Home PANYNJ The Times tears down Santiago Calatrava

The Times tears down Santiago Calatrava

by Benjamin Kabak

A glimpse inside Calatrava’s costly subway station. (Photo via @WTCProgress)

When The New York Times puts a target in its sights, the Grey Lady goes hard:

In numerous interviews, other architects, academics and builders say that [Santiago] Calatrava is amassing an unusually long list of projects marred by cost overruns, delays and litigation. It is hard to find a Calatrava project that has not been significantly over budget. And complaints abound that he is indifferent to the needs of his clients…

Mr. Calatrava is likely to come under renewed scrutiny in New York as building continues on one of his latest projects, the new PATH train station at ground zero. It is expected to open in 2015 but is six years behind schedule and will cost $4 billion, twice the original budget.

Critics of the project, commissioned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, find the final price tag hard to believe. (In January 2012 an independent audit of the Port Authority concluded that the agency was “a challenged and dysfunctional organization.”) But several executives who have been involved in construction at the World Trade Center site, who did not want to speak on the record because of their relationship with the project, said Mr. Calatrava’s designs were problematic, too, calling for hugely difficult construction, including a vast underground chamber. In addition, they said, he demanded that surrounding buildings house all the station’s mechanical elements, like ventilation, which complicated construction and called for time-consuming coordination.

The Port Authority declined to discuss the cost overruns and issued a one-sentence statement: “Early estimates for the transportation hub were based on conceptual designs and were therefore unrealistic.”

In Calatrava’s Spanish hometown, politicians aren’t as quick to lay the blame for cost overruns on the shoulders of so-called conceptual designs. Ignacio Blanco, a member of the Valencia parliament which has had its fair share of disputes with its native son, says that Calatrava’s designs — upon which cost estimates and funding requests are based — are devoid of necessary detail. “Other architects, they know exactly the door handles they want, and where to buy and at what cost,” he said. “But Calatrava is the opposite. His projects do not have this degree of precision. If you look at the files on the aquarium, which was built by someone else, they are fat. But there are just a couple of pages on the Calatrava projects.”

I’ve been highly critical of the PATH WTC station for years now. It’s a glorified subway station that will cost taxpayers $4 billion. It’s a vanity project developed by a starchitect who has made it about him and his contributions to the New York scene rather than about a cost-controlled transit improvement. The mistakes of PATH and the mistakes of Calatrava should be a lesson to the various New York stakeholders at plans to expand or rebuild Penn Station move forward. This is a mess that didn’t have to be a mess.

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David Brown September 25, 2013 - 1:38 pm

Ben, you hit upon the key question which is about learning from our mistakes and obviously the answer is no. If we did you would have heard screams about the price tag for a a New Penn Station. Instead the idea is to recreate a New Penn Station based on the past, no matter the cost. Was it a mistake to tear it down? Maybe, maybe not, that is not the issue. I bet most average people ( the ones who cannot afford to think about Art first, and do care about making the trip to and from work, and not seeing their small kids railroaded into a ” Cattle Car” on the Lexington Ave Line and not being taxed out of New York) would object to spending $10b ( or more) on it. But sad to say, those voices do not matter, and and pretty catchy slogans like “the 1%” and Two New York’s” really do not address ( let alone solve) what is wrong. Which is Big Labor, Big Business, and above all Big Government, being responsible for out of control spending like with the PATH Station debacle, which might get repeated at Penn Station in the name of Art. Until I hear Di Blasio, Cuomo, Lahota, the Republicans, Unions, the wealthy Art Patron types, Congress or Obama say no more ( and mean it) this will not end…, Until we reach the level of Detroit or New York under Abe Beame.

Benjamin Kabak September 25, 2013 - 1:41 pm

We did hear screams about New Penn Station, and last I checked, no one is building or funding it yet. That’s not really a boost to your argument.

Plus, I’d hardly say Big Government is responsible for the WTC Hub. In part, the lack of clear oversight over Port Authority is responsible.

