Home Asides Great Moments in Calatrava’s PATH Hub

Great Moments in Calatrava’s PATH Hub

by Benjamin Kabak

As the PATH’s World Trade Center hub opens piece by piece, the city’s architect critics are starting to poke around inside of Santiago Calatrava’s marble-lined subway palace. In a piece scheduled to appear in The Times tomorrow, David Dunlap gives the new Platform A a once over, and he’s not impressed. As Dunlap sums it up, “Clunky fixtures and some rough workmanship in the underground mezzanine of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub…detract from what is meant to be breathtaking grandeur.”

As you read through the rest of Dunlap’s takedown, keep in mind that the structure is still unfinished, but in light of the fact that others have sued Santiago Calatrava over shoddy workmanship, this can hardly be a surprise. Great designs on paper that are tough and expensive to execute are, after all, a hallmark of the architect.

My favorite part of Dunlap’s column, though, comes in the form of a quote from Frank Lorino, one of the architects working for Santiago Calatrava New York/Festina Lente. “We have fought to bring the highest degree of quality to the project,” he said to The Times, “but the concerns of time, budget and scheduling have often taken precedence over quality.” Someone associated with Santiago Calatrava’s $4 billion subway station is complaining about the concerns of budget. I have no further words, your honor.

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23 comments

D in Bushwich March 5, 2014 - 6:12 pm

There is a real misplaced hatred as well as blame for the project delays and extreme cost overruns associated with the Calatrava-designed Hub. It’s a complete exaggeration to blame ALL the problems with this project solely on Calatrava and his designs.
Which past or ongoing MTA project hasn’t been way over budget an way past due?
Other huge cities around the world seem to be able to build big, beautiful and functional transit projects.
Why is NYC so incapable of doing as well?

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Benjamin Kabak March 5, 2014 - 6:14 pm

That’s some strawman you’ve created there.

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Bolwerk March 5, 2014 - 7:21 pm

Other countries often settle for pretty small-scale in terms of structural size. New York’s system of having massive trains run in peripheral low-density areas has some obvious inefficiencies.

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Chris C March 5, 2014 - 8:56 pm

Blame the PA for approving the initial design and then changing it to double the number of ‘spikes’ because of ‘security’ and’ resilience’

Sorry but I am getting fed up of the whole blame Caltrava industry when there are others who approved the original designs and then forced changes upon that – they are the ones who are really responsible.

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Benjamin Kabak March 5, 2014 - 9:02 pm

It’s all well and good that you don’t want to blame Calatrava, but I have plenty of sources close to this project who dump a lot of the cost increases on his meddling and his redesigns, not on PA security requirements.

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Chris C March 5, 2014 - 9:11 pm

Sorry Ben but the client – the PA – have the right of approval (or not) of all elements of the project.

They added the ‘beak’ and doubled the number of spines. They are responsible for this and should bear the for the cost increases.

Chris C March 5, 2014 - 9:13 pm

** bear the responsibility

Bolwerk March 5, 2014 - 10:23 pm

No one had to hire him. And I’m not one to say that to defend him.

Eric March 6, 2014 - 5:21 am

“New York’s system of having massive trains run in peripheral low-density areas has some obvious inefficiencies.”

The complaints here are about construction capital costs, not operational costs. And the subways in low-density areas have already been built. Nobody is thinking of building new ones.

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Bolwerk March 6, 2014 - 11:05 am

It’s part of the reason for the high construction costs. Just compare this to this and think about which is easier to build a station for underground in a dense urban area.

I mean, they are snowballing on top of that, but it is part of the problem, especially when condemnation is necessary.

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Eric March 7, 2014 - 4:24 am

NYC subway stations have to be several times longer, because the trains are several times longer. That’s about the only significant difference. And it is compensated for by the ridership which is several times higher (if not ~10 times higher).

Bolwerk March 7, 2014 - 10:18 am

That’s basically reiterating the point I was making. I was only answering D’s question:

Other huge cities around the world seem to be able to build big, beautiful and functional transit projects. Why is NYC so incapable of doing as well?

Basically, New York really is building structures to a larger scale than many places. We get less track length as a result.

But I don’t think it’s just length either. Even in places like London and Paris with similar train lengths, I don’t think they typically build similar station structure sizes in urban construction. (That trains are a bit less wide in other places probably only saves so much, but could be a lot of it means reducing eminent domain takings.)

And it is compensated for by the ridership which is several times higher (if not ~10 times higher).

Than Cologne? Sure. But compared to similarly sized cities ridership generated by km seems rather average or even low to me, and presumably New York’s high labor costs compound that problem.

I basically agree with you about train lengths, but I still think it wouldn’t hurt to consider construction of smaller-scale trains on routes that just won’t generate high ridership.

For example: halving the length of trains like the J/Z and implementing OPTO, turning every conductor into an operator, would mean the exact same ridership could be served with about double the train frequency.

Alon Levy March 8, 2014 - 2:08 am

Cologne is Cologne; but Munich and Berlin’s rapid transit systems have trains as long as New York’s at rush hour because of very high ridership.

