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The eye of the beholder

Anja Koller , Johannes Markert
New York

Its name is Oculus. The eye. Santiago Calatrava’s train station in New York is a dinosaur. Alive and breathing amidst the static and rigid high-rise buildings.

Oculus is a symbol of peace, a huge white dove showing that New York is looking towards the future confidently. (Picture: Anja Koller)

Santiago Calatrava and the dinosaur of New York City: the “Oculus” at Ground Zero renders one speechless. For the most expensive train station, disapproval and enthusiasm are evenly balanced. Its name is Oculus. The eye. It is located in the same spot where America has proven to be most vulnerable in its recent history. It’s a symbol for hope, for resurrection – like a phoenix from the ashes. But the resemblance ends there: the 4 billion Dollar train station that has been dubbed the most expensive transportation hub in the world looks heavy, massive, like a dinosaur in spiked carapace. Yet this impression doesn’t last long. Before the beholder’s eye, the sedate colossus turns into a delicate, feathery, almost playful structure.

Artwork instead of building

This is exactly the secret of Santiago Calatrava’s architecture: his buildings are monuments, sacral artworks of aesthetic grace. He isn’t a mere architect and construction engineer, but an artist and illusionist. His works can proof it, his buildings, his bridges. They are statements, exclamation points. The places where the artist sets his exclamation points seem to exist for this reason only. Oculus, the train station that connects Manhattan with PATH trains to New Jersey and eleven subway lines is a typical Calatrava: nature-inspired, organic shapes, suffused with light, with projecting ribs, sculptural aesthetics.



A train station like an alien life form

Oculus is a symbol of peace, a huge white dove showing that the city has risen from the ashes and is looking towards the future confidently. Its interior feels like a cathedral. Despite the hustle and bustle of 200.000 daily commuters this place seems sacred. Looking from the outside, the building looks like an alien life form within the sky-scraping architectural surroundings of the mirrored facades of the One World Trade Center. This is what makes it so fascinating: the dinosaur is alive and breathing amidst the static and rigid high-rise buildings. The Spaniard used 12.500 tons of steel as well as white marble from South Tyrolean Laas. All the floor and wall panels, steps, and plinths originate there.

Exorbitant costs

As in Valencia or Venice, where Calatrava designed the fourth bridge over the Grand Canal, costs exploded for the building in New York City – with total costs being twice as high as planned. And again, the architect shows his aversion for effective time management: the opening of Oculus was delayed ten years. As of yet there haven’t been any constructional defects; but it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if that changed since the architect has had more than a few dishonorable mentions for that reason in the international media.