David Brown September 25, 2013 - 3:20 pm

Ben, point well taken about Penn Station (I hope you are right, and I am wrong). But if there was no blank check written by the Feds (or some Government entity) for PATH & Fulton Street, I guarantee you this would not have happened. You can apply the same thing to the MTA at Bleeker St/Broadway-Lafayette, and many, many other things Government gets its paws on. Even in Hollywood, there is a price to be paid for failure (Jerry Bruckheimer just got axed by Disney over “John Carter” & “The Lone Ranger”). Here it is just business as usual

Nathanael September 28, 2013 - 3:03 am

It was the Feds in the case of the “oculus” at Fulton St. (The rest of Fulton St. is useful — when push came to shove, the MTA focused on the useful parts.)

I wouldn’t say bad things about Bleecker St — that was a genuinely difficult project, and it really needed to be done (it was decades overdue). They encountered all sorts of stuff like the toxic remnants of a former gas station, if I remember correctly. And the result is functional.

It was the Feds *and* the Port Authority in the case of PATH. The Port Authority is not known for having any sense in its money-spending priorities.

For example, the Port Authority is raising a bridge and dredging a harbor in New Jersey in order to get large ships into it — rather than moving the large ships to the already-deep-enough harbor in Brooklyn and building the rail tunnel to Brooklyn to unload them, which has been the official plan since, IIRC, 1900. That would have been cheaper.

Jerrold September 25, 2013 - 1:46 pm

Like I’ve said before, we used to have the Twin Towers.
Now we will have the twin boondoggles: The Calatrava Center and the Fulton Center.

Jerrold September 25, 2013 - 1:53 pm

P.S. Has everybody seen today’s short piece on the Times site about the first shipment of rails being delivered to the SAS project?
At least this is yet another “point of no return”. The SAS tunneling in the 1970s never got up to the point of any rails being laid.

Chet September 25, 2013 - 3:46 pm

I really don’t think that Fulton Center is a boondoggle. That knot of stations was a disaster and needed to be fixed. The building on top is not ridiculously fancy like Calatrava’s monument to the west. Fulton Center is essentially a glass box on top of the station with retail space for rent.

And yes… just saw the news about the arrival of actual train track for the T line. Great news.

Jeff September 25, 2013 - 4:33 pm

They did spent close to $60 million restoring the Corbin Building and incorporating it into the Fulton Center… But that is small potatoes compared to the overall cost.

Nathanael September 28, 2013 - 3:05 am

The Corbin Building was worth restoring. It’s a sweet building, and it’s good to have good-looking restored old buildings. That’s a historic restoration project which was justified on its own merits.

The “oculus” over Fulton St. is the only part which I think wasn’t worth it (why not plant an office building or apartment building on the upper floors instead?). But it was paid for by a special federal grant, so whatever…

Jerrold September 25, 2013 - 8:26 pm

The untangling of the underground “rat’s nest” WAS a good idea. The boondoggle is the unnecessary above-ground part.

The above-ground building will not bring about any further untangling. Because the J station on Fulton and Nassau Sts. is so close to the surface, it will STILL be necessary to use the deep-down A/C platform as a passageway if one wishes to transfer between the 4/5 station and the 2/3 station.

ALSO, those tracks will be for the Q train under Second Ave. There will be no T train until and unless Phases 3 and 4 are built. (Phase 2 will of course only allow the Q to go further uptown.)

Nathanael September 28, 2013 - 3:06 am

The underground part of the above-ground building is designed, essentially, to relieve overcrowding at the 4/5 platforms and at the transfer between the 4/5 and the A/C. It should work for this purpose.

Of course, building it required demolishing the buildings on top of that area. So they had to build *something* on top of it.

Most of what they built on top of it was, frankly, cheap — except for the “oculus”.

Chris C September 25, 2013 - 5:59 pm

There are many that regarded the WTC as a boondoggle.

Why do people blame the architect? He designed to a brief provided by the PA.

The PA approved the brief. The approved the designs. They then made several major changes to the designs. Yet the architect gets the blame for decisions that have nothing to do with him.

Karm September 26, 2013 - 11:07 am

I wouldn’t say Fulton is all that bad…. Expensive – but not as unnecessary expense as the WTC PATH

Brandon September 25, 2013 - 1:52 pm

Cost and time overruns are still endemic in construction in New York. The Calatrava PATH hub is a symptom of that problem, im not so sure to what extent its a cause.

