Home PANYNJ The best excerpts from NY Mag’s Calatrava profile

The best excerpts from NY Mag’s Calatrava profile

by Benjamin Kabak
The $4 billion PATH Hub will star to open later this year. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Santiago Calatrava’s PATH Hub soars through the Lower Manhattan sky. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Much like the PATH’s new World Trade Center Hub itself, every new article about the absurdly expensive subway stop and the man who designed it is superfluous. We learned from a thorough Times investigation late last year that everyone — from the governors of New Jersey and New York to Mayor Bloomberg to the MTA and the 1 train to the Port Authority to Santiago Calatrava — bears some responsibility from the $4 billion boondoggle. Yet, Calatrava can’t help himself, and when the media comes a-knockin’, he’s the first person in line to attempt to defend himself from charges of egotism and excess in the realm of capital-A Architecture.

The latest entry in the media coverage surrounding the Spanish architect and the world’s most expensive subway station comes to us via a New York Magazine profile. Similar to the coverages in The Times this winter, it offloads enough blame on the shoulders of long-gone state officials and Port Authority executives to make its point, but it also serves, for some reason, as a platform for Santiago Calatrava and his supporters to pat themselves on the back for a job not too poorly done. Andrew Rice, a contributing editor with the magazine, spends a lot of time doting over Calatrava and his design, and while the building makes for an impressive sight, it’s still just a subway station.

I’ve had my say on the PATH Hub over the years. At a time when transit dollars are scarce, spending $4 billion on a mall-cum-subway stop will always seem irresponsible to me, even when the building is open and, in the eyes of many, a commercial success. For nearly the same amount of money, we could have had a new phase for the Second Ave. Subway, most of the worst-case scenario ARC overruns covered, or numerous other capacity-adding transit projects. Instead we have this, and it should serve as a lesson to future generations of politicians and bureaucrats.

But I can’t ignore this piece entirely; it has too many good quotes and lines. So let’s run down some of the best. Try as it might, the New York Magazine piece just can’t help itself from casting doubt on all of Calatrava’s detractors, and the results are something to behold.

The question remains, however, whether it will all have been worth $4 billion. Calatrava’s patrons at the Port Authority no longer seem convinced. “If we were looking at it today,” says Patrick Foye, the agency’s executive director, “we might come to different judgments about how those dollars ought to be spent.” In private, Foye is apparently openly hostile to the project. “He thinks it’s a boondoggle,” says a former government official who remains engaged with the redevelopment of the World Trade Center.

Calatrava is walking away with a nice chunk of change at the expense of taxpayers:

An STV spokeswoman confirms that Calatrava’s firm has a 20 percent share of the contract, which indicates he has made around $83 million to date. Calatrava told me that it wasn’t his job to monitor the budget. “It is very difficult,” he said. “I have never estimated anything in this project, because there was a whole team, maybe 25 people, working the whole time on cost estimation and cost control. But I kept looking at those fellows and telling them this is like geology: You only know what you have under your feet when you excavate.”

Meanwhile, the Port Authority thinks its crap don’t stink:

“It’s the most architecturally complex structure ever built by humankind,” said Steven Plate, the PA’s director of construction at the World Trade Center. “But it’s a piece of art.” … “I think we are even more beautiful and more functional than Grand Central station,” Plate said. Though he is a civil engineer, he is no political neophyte — he used to be the mayor of Glen Ridge, New Jersey — and when he escorted me into the areas still under construction, he seemed intent on sending a calculated message: This isn’t our building’s fault.

Finally, my two favorite — both of which feature some adult language in the form of the F word:

Recently, at a public talk that was later widely circulated as a web video, the architects Michael Graves and Peter Eisenman offered a scathing assessment, accusing him of “arrogance” and immoderation. “Cala-fucking-trava! My God, what a waste,” Graves said. “?‘I will make wings for you, and this subway station will cost $4 billion’ … Meanwhile, the kids don’t have erasers on their pencils.”

Of course, you can simultaneously admire the design’s ambition and wonder whether it was worthwhile. “He’s one of the great designers,” says Mitchell Moss, director of NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation. “But this is a fucking train to Jersey.”

And Moss’ words are, in a nutshell, what this whole thing was all about. It’s just a station for a subway with seven stops in New Jersey.

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John-2 March 13, 2015 - 12:28 am

“I think we are even more beautiful and more functional than Grand Central station,” Plate said.

How to win friends and influence people 101 — If the cost overruns and delays don’t have people in the New York metro area mad at the Port Authority, Calatrava and those supporting him, incredibly hubristic quotes like that will do the trick.

