Two powerful currents came together to whisk the project forward: the heightened emotions of the time, and the unique internal political culture of the Port Authority."

7) "Calatrava proved to be a master of shifting political dynamics, charming and winning over one decision-maker after another. 'He's quite devastating,' says one of the other architects involved in the redevelopment. 'Probably no architect in New York can come on as strong and as cleverly as he.'"

8) On the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Calatrava's bargaining power: "'They were enamored of Santiago Calatrava,' says Joseph Seymour, the Port Authority's executive director at the time. 'Some people have suggested he's the da Vinci of our time.' Early on, that comparison was thrown around a lot. 'If there was anybody who thought it was overkill or unnecessarily expensive,' says another former PA official, 'it would have been so politically impossible to say that.'"

9) "Calatrava told me that it wasn't his job to monitor the budget."

10) "A decade ago, Calatrava would have made any short list of the world's most esteemed architects. Today, many within the profession are aghast at what they see as his irresponsibility. When I spoke with his peers, more than one used the derisive phrase 'capital-A architecture.'"

11) "'Calatrava is a very high-risk architect,' says a former government appointee who was involved at the time. 'He does stuff that by its very nature is expensive, and anyone could see that when you saw that design. I'm astounded that it actually got built.'"

12) "After vociferous argument with the designers of the memorial and its board chairman, Michael Bloomberg, Calatrava gave up on the idea of having natural light shine through glass set in the plaza into the PATH Hall below, because it interfered with the mayor's priority: planting trees. 'You have to live with the necessities of other people,' Calatrava told me, saying that he's now reconciled to the foliage."

13) "A financier and film producer, Lipper told me he examined the hub as a case study before proposing internal-governance reforms. 'You can't hide behind the fact that the star wants to do it his way. In the end, the responsibility is with management. You have to take a cold hard look at all this and say, 'Hey, on paper it looks nice. But, buddy, it's not going to work, because we can't afford it.' "

14) "Whatever you think of the PATH station, it won't end up looking banal."

15) "'He's one of the great designers,' says Mitchell Moss, director of NYU's Rudin Center for Transportation. 'But this is a fucking train to Jersey.'"

16) "Someday, Libeskind thinks, people will revel in Calatrava's creation and the controversies will be forgotten."

17) "After September 11, in a rare show of collective will, New York had demanded a stirring architectural statement at the World Trade Center. And then it changed its mind."
· The Glorious Boondoggle [NYM]
· All World Trade Center Transit Hub coverage [Curbed]