John-2 September 25, 2013 - 2:34 pm

In addition, they said, he demanded that surrounding buildings house all the station’s mechanical elements, like ventilation, which complicated construction and called for time-consuming coordination.

So, basically, the main concern Calatrava had with building the subway station was having to include the things that actually run the subway. I’m surprised he’s even including stairs and escalators to the tracks, since those probably also upset the design concept.

In the end, the problem here, and to a lesser extent the problem with Lower South Ferry, is that you tend to be less cautious with money when it’s seen as Other People’s Money. Because the PATH porcupine, the deep cavern SF station and the (fortunately scaled back) Fulton Street Transit Hub glass egg were to be funded with federal 9/11 recovery funds, you ended up with designs that were either not completely thought out, or where the people designing it and the pols backing it cared more about what was on the building’s exterior than what the functionality or the cost of the building was.

Caltrava’s design wasn’t just aggrandizing himself, he was building a monument the governors of New York and New Jersey a decade ago and those running PANYNJ at the time thought they could point to in the future as a monument ‘they’ built (and which they can still do. But at $4 billion, they may not get the same sort of huzzahs they were expecting when the thing was ‘only’ priced at half the current cost).

DF September 25, 2013 - 2:39 pm

I realize this is pie-in-the-sky but compare the $4B price tag with PATH’s annual revenues ($130M) and expenses ($550M, including operating expenses, depreciation/amortization, and interest expense). If the PA had built a $1.5B station and taken the money “saved” on construction costs and interest over the next 20 years or so they could have (it seems to me, without doing any serious number-crunching) cut off-peak fares in half and substantially increased off-peak service as well. The scale of $4B compared to the PATH’s budget is pretty staggering.

AG September 25, 2013 - 11:16 pm

I would have rather seen that 1.5B in “savings” have gone to JFK to Lower Manhattan project… That would have fallen under PA jurisdiction and was originally supposed to be a part of the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. Instead we get a weird looking monument to some architect… Sigh….

Nathanael September 28, 2013 - 3:08 am

Not quite, but almost, enough money to build this:


Peter September 25, 2013 - 2:59 pm

Scary to think that after spending $4 constructing this thing, the PA could be on the hook for millions more for fixes and upkeep, if the pattern of these other Calatrava projects is repeated. Seems like a blessing now that one of the more difficult engineering challenges — the retractable roof — was scrapped.

But I do think this is shaping up to be a beautiful structure. Yes, vastly too much money has been spent, but I think years from now this will rate among the true NYC landmarks. Just as thousands of tourists pass through Grand Central without ever stepping onto a Metro-North train, people will love visiting the Calatrava station even if they have no reason to get on the PATH. Sure that is small comfort to NYC residents and commuters who could’ve benefited from putting these dollars into real transit improvements. I’m not justifying it. But I do think that this station will be pretty darn cool.

llqbtt September 25, 2013 - 3:08 pm

This and other projects at the WTC site have found cover in emotion. $4B for a 5 track train station? A 5 track train station that was already there?! a 5 track train station that is not nearly the most heavily used 1 in our area?

PANYNJ really should be held accountable for this.

This is the wrong economy to have such a center piece project when funds are tight, and heavens, $4B can go to so many other projects.

A complete embarassment.

Douglas John Bowen September 25, 2013 - 3:21 pm

A complete embarrassment … until the facility (or facilities) actually begin being used.

Even good and cost-effective and pure-sensible projects in New York get attacked. Think Brooklyn Bridge.

Even the well-intentioned among us can argue what’s cost-effective. Review Bus Rapid Transit (“it’s cheaper to build! Easier to put in place!”) versus streetcars (they carry more people, at less cost per rider).

Finally, Peter’s point above not only is well-taken; it’s already arrived. Folks and tourists from New Jersey to Nepal are swarming over the World Trade Center site. Most don’t focus on the cost, exhorbitant though it may be (and I agree: It is), in their visitations — visitations that, by the way, generate revenue for the city of New York, which some insist on predicting is the next Detroit, 1970s reboot.

Alon Levy September 25, 2013 - 3:45 pm

A complete embarrassment when people realize what could’ve been built with the money, and sometimes what the debt on it does to future service (see the Big Dig and the MBTA). For the amount of money spent on Calatrava, Fear Tower (at $12,000 per m^2, possibly the most expensive skyscraper ever built, more than twice as expensive as recent Midtown office towers), and the aesthetic parts of Fulton, the region could have a commuter rail tunnel from Atlantic to Lower Manhattan to Jersey City connecting to the Erie lines. Tourists could still gawk at the new WTC building, even.

