Santiago Calatrava's Transportation Hub at the WTC

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Designing the Transportation Hub

White, spiny 2005 design rendering of WTC site transportation oculus by Santiago Calatrava
Rendering from 2005 by architect Santiago Calatrava for the World Trade Center Transportation Hub project. Illustration by Santiago Calatrava SA via Getty Images/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

Engineering and artistry combine in the Transportation Hub at the World Trade Center in New York City. The striking design by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava was a daring choice for the developers of Lower Manhattan. Construction began in September 2005, and an audible sigh of relief could be heard during the soft roll-out in March 2016. With this photo gallery, you can compare the project's renderings with the final results.

Originally, Calatrava's proposed a soaring yet delicate spike design for the transit complex. Those plans were changed to make the terminal more secure. The number of "ribs" increased and the wing-like forms lost some of their delicacy, becoming the white-painted steel you see today. The structure also was realigned on the site to adjust to the Wedge of Light concept of the Master Plan by Daniel Libeskind.

New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp wrote that the main transit hall "may now evoke a slender stegosaurus more than it does a bird." (The New York Times, January 23, 2004)

Nevertheless, the design, although looking foreign in Lower Manhattan, has a similarity and familiarity to Calatrava's other designs from this period. Does the rendering shown here match thebuilt Transportation Hub that opened to the public in 2016?

Learn More:

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WTC Transportation Terminal, Aerial View

World Trade Center Transportation Hub Drawing by architect Santiago Calatrava, two views, street level and aerial views
Santiago Calatrava's Vision for the New World Trade Center World Trade Center Transportation Hub Drawing by architect Santiago Calatrava, two views, street level and aerial views. Courtesy of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (cropped/resized/merged)

The Spanish architect's original plans called for a soaring yet delicate spike design. Those plans were later modified to make the terminal more secure.

Critics praised Santiago Calatrava for bringing a sense of spirituality to his sweeping design for the transportation terminal serving the World Trade Center.

 

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WTC Transportation Terminal

Rendering of the World Trade Center PATH Terminal, Santiago Calatrava SA
Architect's Drawings, Site Plans, and Models for the New World Trade Center Rendering of the World Trade Center PATH Terminal, Santiago Calatrava SA. Courtesy of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

Architect Santiago Calatrava has said that his design for a wing-like transportation station gives the sense of a bird released from a child's hand.

Interior spaces were designed to be grand meeting places, public spaces like were built in New York City at the time of Grand Central Terminal City.

Do the renderings imagine the reality of inside the Transportation Hub?

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WTC Transportation Hub Construction

Transportation Hub Oculus under construction in 2014
Santiago Calatrava's Vision for the New World Trade Center Transportation Hub Oculus under construction in 2014. Photo © Jackie Craven

New York City can be a sea of skyscrapers, visually vertical, with a certain sameness to the casual visitor. Not this, the Transportation Hub. From a stroll down Broadway, One World Trade Center looms from the side streets. And then, those bright white thorns, evenly spaced and curved, appear against the glass facade of 1WTC, as counterpoint. The Transportation Hub is architecture that makes the casual traveler stop in awe and exclaim, "Wow!"

Instead of dreary, underground subways, architect Santiago Calatrava envisioned airy spaces that evoke a sense of flight. It's an obvious design.

 

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New Transit Center at Ground Zero

Architect's Rendering of Interior of World Trade Center Transportation Hub
Santiago Calatrava's Vision for the New World Trade Center Architect's Rendering of Interior of World Trade Center Transportation Hub. Courtesy of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

In the first World Trade Center complex, the transportation center was located underground. The new transportation hub proposed by architect Santiago Calatrava was designed to be an airy, open space that unifies the New York City subway system.

Instead of a dark underground subway, the new transit center was a bright, uplifting space, its spine open to the light of day.

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WTC Transportation Hub

Architect's July 28, 2005 Rendering of Inside the World Trade Center Transportation Hub
Santiago Calatrava's Vision for the New World Trade Center Architect's July 28, 2005 Rendering of Inside the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. Courtesy of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

The Transportation Hub at the new World Trade Center links with New York's transit system and PATH, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Trans-Hudson. Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava conceived an entry in the manner of New York's other great transportation centers, Grand Central Terminal and the original Pennsylvania Station built in 1910 by McKim, Mead, and White. All are great, open halls inside the architecture of their day.

"I built it to such a scale for those daily commuters," Calatrava told Architectural Digest. "Maybe they live in very modest apartments, or work in a small cubicle. I want for them to suddenly arrive to the station by train and, twice a day, for ten minutes or so, stand before an immaculately fashioned station that was built just for them. I want for them to enjoy it, to feel important and part of something bigger, more grand."

Do the renderings imagine the reality Inside the Completed Transportation Hub?

Source: "Santiago Calatrava Tells Us About the Process of Designing the WTC Transportation Hub" by Nick Mafi, Architectural Digest, March 1, 2016 [accessed March 6, 2016]

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Inside the Completed Transportation Hub

Interior of Santiago Calatrava designed Transportation Hub in Lower Manhattan, 2016
Santiago Calatrava's Vision for the New World Trade Center Interior of Santiago Calatrava designed Transportation Hub in Lower Manhattan, 2016. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

Calatrava's modern design has been call blobitecture by some and a schizophrenic train station by others. The construction materials of steel and glass are typical of today's modern structures. Even the retractable 330 foot skylight roof is a common site on modern sports arenas.

Then what is this Transportation Hub?

Source: WTC Transit Hub, New York Architecture [accessed March 6, 2016]

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Inside the Oculus

Inside the Transportation Hub, 2016
Santiago Calatrava's Vision for the New World Trade Center Inside the Transportation Hub, 2016. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

Santiago Calatrava's design for the Transportation Hub has been called an oculus. Its opening along the apex of the structure is similar to the famous oculus opening in the dome at the Roman Pantheon.

Oculus is from the Latin word for "eye," and standing inside the elliptical structure promotes a feeling of existing inside a blink. It's often said that the original Twin Towers collapsed in the blink of an eye.

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Underground Pedestrian Corridor

The Underground World Trade Center Pedestrian Corridor Opened in 2013, linking the east and west sides of Ground Zero
Santiago Calatrava's Vision for the New World Trade Center The Underground World Trade Center Pedestrian Corridor Opened in 2013, linking the east and west sides of Ground Zero. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

Part of the WTC transit center design was to provide easy access to the NY subway system. An underground corridor from the Transportation Hub in the east to the Cesar Pelli-designed Brookfield Place in the west connects access to transportation routes.

The architect of the Transportation Hub, Spanish-born Santiago Calatrava, was influenced by the local transportation architecture. Besides Grand Central Station, Calatrava has also mentioned the modern design of the TWA Flight Center at JFK airport.  The 1962 terminal was designed by architect Eero Saarinen, but Cesar Pelli himself has been credited as being its Project Designer.

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Transportation Hub Opens in 2016

Windowed side of the Transportation Hub at World Trade Center in August 2016
Windowed side of the Transportation Hub at World Trade Center in August 2016. Photo by Cindy Ord / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

At a widely-reported price tag of $4 billion, the Transportation Hub is an expensive door to the rail system 60 feet below it. It sits on sacred ground, like a circus tent in a quiet, rural community, looking somewhat out of place with the surrounding architecture but being curiously inviting. Architect Calatrava has created a public space open to anyone wanting to take a peak under the canvas.