Home PANYNJ Daily News finally discovers Calatrava’s WTC opulence

Daily News finally discovers Calatrava’s WTC opulence

by Benjamin Kabak

White marble surrounds the new Platform A at the WTC PATH Hub. (Photo via @PATHTrain)

Earlier this week, on the same day that the first permanent platform at PATH’s new World Trade Center hub opened, Santiago Calatrava visited NYU’s Rudin Center to discuss his work. While it’s hard these days for Calatrava to find projects to discuss that aren’t subject to lawsuits from disgruntled municipalities, the architect gave a presentation that included a discussion on the PATH Hub. I’m not sure why anyone keeps glorifying Calatrava when his projects tend to bilk taxpayers and suffer from exceedingly high costs, but as the live Tweet stream from the event shows, costs are certainly an acknowledged issue with Calatrava’s work.

Calatrava himself has been very reticent about discussing costs. According to one person at the NYU event, when asked about escalating price tags on another project, Calatrava grew very defensive, and he spoke vaguely about costs escalating due to outside forces. By all accounts, it was not a satisfying answer, but we’ve come to expect that from the person whose Lower Manhattan subway stop has seen costs nearly double from $2.3 billion to well over $4 billion.

Meanwhile, a few blocks south at the PATH Hub, the Port Authority celebrated the opening of Platform A. The new platform retains a part of the World Trade Center’s original slurry wall and will service the WTC-to-Hoboken route. It also features, per the Port Authority, “new lighting, speakers, illuminated signs, escalators and elevators.” It’s also noticeably filled with white marble. It’s so noticeable, in fact, that one New York tabloid finally woke up to the opulence of the design.

The Daily News today has issued a diatribe against the white marble. Their arguments are focused around safety and cleanliness, but a discussion of the costs creep up as well. Calling the thing “lavish, extravagant, foolish and, very surely, dangerous,” the News opined:

This is a disaster in the making, and the Port Authority must stop the madness. After the terror attack destroyed the twin towers, the PA set out to rebuild the PATH station below the World Trade Center using the billions of dollars in federal money sent to the city. No matter how strong the objections, the authority’s six New Jersey commissioners insisted that the new station must be the grandest ever built — even though it carries only 50,000 a day, less than half of the Long Island Railroad’s Penn Station passenger load.

To fulfill its grandiose vision, the PA retained the world’s most over-the-top architect, Santiago Calatrava, a man famous, or infamous, for designing super expensive, eye-catching, sculptural public buildings without regard to their functionality….Calatrava would be just the guy you don’t want designing a New York station. It has long been known that this PATH station was going to be overbuilt. What was not known until its unveiling was that Calatrava sold the PA on cladding top, sides and bottom in white Italian marble.

While the authority insists that the floors (wet or dry) meet or exceed all safety standards, everyone knows that water makes marble slippery. That’s why the owners of office towers with marble lobbies roll out mats on wet days. That why the Metropolitan Transportation Authority uses concrete, tile or granite in the floors of its 468 stations… At this point, the PA has put only one white marble platform into use. The station has three more platforms. Now is the time to switch to a different material for all of them, something more suitable for commuters running for trains, not that anybody does that much in New York.

The Daily News point almost misses the forest for the trees. Marble isn’t absurd only because it’ll get dirty and may be slippery; Italian marble is absurd because it carries with it an astronomical cost. It’s probably too late for the Port Authority to do anything about the materials used, and at this point, the costs aren’t going down. The train has long ago left that proverbial station, but at least someone is paying attention to this convoluted mess of a subway station rebuild.

You may also like


adirondacker12800 February 27, 2014 - 2:41 pm

How much more does marble cost compared to tile? Not much more. Not that they should have used it but it doesn’t cost billions more than tile.

lawhawk February 27, 2014 - 6:15 pm

Marble generally costs more than ceramic or porcelain tile.

But we’re not just talking the floors, which per platform are about 15 feet wide by 800 feet long (ballpark). That’s 12,000 square feet per platform.

If you’ve got a $10 per sf installed tile, that’s $120k per platform.

This marble? Could be $30-50 per sf, installed, but all I’ve been able to find online is a 2012 minutes on PANYNJ voting to approve a $5m contract with Port Morris Tile and Marble to do work at the site.

Thing is that the PANY isn’t only cladding the transit hub in this marble, but it appears to be the material of choice for all of the mall being built in and around the transit hub. They want to convey a high end facility, regardless of costs.