Douglas John Bowen September 25, 2013 - 4:52 pm

Aha, the equivalency argument. At the risk of sounding ungracious: I concur! The money could be better spent on other rail-related projects.

But that “complete embarrassment” likely isn’t going to happen even if every single person today becomes (favorite TV media word) “outraged.” Because the people who need to “realize” anything negative aren’t just the ones now, in the present, but the ones 10 years from now, 50 years from now, when (and, to be charitable to opposing points of view, perhaps if) the Calatrava station still stands and/or functions.

The belief here is that — like the Brooklyn Bridge, like City Hall itself — the measuring stick of success or failure will be the ongoing utility, and not the cost of (what becomes) so long, long ago.

Slight aside: I used to work in 2 WTC. It was an aesthetic failure as a workplace. I await to see if the new 1 WTC is more occupant-friendly, and (without proof to date) I remain hopeful it will be.

David Brown September 25, 2013 - 6:32 pm

The question is not about how angry people are at large scale projects such as this, East Side Access, Water Tunnel # 3, or The Bronx Water Purification Plant, those projects will be finished. The question becomes what about the next one? And there will be a next one (we are already seeing it with the New Tappan Zee and Kosciuszko Bridges). It could be a New Penn Station (and MSG), which I mentioned before, or it could SAS Phase III, or something unexpected. But these projects do not require everything looking like the Taj Majal or the Golden Gate Bridge (check out how much the New Bay Bridge cost sometime ($6.4b)). Because one day (just like in the 1970’s) the money will run out (by the way, Cuomo knows it will happen. Why do you think he cut through a lot of red tape (such as Environmental Reviews) to get them started? Because once they start work, it is hard to stop).

Nathanael September 28, 2013 - 3:10 am

New Tappan Zee is a complete 100% waste of funds at this point.

The existing bridge is sufficient for the current car and truck traffic, which is declining — the new bridge exists only to encourage more people to drive, which is a *bad thing*.

Nyland8 September 29, 2013 - 11:02 am

“The existing bridge is sufficient for the current car and truck traffic, which is declining — ”

Actually, it is the existing bridge that is declining – and has been for decades. That old steel superstructure sitting in tidal waters has seen its day. It’s an ugly set of monkey bars that belongs in some post-apocolyptic playground. It should be called the ChimpanZee Bridge.

The skyrocketing cost of maintenance demands that a cleaner, more modern structure replace it. Even at twice the projected cost, a proper replacement would pay for itself in less than a decade.

And the new bridge should be upgraded to include rail transport.

Bolwerk September 25, 2013 - 7:29 pm

People who are angry and grieving are pretty easy to exploit, something every demagogic pol since well before 9/11 knew.

I wouldn’t say Calatrava is so terrible in small-ish doses, but al-Queda probably couldn’t dream of doing the damage to the NYC skyline the current generation of planners wants to do done in embracing him for so many new projects.

Jeff September 25, 2013 - 3:42 pm

This is kind of related. Found this on another site – its a pretty detailed video showing the interior of the PATH station/Mall:

Hoosac September 26, 2013 - 8:35 am

Reminds me a lot of the shops in the concourse of the old World Trade Center. Kind of pedestrian, no pun intended.

llqbtt September 27, 2013 - 9:54 am

Looks like a porcupine

Nyland8 September 27, 2013 - 1:54 pm

Fun stuff … imagining what those spacious mall passageways would look like the first 11 minutes after opening. A more challenging graphic rendering would have been a month later, navigating the promenades after they are packed with kiosks selling T-shirts, trinkets, scarfs and cellphone accessories – like every other Westfield Mall.

Josh September 25, 2013 - 5:00 pm

[S]everal executives who have been involved in construction at the World Trade Center site, who did not want to speak on the record because of their relationship with the project, said Mr. Calatrava’s designs were problematic, too, calling for hugely difficult construction, including a vast underground chamber.

