Blowhard, Esq. writes:
In part one of our 9/11 Memorial Visit, Paleo Retiree did an excellent job analyzing the disaster that is the park. In my tour I’d like to focus on the two main set pieces of the area: Santiago Calatrava’s still-in-progress Transportation Hub and the Memorial Pools. What do the monuments convey? How do they fit into the surrounding urban fabric? First, let’s take a look at the Calatrava. We started at Brookfield Place — a tony mall with a very good food court. It’s supposed to recall a dove taking flight but the way it’s oriented makes it look like bony mosquito trying to suck on those trees.
The only interior portion designed by Calatrava that’s currently finished is the underground concourse that connects Brookfield Place to the PATH trains. The actual interior the transport hub above is still under construction, but we’ll get to that in a moment. After descending an escalator we arrived in the gleaming white concourse that looks like something out of THX 1138.
The ceiling is low here, but a few more feet ahead and the space opens up.
Calatrava sure digs those curving white spires, doesn’t he? The ribbing on the left reminds me of the exposed spinal column on a rotisserie chicken.
I’m guessing the upper balcony on the left will be the scene of a lot of high-class fashion magazine and music video shoots (assuming they still make music videos), but after you admire the impressive engineering there isn’t much else for the imagination to latch on to. Here are some more details from the space from different angles. All these communicate to me are “white,” “swoopy,” and “structural.”
After this space you make your way through some construction areas before emerging into the PATH train station. Then we made our way up an escalator and around some construction barriers to see the transport hub up close.
Good Lord, what an appalling thing. Even up close it reads “skeletal insect” to me. Again, what’s with the excessive whiteness? And what’s so special about swoopy-doopiness? Does this have anything to do with New York? Couldn’t you just as easily transpose this to London, Dubai, Beijing, or Tokyo? Keep in mind, this is essentially a railway station, but it has more in common with corporate public art than architecture as it’s traditionally been understood. For the sake of comparison — to consider the opportunity cost — let’s look at the two most beloved railway stations in New York’s history, the Grand Central Terminal and the old Penn Station:
Below is the area that will eventually be the main entrance to the Transport Hub.
It looks like the wing is going to brush up against that building. From this angle I couldn’t help but think of one of the jets slamming into the towers.
Notice how in this “Start Exploring” banner, which is a reference to the concourse above, everyone seems to be rushing through it or looking at their phone.
No surprise to learn that, for all the awesomeness, the showpiece space will eventually be retail — in other words, a flashy shopping mall. In this New York magazine piece, during which Calatrava is likened to both Stanley Kubrick and God, our starchitect proudly notes the space he reserved for a new Apple Store. Grand Central Terminal, which this project’s fans and sponsors like to compare the Transport Hub to, while it may have retail space, didn’t originate as a shopping mall. Here is what the interior will eventually look like.
Next, across the street from the Calatrava, there’s the 9/11 Memorial Park and Memorial Pools. In a comment on his post, Paleo Retiree said that he found the Pools to be “grotesque, vulgar and maudlin” to which I’ll add “morbid, undignified and unintentionally insulting.” They reminded me of the lachrymose outpouring after the death of Princess Diana. I understand that it’s supposed to symbolize hope and rebirth, but all of that plunging water reminded me of the towers falling or the people who jumped. And why on Earth is everything falling into a black abyss? These are not Memorial Pools, they’re Memorial Drains. It’s like everything is being flushed down two enormous toilets.
It was a big event, and a big tragedy, but when you recall that the Vietnam War Memorial or the WWII memorial in D.C. are tiny by comparison, it all seems wildly excessive. No disrespect meant to the victims or their families, of course. In a nod to Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial (Lin was also on the 9/11 Memorial Jury), the victims’ names are listed on the parapets around the Drains, er, Pools.
Turning the two tower footprints into massive fountains, er, Drains, er Pools is the kind of concept that sounds great on paper, and perhaps even looked good in the mock-ups, but is a disaster when executed. Situating them in a plaza without any shape or sense of space, across from a sculptural $4 billion boondoggle-cum-glorified mall, and surrounding them with blinding glass towers all strike me as massive architectural mistakes that will take the city decades to recover from.
But hey, what do I know? The emotional pull of the area might be sufficient in the minds of the public to turn this Memorial Park into one of the most beloved spaces in the city.
- The NYC Department of Parks & Recreation guide to the war memorials around the city.
- Fodor’s on the world’s 20 most beautiful train stations.
Don’t forget that the World Trade Center towers themselves, their plazas and surrounding buildings were about as bad as architecture gets. My work took me to those buildings quite frequently in the early 1970s, before half the buildings were even filled, and they were utterly alienating right out of the box. Totally inhumane. I particularly hated the high narrow windows. But the public areas were cheap and ugly — sort of like the new Penn Station. I can remember many times thinking, as I finally left the zone of WTC’s influence, how grateful I was that I didn’t have an office in that horrid place. The WTC replaced acres of small, crowded commercial blocks of just the sort that urban types adore these days. The WTC’s cycle of destruction began way back in the 1960s, and just keeps going on.
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Maybe it’s best to think of that area as NYC’s ongoing, historical Crap Space.
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