Tim March 13, 2015 - 8:01 am

Yeah, GCT is a world-famous architectural creation, with the added benefit of a much, much more impactful effect on moving people in and out of the city, combining 5 subway lines and 3 commuter lines that serve over a hundred miles of track in two states. The PATH terminal is just a glorified subway station that has, at most, two different service options.

They should’ve spent the money to tunnel to Atlantic Ave ,as so many have pointed out.

Nathanael March 14, 2015 - 12:24 pm

So far, from the published interior photos and what I’ve seen personally of the exterior…

the monument to Calatrava’s ego is HIDEOUS. People will be asking to have it torn down, but it’ll be too expensive.

Say what you will about Fulton Center, but I think most would agree that it’s rather pretty. I can’t say the same for the Calatrava… thing.

Phantom March 13, 2015 - 6:03 am

I pass the structure every morning.

It looks ugly to me, out of place.

The already- rusting wings look like they could have structural problems down the line.

Jeremy March 13, 2015 - 8:44 am

That’s what structural steel looks like before it’s painted. The welded joints haven’t been painted over yet. Take a look at the new columns going up at 3 WTC next door. Same color.

I too pass it every day, but have the opposite reaction. It was never meant to be “just a train station,” isolated from the context of the rest of the WTC site. Describing it as such is a flaccid argument in my opinion.

j.b. diGriz March 13, 2015 - 11:40 am

Ha, well then, if that’s the case I can’t imagine something that would be more out of context with the surrounding site.

And seriously, the way people so casually treat FOUR BILLION in transit dollars…more people should be absolutely livid. I take the PATH daily and it’s infuriating to think that we could have had service expansion as well as a perfectly serviceable WTC subway station.

I love the quote from some past commentator: ‘Before the PA raises PATH fares further, I want someone to explain to me the marble platform floors.’

BruceNY March 14, 2015 - 1:15 pm

And all of the lawsuits from all of the slips and falls people will experience on such a slippery surface. Let’s calculate how much settlement money will be needed for that for the next ten or fifteen years.

Michaelk March 13, 2015 - 7:47 am

Maybe they expect to make it the primary station for through running LIRR Brooklyn Division and NJT Hoboken Division. Ha.

Larry Littlefield March 13, 2015 - 8:37 am

Lots of people buzzing around public policy like to pretend that money is just dropping from the sky, and isn’t being diverted from someone or something else, when pursuing their own self interest or vision.

I can give you many examples of this on the spending side in NY, and many examples on the tax cut side elsewhere.

When the money is borrowed or the costs deferred (pensions), and so the victims don’t take the hit until years after the getaway, it becomes irresistible.

BoerumHillScott March 13, 2015 - 10:32 am

I still don’t get why this project gets so much hate and not the entire WTC. All of the overruns roll up to the same PA budget.

It is horribly over budget and behind schedule, but no more so than any other component of the WTC.

In addition, a large part of the expense of this project was directly driven by the design of the overall WTC complex:
1) The decision to rebuild as a unified complex, not an independent collection of buildings.
2) The decision to rebuild with the same approximate square footage as the original complex.
3) The decision to open up the site at street level and not have a platform to house the concourse level (like the original WTC).

The combination of these three meant that there would be a lot of expensive underground work required, including under the 1 line and on the eastern half of the site that saw minimal underground work for the original WTC.

Once those decisions were made, there was no way that bare bones would have been built for under $2 billion in NYC.
Tack on anther $1 billion for a gold plated mall and nicer connections (which Westfield ended up paying for), $750 for the extravagant above ground structure, and $750 million for general stupidity, and you get where we are now.

On a side note, keeping the temp station as is was never possible once the decision was made to rebuild the WTC. Even ignoring the horrible state of the platforms and the need to build over them, the entrance and fare control would have had to been moved multiple times as construction progressed.

lawhawk March 13, 2015 - 10:44 am

Much of the construction delays can be traced directly to the PANY. While they love to blame Silverstein for the delays, Silverstein showed that he could rebuild early and often (7WTC was built before all the rest) – and with minimal PANY interference).

Pataki pushed the Libeskind master plan after the PANY plan alternatives by Beyer Blinder and Belle all were panned (though they were all far more cohesive and made more sense than the Libeskind plan. Heck, Libeskind never did a major skyscraper project before the WTC rebuild (and arguably he still hasn’t since he’s not the architect of record on any of the buildings – only the placement of the buildings). That led to delays. Then they had design competitions for the memorial and that led to delays.

Frankly, Norman Foster’s Kissing Towers would have made more sense – since it would have gotten the skyscrapers rebuilt – utilized a similar footprint to the original twin towers, and allowed the rest of the space to be used for a memorial.