What’s perhaps the most galling is that the PANY said that they’d undertake a cost reevaluation years back when the costs were already up 50% from the $2.2b to $3.4 range. They said that they’d scale back Calatrava’s plans and look for ways to reduce costs.

It doesn’t look like they’ve done that at all.

Eric February 28, 2014 - 4:19 am

When your cost overrun is in the billions, saving $120,000 on marble vs tiles is completely beside the point. How about we prosecute the managers and contractors who stole billions on this project. With a $1 billion cost overrun, you could plate the station not just with marble but with gold.

Clarke February 28, 2014 - 9:29 am

Didn’t they cut back the stegosaurus a little bit from the original plans? That must have saved a million or two

Gary Reilly February 27, 2014 - 2:47 pm

Marble floors

Gary Reilly February 27, 2014 - 2:48 pm

Perhaps powdered graphite was unavailable.

JJJJ February 27, 2014 - 2:59 pm

Was a cost benefit analysis done?

Perhaps more riders, and happier riders is worth the cost.

Yes, we COULD build everything out of dirt, but we dont because there are high emotional/mental costs.

Mental care is expensive in this country. Maybe marble is a cheap way to help cure stress and anxiety problems.

Benjamin Kabak February 27, 2014 - 3:00 pm


Jerrold February 27, 2014 - 3:56 pm

He MUST be talking tongue-in-cheek.

Elvis Delgado February 27, 2014 - 4:08 pm

Inarticulate to some degree, but there’s a germ of a point here… There are countless compromises between the two extremes of “cheapest way possible” and “spare no expense”, and a cost-benefit analysis is often a good way of settling on the best. There are benefits, both tangible and intangible, associated with the level of finishes that are being installed here, and while I would bet a considerable sum that they are NOT EVEN CLOSE to worth it, I would also bet that this premise was never rigorously tested.

Unless people take some care when they propose to spend billions of dollars, a lot of that will be wasted (i.e. benefit will be less than the cost). Sometimes it makes sense to spend money – even a lot of it – but it never makes sense to spend it without having thoroughly thought it through.

SEAN February 27, 2014 - 4:29 pm

This is the replacement of the WTC & that was all the thaught that went into it.

Elvis Delgado February 27, 2014 - 4:39 pm

I would also add, as a corollary, that a “gut reaction” in either directly is unlikely to provide as good an answer as we deserve. When there are billions of dollars being spent, such reactions as “happier riders is worth the cost” or “this is a disaster in the making” are equally suspect unless there is some hard analysis to back it up.

bens March 2, 2014 - 12:53 am

People do seem to love the over-the-top opulent stations of the Moscow Metro, which are at least as fancy if not fancier than this one (crystal chandeliers!).

boerumhillscott February 27, 2014 - 3:07 pm

Insert my standard rant about how calling this a “subway station rebuild” is misleading.

Yes, it was hugely underestimated from both a time and cost perspective and suffers from a close to total lack of transparency, but the project goes well beyond the PATH station, which is being rebuilt from the platform up.

The real story here is why/how the Port Authority is building the most expensive office complex ever, which the “Transit Hub” is an integral part of.

Also, any time the costs are mentioned, it should also be mentioned that around $1 billion has already been made up for by Westfield’s purchase of the mall portion of the project, not to mention lease rates of the office buildings.

The bottom line is despite the name of the project, it is about high end commercial real estate first and transit second.

Bolwerk February 27, 2014 - 3:53 pm

What’s a rail track doing in that hospital?

BoerumHillScott February 27, 2014 - 3:58 pm

Ha, on a more personal note I use the station everyday, and when I got off on the new platform I felt like I might go blind from all the light reflected off the walls and floor.

lawhawk February 27, 2014 - 7:51 pm

Snow blindness isn’t just for now. Now available at the WTC PATH transit hub. At least until the marble becomes as dingy as the stuff on the street.

SEAN February 27, 2014 - 8:06 pm

It’s not snow blindness, rather it’s mall blindness or Westfield blindness. Take your pick.

Jerrold February 27, 2014 - 3:54 pm

I could say, like HE did, “insert my standard rant”, but maybe there are some new people here.

We used to have the Twin Towers, now we will have the twin boondoggles: The Fulton Center and the Calatrava Center.

Larry Littlefield February 27, 2014 - 3:58 pm

Let’s go to the videotape.

Rich Municipal Arts Society types decide that other people’s money is no object, and see this as a chance to reshape the world in their image.