This criticism strikes me as so misplaced as to be bordering on ridiculous. If Calatrava’s design was problematic and difficult, the Port Authority was under no obligation to use that design rather than any other. Don’t pick a design that’s impractical (and was obviously impractical from day one) and then blame the designer for it. PICK A DIFFERENT DESIGN.

Chris C September 25, 2013 - 6:06 pm


As I said above he was working to a PA provided brief. The PA approved the designs he provided – and the subsequent changes THEY made. Blame them not Senor Calatrava

Benjamin Kabak September 25, 2013 - 6:08 pm

From what I’ve been told, the subsequent changes are not things the PA could have rejected if they wanted a building. Yes, they put themselves in this bind, but Calatrava bears enough of the blame as well.

D. Graham September 25, 2013 - 7:59 pm

$4 billion….that could have extended LIRR from Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn to lower Manhattan. That total could have extended NJT from Hoboken to lower Manhattan. That total could have extended AirTrain to lower Manhattan.

Point is all of the talk after 9/11 about improving transit and they paid billions for a hub instead of putting the billions new and improved transit infrastructure.

Spendmore Wastemore September 25, 2013 - 10:00 pm

Total GDP of Greenland, $2 billion.

One subway station, $4 billion. A station with five tracks and three platforms.

Vote in the clowns and keep payin’, suckas!

Alon Levy September 27, 2013 - 11:30 pm

Total population of Greenland: 56,000

Total population of the Upper East Side: 200,000

Frank September 25, 2013 - 10:36 pm

I think people who criticize this project kind of miss the point. While the cost today might be staggering, the WTC Mall and station is a long-term investment. There maybe a reason why it costs so much, it doesn’t cost 4 billion for no reason. The mall is going to be two levels instead of one level so that may be one reason. The PATH station of course is going to be larger but one must note that the old PATH station was at capacity in its last years, so they are building it so it can handle more people.

I don’t think criticizing these projects really get anybody anywhere. While some of the points may be valid, if we keep hearing bad news about Mega-Projects, people will increasingly oppose these projects and we may get nothing done anymore.

SEAN September 26, 2013 - 12:51 am

While some of the points may be valid, if we keep hearing bad news about Mega-Projects, people will increasingly oppose these projects and we may get nothing done anymore.

I’ve made that point before & it’s really concerning as transformitive projects are nessessary to keep the NYC & the nationwide econemy moving foward. You are starting to see ripples like this in Verginia over the Silver Line & the general funding of the WMATA as the republican governor has considered withdrawing all funding.

Nathanael September 28, 2013 - 3:11 am

The cost of the PATH station is almost entirely due to Calatrava’s rejection of columns.

A grand *classical* design full of Corinthian columns would have cost a lot less.

Nyland8 September 27, 2013 - 1:10 pm

While I fully understand why these topics of cost equivalencies crop up on a transportation blog, I can’t help feeling our energies are misdirected, quibbling over what is, in the grand scheme of things, a pittance of money.

This country continues to build M1A1 Abrams tanks, and the army insists it neither needs nor wants them. As of last October, it has thousands of them rusting away around the country, and most of the upgraded models are less than 4 years old. At a cost of around $7.5M each, that’s … well … you do the math. And equivalent examples of totally wasteful “defense” spending are legion. The people employed in the “defense industry” could be just as easily building train cars as tanks.

For the price of the ill-begotten Iraq war, we could have built alabaster transportation palaces in every borough, upgraded every inch of the subway system, doubled its size – and done the same thing to every other system in the country. When extended to include decades of medical treatment to our damaged vets, some project the total cost of that war to exceed $6 Trillion. That 6 TRILLION … with a “T” … as in “T” Train.

I’ve been waiting for the alleged “peace dividend” since the dissolution of the Soviet Union – which was already a generation ago. Our national priorities are entirely upside down. Until we finally right them, all of our views of infrastructure costs will continue to be distorted.

Nathanael September 28, 2013 - 3:13 am

Entirely true. Which is why I never complain about any domestic expenditure at the *federal* level unless it’s actually *destructive*. The military expenditures, which are 100% waste, I complain about.

At the state and local level, however, we don’t have nearly the same level of “excessive military funding” problems (despite the militarized police committing crimes against citizens with impunity). So when it’s state or local funds, I do pay more attention to such things.


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