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AG March 6, 2014 - 7:21 am

While the Feds were throwing money the PA could have use some of it to fund the PATH extension to the airport. Fact is that the Feds and states involved wanted this over-designed station to be a symbol of American opulence in face of attack… Instead of getting the most bang for the buck. This also took money from extending a tunnel from Atlantic Terminal to lower Manhattan.

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Tower18 March 5, 2014 - 7:12 pm

It very well could be that the budget was too low to execute on Calatrava’s plan. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t enough money available for the project.

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Chris C March 5, 2014 - 9:06 pm

who approved the plan and the budget and the architect and the designs?

That would be the PA who would (should?) have had a shed load of their own quality surveyors and engineers and consultants and uncle Tom Cobley and all etc etc to check the designs before they were approved.

And if the PA didn’t then why the F*** not??? Both the Governors of NY and NY have a role her too

Stop blaming the architect because he followed the specification.

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Rubicondo Fugacis March 5, 2014 - 7:29 pm

I’m going out on a limb here to forecast that in twenty years or so, this station will be so extensively remodeled and reconfigured… for all the above reasons: workmanship, problems with basic utility… that the whole thing will be either a different result or will just be torn down to start over. It doesn’t seem “organic” to the location in the sense of performing the function needed at the time and the place.

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Jerrold March 5, 2014 - 10:42 pm

But how about the various fiascos involving Calatrava’s projects in other countries? The PA had nothing to do with THOSE projects. Why is he being sued all over the place?

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AG March 6, 2014 - 7:15 am

True…. Complaints against him are all over the globe!

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Andy K March 6, 2014 - 12:49 pm

so why did they hire him?

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John-2 March 6, 2014 - 9:18 am

There’s enough blame to go around here, but the main point goes back to why Mr. Highways, Robert Moses, hated vehicular tunnels and loved bridges — you can’t see the tunnel, except for its entrances and vent houses, so there’s no aggrandization possibilities for the person or persons who built it. Why build a monmument to yourself if nobody can see it?

Both the Port Authority and its overseeing politicians wanted a PATH station to remember them by, more than they cared about remebering 9/11, and certainly more than using more of the federal 9/11 funds to upgrade the tunnels or improve rail access to the area the new station would serve. And in Santiago Calatrava they found a design architect whose creations spare no expense when it comes to other people’s money.

The result is likely to end up not as something people look at in awe at the design as much as they look at it as the 21st Century equivalent of another nearby building, the Tweed Courthouse.

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lawhawk March 6, 2014 - 9:29 am

Going back to the start of the rebuilding process, the Port Authority’s own designs for the entire WTC site were preferred options via Beyer Blinder Belle. Once those preferred options (there were six configurations) were made public, the outcry was such that Gov. Pataki moved to make this a public competition, and the winner of that was Libeskind on the master plan, and separate competitions put in place for the museum/memorial.

Reflecting Absence was chosen for the memorial, and pretty quickly it turned out that Libeksind’s ideas for the towers weren’t workable. While the placement of the towers and their heights were largely kept in place, the Port Authority and Silverstein moved to get other architects involved.

The Port Authority chose Calatrava to build the transit hub.

They had $2.2 billion to make this happen.

They blew past the $2.2 billion and never sought to implement the cost controls they claimed they would. That isn’t on Calatrava. That part is on the Port Authority. They chose a design that was far too complex for what is a moderate use station (the original design called for a movable oculus, and that was dropped pretty quickly – about the only good move the Port Authority made here).

But Calatrava isn’t blameless either. His design puts form over function by a wide margin, and his vision constrained the Port Authority once things got underway.

As it is, I think that the actual access to the platforms is inadequate considering the size of the platforms. There is a constant bottleneck at the stairs/escalators. The stairs feel narrower than those at the temporary platforms, and that means people trying to get down to the platform choke the flow even further.

You would have thought passenger flow would have been a paramount concern, but it appears to have been an afterthought. But at least the escalators talk incessantly about not letting children ride alone, not walking or running up the escalators, and holding the handrails.

The materials chosen are just the outward symbol of excess spending, but it’s the execution of the station that is the most troubling aspect. Calatrava thinks that if only more money were spent, he’d get what he envisioned.

What riders and the PANY should be asking is how did we spend this much to get a station that falls short in so many ways.

Still, I imagine that once the main hall is built, I might warm up to the design, but for now, it looks like the Port Authority and Calatrava did a poor job of keeping costs down – and that controlling costs was never part of the bargain.

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miguel aristi October 8, 2014 - 2:40 am

Built Mr. Calatrava dreams is expensive and never conformed to any specifications , steel fabrication is to complex to be conformed to any code . People always focus in overcost problems when speaking about Calatrava projects . I thinks is a mistake , problems beginning after finish the project when you discover then bridges go nowhere or crossing is too dangerous . Structural parts supposed to move never did. Roof problems . Buildings without access to disabled people . Airport whiteout reception hall in places where raining 250 days per year (umbrellas welcome ) and better forget Constitution Bridge in Venice . I see a lot of images of Oculus but I never see the pipes joining the rafters , why , I dont know .

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