At Long Last, Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transit Hub Is Open

The $4 billion train station has been called beautiful and a boondoggle

Calatrava oculus
Johannes Schmitt-Tegge/dpa/Corbis

Twelve years after architect Santiago Calatrava’s design for a new transit hub at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan was first unveiled, the station is finally now open to the public—or at least a part of it is ready, including most of the main hall. As the first commuters begin to use the hub to travel in and out of New York City, the looming question remains: will the building continue to be overshadowed by its $4 billion price tag.

It’s hard to even talk about Calatrava’s skeletal transit hub without mentioning how it got so pricey in the first place. When then-New York governor George Pataki first revealed the design in 2004, officials estimated that it would only take about five years and $2.2 billion to complete. Due to circumstances ranging from the Great Recession to general bureaucratic missteps, the cost and price tag each more than doubled, Amy Plitt reports for Curbed.

"It's the same thing we've seen happen on other projects," Nicole Gelinas, an infrastructure expert at the Manhattan Institute tells Kate Hinds for WNYC News. "The state tends to think this is free money because it comes from Washington. So we end up spending all of Washington’s money — and we end up spending our own."

From an architectural perspective, Calatrava’s building is unique among Lower Manhattan’s glass skyscrapers. Titled Oculus, the structure is an enormous, cathedral-like space made by two interlocking “wings” with glass panes filling the spaces in between. Calatrava originally designed the building to resemble a dove in flight, with an airy shopping space sitting atop the underground train station serving as both a memorial for the victims of 9/11 and a symbol of New York’s future.

Critics, such as the New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman, have derided its skeletal appearance. Kimmelman called it “a dino carcass" and the New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo nicknamed it the “Calatrasaurus,” dubbing the design “a lemon.”

“Any really big or unusual object or immense hole in the ground triggers awe,” Kimmelman writes. “I no longer know what the hub is supposed to mean, symbolically, with its now-thickened ribs, hunkered torso and angry snouts on either end, weirdly compressing the entrances from the street. It’s like a Pokémon.”

Critics may disapprove, but some of the first commuters to see it have different thoughts.

"It's beautiful, finally we are getting some infrastructure that looks like the rest of the world,” Tristen Anthony, who commutes to New Jersey daily, told Hinds. “Commuting is not fun, but this [place] lifts up your spirit."