The result is a ridiculously impractical and expensive Daniel Libeskind skyscraper and a ridiculously expensive and impractical Santiago Calatrava train terminal.

The 100-year-old leaseholder Larry Silverstein (well perhaps not 100) realizes that even with subsidies up the wazoo and overpriced government leases, the Libeskind tower doesn’t pencil, and ditches it for a still hugely expensive tower from David Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

But the Port Authority pushed ahead. After all, no one there had to pay for anything. It was all borrowed, and they’ll all be gone.

Now in fairness, lots of the money went for the bathtub and pedestrian tunnel, not for the marble. But still. They should have just rebuilt Hudson Terminal, with one of the towers larger than the rest.

SEAN February 27, 2014 - 4:23 pm

Let’s go to the videotape.

Rich Municipal Arts Society types decide that other people’s money is no object, and see this as a chance to reshape the world in their image.

Could someone please explane to me this hatred towards groups like the MAS? I don’t understand it.

If the WTC station were an empty shell, the Daily News would complain how money wasn’t being spent on the transit system.

Benjamin Kabak February 27, 2014 - 4:25 pm

You know there’s a middle ground between “empty shell” and $4.3 billion marble-lined station, right?

SEAN February 27, 2014 - 7:58 pm

Of corse I do ben, that was my point regarding the Daily News. But you didn’t answer my other question relating to the dislike of the MAS & similar groups.

AlexB February 27, 2014 - 4:32 pm

The tower and station are too expensive, but not really impractical.

John-2 February 27, 2014 - 4:01 pm

Any bets on when the first leaks start showing up on the walls and platform?

BoerumHillScott February 27, 2014 - 4:04 pm

The temporary station area needs a bunch of garbage cans positioned at stategic points to catch water every time it rains, although more closer to the fare control area and not really any at the parts that are under the memorial plaza.

AlexB February 27, 2014 - 4:31 pm

The station is inside the WTC slurry wall “bathtub” that still keeps groundwater out of the original WTC site. It could still leak, but it’s not as likely.

John-2 February 28, 2014 - 12:31 am

Is it ‘part of’ the slurry wall, or merely ‘attached to’ the slurry wall?

If it’s the latter, odds are there are going to be gaps where water from street level is going to be able to leach through, along of course with the PATH station’s ceiling itself, if the same care to waterproofing was done here as with the construction of lower South Ferry.

You’d assume for the money spent, the station’s water protection efforts would be as thorough as that of the bathtub wall. My guess is the water stains in the marble will start showing up before the full PATH hub ever opens.

AlexB February 28, 2014 - 11:09 am

What I mean is that during the original construction of the WTC, the Port Authority excavated a trench around the entire site and built a concrete wall (the slurry wall exposed in the PATH station) all the way to the bedrock – a kind of reverse bathtub for groundwater. This allowed them to build the whole complex without disturbing the water content in the soil of neighboring properties and disrupting their foundations. On the flip side, it also means the whole area has a lower or nonexistent water table relative to the rest of lower Manhattan. The South Ferry station is underground with water pressing against it from all sides all the time, almost as though it were built at the bottom of a shallow lake. The WTC PATH station is underground and rain water seeps down to the tunnel structure, but it’s not under constant water pressure in the same way. At least, that’s my understanding of what the slurry wall is.

SEAN February 27, 2014 - 4:11 pm

Sounds crazy, but I like it.

volthar February 27, 2014 - 4:23 pm

Nothing too good for New Jerseyans.

AlexB February 27, 2014 - 4:43 pm

I don’t really have a problem with them spending money on nicer finishes and I don’t think that’s responsible for the massive cost of the station. I walked through the passageway to Brookfield recently and it was really nice. I’d be more than happy if they spent money to make the passage from Times Square to the ACE look like that. Looking forward to the shops and the rest of the station opening up, from West St to Williams

bens March 2, 2014 - 12:57 am

Yes; the marble is really small fries compared to the really expensive stuff, which is all the specially made steel for the “ribs” and “wings” of the Calatrava design. If you’re going to complain about waste, complain about that. Wall-to-wall marble (including marble floors!) isn’t too good for Grand Central.

Larry Greenfield February 27, 2014 - 5:02 pm

Makes me wonder who the Port Authority reports to and what sort of financial and managerial controls are in place. If neither governor is watching closely, or if each thinks the other is, cost-be-damned approaches like this are inevitable.
I think it’s way past time to re-think the entire structure and purpose of the Port Authority. I mean, why should the MTA rail properties be starved for funds and the (lightly-traveled) PATH station be getting all the public’s money?

