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Is Santiago Calatrava's WTC Transportation Hub a 'Lemon' or a 'Beauty'?

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Here's what critics think of Santiago Calatrava's $4B transit hub

The World Trade Center Transportation Hub won't open to the public for another couple of weeks, but archicritics—specifically, the New York Post's Steve Cuozzo and New York's Justin Davidson—are already weighing in, after getting early walk-throughs of the $4 billion transit hub. And to say their views on Santiago Calatrava's creation differ wildly would be an understatement (but that's not really a surprise, is it?). Let's break down the differences, shall we?

Here's Cuozzo:

And — surprise! — the Oculus, which will partially open to the public the first week in March, is as functionally vapid inside as it is outside. It’s a void in search of a purpose other than to connect a bunch of subway and pedestrian corridors and concourses with one another.

And then Davidson:

It seems miraculous that Calatrava’s daydream should now finally exist, altered yet recognizable. Its frame is a little less lithe, its skin a little less smooth, its concept more mature. What remains is an extravagantly idealistic creation unlike any in New York. It challenges the city’s public architecture to rise above habitual cut corners and rectilinear repetition. The cost of beauty is often high.

Davidson is, on the whole, complimentary of the structure: He marvels at the engineering of the bird-like Oculus ("You could knock one half down and the other would barely budge," he explains) and praises the hub itself, including its "elaborately minimalist design," while also acknowledging the structure's troubled past—the budget bloat, the delays, and the like. But ultimately, he concludes that, "Calatrava’s skeletal dove joins the tiny circle of New York’s great indoor public spaces, serving not just the city that built it but also the city it will help build."

Cuozzo's take is decidedly more critical, from the headline—which calls the hub a "lemon"—onward. His biggest beef is with the underground portion of the hub, which he calls a "lifeless void." Calatrava's design calls for the more than 56,000-square-foot passageway to be quite stark and bare, which isn't helped by the fact that the promised shops that are meant to fill the Westfield mall in the hub have yet to materialize. "At the notoriously crowded, 16-acre WTC site where every square inch is precious, the Oculus has free rein to stretch and preen out of all proportion to its function," he writes. And, he points out, the public is unlikely to forget the "recriminations over the hub’s epic construction saga and $4.4 billion cost."

Soon, at least, the public will have its chance to weigh in—the hub is due to open in the first week of March.