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WTC Transportation Hub Opens Today to Mixed Reviews

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As the Santiago Calatrava-designed hub prepares to open, critics weigh in

WTC Transportation Hub
WTC Transportation Hub
Max Touhey for Curbed

It's taken 12 years and billions of dollars to get here, but at 3 p.m. today, the first portion of Santiago Calatrava's World Trade Center Transportation Hub will open to the public. The bits that will open include much of the Oculus, the hulking, ribcage-like sculpture that encircles the large main hall of the transit hub, along with connections to the PATH train. (Other parts, including the entire retail space, are still under construction.)

Early reviews of the space have been mixed thus far—some people love it, some people hate it—but as the opening looms, the big archicritics have begun to weigh in on the space. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times were both, well, less than complimentary of the Port Authority's $4.4 billion project; in Vanity Fair, meanwhile, venerable critic Paul Goldberger had much nicer things to say. Let's go through them one-by-one, shall we?

Here's Julie V. Iovine in the Journal:

The Hub is the apogee of a kind of architecture that wows rather than elevates, emblematic of a time when dazzle outweighs aesthetic coherence and gold swan faucets trump measured details.

It doesn't get much better from there: Iovine acknowledges that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Calatrava's design—meant to evoke the shape of a dove being released from a child's hands (oof)—gave New Yorkers a sense of hope, and moving forward. But, she says, "heavy symbolism is not the same as resonant architecture." (Ouch.) Another complaint: the fact that the Hub's operators, Westfield Corp., have declined to make it feel like a public space. "The dispiriting absence of ticket machines, train clocks and maps underscores the extent to which the Hub is more a commercial than civic amenity," Iovine writes. The TL;DR version: It's an "inflated spectacle."

WTC Transportation Hub Inside Max Touhey for Curbed

Goldberger, writing for Vanity Fair, was far more complimentary of the Hub, arguing that if you can look past the expense and the "hokey" design, "you can have an architectural experience there that may renew your faith in the potential of the public realm in New York." Here's more:

This place cost billions of dollars of public money, and it’s still a shrine to the commercial marketplace. I wish it were otherwise. But that doesn’t destroy the impact of the architecture, or negate the fact that this is the first time in a half a century that New York City has built a truly sumptuous interior space for the benefit of the public.

He goes on to compare the Hub to two of New York City's most iconic pieces of public architecture: Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center (Saarinen is one of Calatrava's biggest influences, apparently), and Phillip Johnson's design for Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater, with its huge Grand Promenade. Goldberger argues that the popularity of Johnson's space now proves "once again that yesterday’s vulgarity can become today’s landmark."

Also:

But the real point is that in a city that has built few noble public works in the last half century—a city that in our time has rarely even aspired to grandeur in public space, let alone achieved it—this project stands as a reminder that we have not given up entirely.

And finally, perhaps the sickest burn comes from the Times's Michael Kimmelman, who was decidedly not a fan of the project. The headline of his piece is "Santiago Calatrava’s Transit Hub Is a Soaring Symbol of a Boondoggle," and it doesn't get much better from there. We'll just let his words do the talking:

The project’s cost soared toward a head-slapping, unconscionable $4 billion in public money for what, in effect, is the 18th-busiest subway stop in New York City, tucked inside a shopping mall, down the block from another shopping center.

Ouch. He gets a little bit nicer:

And at first blush,Mr. Calatrava’s architecture can almost — almost — make you forget what an epic boondoggle the whole thing has been. That virgin view, standing inside the Oculus and gazing up, is a jaw-dropper.

But then delivers this:

Meanwhile, the city has an Instagram-ready attraction whose defenders insist no one will remember it is the most expensive train station ever. Who recalls how much Grand Central cost?

Actually, I do. It cost $80 million, or about half the cost of the hub, adjusting for inflation, which was private, not public, money. Grand Central spurred a building boom that transformed the surrounding blocks and the city’s economy. This new hub is shoehorned into an unfinished office park in Lower Manhattan whose development it has complicated, not hastened — while the whole area has been evolving into a livelier live-work neighborhood despite what’s happening at the World Trade Center, not because of it.

Whether it's beloved or decried by the public is another thing, but we'll know soon enough, when New Yorkers finally get to see the spectacle—in all its marble-covered, excessive glory—this afternoon.

World Trade Center PATH Station

WTC, New York, NY 10006 (800) 234-7284