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.