The temporary station was built with permanence in mind – it has to be demolished in order to build the new one – rather than temporarily bolted together – everything was built with concrete and no cost controls in mind. And arguably the temporary station did a better job of getting passengers off the platforms to the mezzanine than the permanent setup does.

BoerumHillScott March 13, 2015 - 1:27 pm

I totally agree that the master plan chosen drove a lot of the costs.

The temp station also has a lot of plywood and buckets to catch water, and no matter what they built it of the fare control and entrances (including escalator banks) would have to be moved a couple time.

The traffic flow is so bad now on platform A because it is the narrowest one, and everyone has to exit the mezzanine at one end instead of the side and end as will eventually be the case.

Nathanael March 14, 2015 - 12:26 pm

OK, yes, there were a lot of bad money-wasting decisions made at the WTC site. No argument there.

I’m not sure why nobody proposed rebuilding Hudson Terminal. While engaging in grand, wasteful gestures, it would have made a lot more sense than what was actually done.

lawhawk March 13, 2015 - 10:37 am

I too walk past it every day, and I commute via PATH daily. My concern is that the interior spaces that are already open to the public are showing wear and tear at a rather alarming rate, which means that the finishings will simply not hold up under the meager traffic seen to date (only one platform is partially open during rush hour to HOB-WTC traffic; everyone else is still using the temporary platforms).

The marble was an exceptionally poor choice for flooring as it shows every spill that isn’t immediately cleaned and every scuff mark, scratch, pit becomes dingy in just a few months time. It’s an awful choice for flooring, and the entire place is to be covered in it.

That’s just the aesthetics.

The platforms are poorly served by inadequate number of stairs/escalators. This is especially bad for those who counter-commute (going to NJ in the AM, coming to NY in the PM) since the escalators are set for the primary rush hour direction, and it takes an inordinately long time to exit the platforms under normal conditions.

The above-ground structures will definitely make their mark on the landscape, but I just don’t see where the money was spent. I don’t get it. PATH didn’t get any added capacity. PATH didn’t get more tracks to NJ. PATH didn’t get anything other than a marble station and underground commercial complex. The architectural design is a wonder to behold because of the massive engineering involved to have all that clear space underground (few columns), but that was at massive cost.

A simple head-house would have saved some, but not all the money. And in the end, the PANY wanted an architectural feature, and they got it.

And we get left holding the tab.

D in Bushwick March 13, 2015 - 3:39 pm

They (we) will regret that marble very quickly. Why it was chosen for such a demanding situation will require more money to fix.
But the station will become the WTC symbol and just holes in the plaza for an entry likely wouldn’t have saved much money.
What MTA project doesn’t go way, way over budget? It’s in their genes.

David Brown March 13, 2015 - 11:23 am

Almost everyone knows this is a “White Elephant.” But the reality is 25 years from now we would have heard terms like “Lost Opportunity.” and waxing poetic over it. Is this right? Maybe not, but it is also a reality ( see all the “Tears” over the torn down Penn Station and the demands to recreate it ( costs be damned)). Until more “Cost/Benefit Analysis iare used and our “So-Called Leaders” are willing to stand up and say NO to such projects ( or we go bankrupt), nothing will change.

j.b. diGriz March 13, 2015 - 11:43 am

It’s not just about saying no. It’s lazy and easy just to say no. It’s about saying Hell No, and THIS is what we could get for the same money.

Nathanael March 14, 2015 - 12:28 pm

Nope. This is a Tweed Courthouse. It may be a grand building (the Tweed Courthouse is, Calatrava’s porcupine isn’t), but it’s mainly remembered as a symbol of corruption and waste — *over 100 years later*.

Nathanael March 14, 2015 - 12:30 pm

One of the things about the Tweed Courthouse is that although it’s a grand building, it is in a certain sense nothing special. There’s no brilliance to it, no genius, no elegance — it’s just a display of what money could buy during that period. And it shows it, aesthetically.

The same is going on with the Calatrava porcupine.

Nathanael March 14, 2015 - 12:32 pm

(I should say that the final part of the Tweed Courthouse, completed on-budget by Leopold Eidlitz, has some aesthetic merit. The original part, which went way over budget and was unfinished, designed by John Kellum, is what I’m referring to.)

Bill Lawrence March 13, 2015 - 12:27 pm

4 billion dollars on 1 train station.

With that money NYC could have:
a) built several streetcars lines (over 100 miles) in all five boroughs, reducing pollution, and still have funds left over to expand on ferry services in the East River and Hudson River. or
b) extended the second ave subway into the Bronx and Brooklyn. or
c) connected the Metro North south into Atlantic Terminal and built the airtrain in Queens to LaGuardia. or
d) built several new train stations along the Metro North and Long Island Rail Road. or
e) extended the L or 7 train into NJ. or

Invested in anything else that is truly valuable to all New Yorkers than this eyesore and inappropriate use of funds.

Douglas John Bowen March 13, 2015 - 2:12 pm

Thus affirming, with your own stated preferences, your personal disdain for things related to New Jersey. Easy-joke territory, to be sure. Ba-dump bump.

Really, I get the point even on this matter, and it’s no shock to find out PA officials share the down-your-nose attitude. But the thinly veiled enjoyment expressed, far from cementing your otherwise excellent protests and analyses on this matter, instead dilutes same.

Benjamin Kabak March 13, 2015 - 2:27 pm

So disdainful of New Jersey that I’m still upset about the cancellation of the ARC Tunnel and the total lack of movement on additional trans-Hudson capacity. OK then!

Sub in Brooklyn or Queens or Manhattan or Staten Island if you prefer. No one warrants a $4 billion subway stop.

adirondacker12800 March 13, 2015 - 2:54 pm

They’ve been moving all sorts of things.


Benjamin Kabak March 13, 2015 - 3:04 pm

Maybe “total lack of movement” was a touch of hyperbole, but they haven’t been moving fast enough to get the feds to open up the check book. I’ll have more on that next week.

lawhawk March 13, 2015 - 3:34 pm

There was a report today in the WSJ about how NJ reps think that there might be money in Obama’s proposed budget that would help get Gateway underway. I don’t see it happening given the GOP control in Congress – and this one project would dwarf all the other projects in cost, but would still come out ahead in cost/benefit due to the number of people this one line would handle.

NY and NJ have to pony up to make this happen, and I don’t see either Christie or Cuomo being able to do so, not when their respective state budgets are looking iffy even without the one-shots and other gimmicks to close their revenue gaps.

adirondacker12800 March 13, 2015 - 3:56 pm

GOP Congresscritters and Senators go to Manhattan to schmooze contributors. And Philadelphia now and then. It’s why their comments on how evil trains have an asterick in them about excluding places where it makes sense like the NEC.

VLM March 13, 2015 - 2:36 pm

Come on, Dougie. You don’t think our collective disgust as this absurdly egotistical Calatrava vanity project is rooted in infantile disdain for “things related to New Jersey”? A former NJ-ARP head should know better than to project feelings of state inferiority unto perfectly valid criticism of a boondoggle.

Bgriff March 13, 2015 - 4:05 pm

My favorite part is how we apparently have the MTA, at Fulton St. Transit Center, and the PANYNJ competing for an Apple Store location 1 block apart. Both have reserved a spot for it. Only one will get it. What do you bet they compete to drive down each others’ rent offers and we all lose?

BoerumHillScott March 13, 2015 - 4:35 pm

Westfield leased and manages all the retail space at Fulton and WTC.

In theory at least, neither the MTA nor PATH have say over who goes into specific spaces.

sonicboy678 March 13, 2015 - 4:09 pm

Let me put it this way: If you’re going to sink $4 billion on what is essentially a subway terminus, it had better have more connections than the Times Square/PABT subway hub. Oh, and it had better not have incredibly stupid things which would decimate capacity or general functionality.

Jerrold March 13, 2015 - 5:22 pm

About those figures:

Is that 83 million figure supposed to be the 20 percent share of the more than 4 billion?
Then shouldn’t it be over eight HUNDRED million?

Subutay Musluoglu March 13, 2015 - 7:46 pm

I think the $83 Million is meant to be 20% of the design contract, which would be split between Calatrava, AECOM and STV. That works out to a design contract of $415 million. I’m not sure if that’s the correct current value for the design portion of the project, but it sounds about right if you follow the accepted rule of thumb of design costs to be 10-15% of most civil projects. $400 M is 10% of $4 Billion.

Rich M March 14, 2015 - 12:26 am

There is currently one island platform and one track in service in the new terminal with the second track blocked off at the platform edge with a plywood wall. The space between the warnings strips at the platform edges is not much more than 10′ wide!!! The artists renditions show platforms with escalators and stairs side by side when in reality there is barely enough room for a single esaclator. I was there on a Sunday and the crowds were such that if the plywood wall had not been there you got the feeling that people would have been falling into the tracks. What a F****** disaster this place is. I think of the spaciousness of the old terminal at the WTC and I just cannot believe how something like this could have happened. It’s all VANITY


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