Brooklyn Cowbell Guy February 27, 2014 - 5:31 pm

Wet marble is gonna be great on a rainy day.

Next time PATH wants a fare hike, someone better point out that they threw away tons on marble floors.

Scott E February 27, 2014 - 5:55 pm

Looking at that blinding photo, the most significant omission is that of a yellow tactile strip at the edge of the platform. Maybe over time, when the trackbed gets dirty and disgusting, the contrast will be there. But for now, I’m waiting for a story of someone whose distracted by a cellphone, a newspaper, or a mob of people accidentally stepping off of that precipice and (hopefully not) getting hit by a train.

BrooklynBus February 27, 2014 - 6:33 pm

I have another question. I thought the mandated ADA color for edging was that horrible yellow that always looks dirty.
So will the Port Authority decide to rip out the gray edging and later replace it with yellow to further increase costs?

Chris C February 27, 2014 - 7:09 pm

The grey edging looks like it is dimpled tiles aka tactile paving which I think are acceptable for US railways.

Yellow strips don’t cater for the blind but the dimpled tiles do.

tsarchitect February 27, 2014 - 7:06 pm

There’s a lot of marble in the subway stations in Russia, even Sergei Sobyanin’s new low-budget approach for Moscow. Compared to the custom steel vierendeel trusses and the hedgehog, this is pennies.

On the other hand, we had a saying at one place I worked: “Put the money where the architecture is.” It is very strange to use this much marble in a place that is really transitory. Grand Central’s waiting room is marble, not the platforms. You get more bang for your buck.

adirondacker12800 February 28, 2014 - 12:59 am

…well they put the marble in the waiting room at the World Trade Center too. ( it’s a subway station, you wait for your train on the platform. Not everybody is a daytime drone departing when there is a train every three minutes )

BrooklynBus February 27, 2014 - 7:47 pm

I was talking about the yellow dimpled strips. I thought the color was mandated because the old small dimpled strips which I believe were grey with an orange strip on each side at Penn Station were ripped out for the larger yellow ones.

JJJ February 27, 2014 - 10:46 pm

You are correct. The color itself isnt mandated, contrast is. Thats why you see yellow or red.

So yes, youre looking at a lawsuit.

SEAN February 28, 2014 - 2:12 pm

At first blush it may seme that way, however as long as there is enough contrast, gray tiles in a generally white setting should work despite not being ideal. These decisions must pass legal muster before being aproved.

R.V. February 27, 2014 - 11:17 pm

The price tag is high indeed, however much it has to do with building the 1,9 train tunnel first then having to underpin it and build the station around the tunnel box. In hindsight this was a mistake.

As for the actual station I think it will be beautiful although expensive. I think time will tell if this will be a complete boondoggle or not.

BoerumHillScott February 28, 2014 - 8:14 am

Don’t forget having to build the memorial Plaza, pools, and museum first, then building the rest of the complex under them.

Jerrold February 28, 2014 - 2:44 pm

If in hindsight it was a mistake, then what SHOULD they have done?
NOT put back the #1 train service until all the other work could be completed?

bens March 2, 2014 - 1:00 am

Well, yeah. The 1 in lower Manhattan is 100% redundant with the R anyway.

Spendmor Wastemor February 28, 2014 - 1:17 am

We’re in sad times when you have to reach for the tabloids to get a half honest story.

mmm, make that sad Times

paulb March 5, 2014 - 1:58 pm

There are plenty of marble floors, and if they were really such a hazard I’m sure it would be reflected in insurance rates and I haven’t seen anyone supply this as evidence of a problem.

I would do without the grandeur underground, but, pending seeing it finished, I’m glad for the crazy entry building. I still miss the twin towers and it looks like this will be the only new building at ground zero that doesn’t blandly restate the same architecture tropes seen in the latest constructions all over the city.

I know it’s a bread vs. circuses argument that goes on and on, but the more important problem I think is the overruns and delays in other projects Ben is always reporting on, even ones without the public-monument aspirations. I’m glad for this one eccentric and different building, even if it is costing more than something simply functional. Once again, I want to see it when it’s finished, but if it’s what I hope for, I think I will really enjoy the sight.

paulb March 5, 2014 - 2:20 pm

Incidentally, I agree about Moynihan at Farley. Don’t want it, don’t need it.


Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy