Design Changes For The World Trade Center Transit Hub

The biggest transit related story of the day is the design changes that will come to the World Trade Center Transit Hub. Here are some reports about it starting with this one from the New York Times’ David W. Dunlap:

It was to have been an audacious gesture in an already daring design. As envisioned by the architect Santiago Calatrava, the enormous counterpoised wings forming the rooftop of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub were to have opened almost 50 feet wide to the sky, in fine weather and on each anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

“On a beautiful summer day,” Mr. Calatrava said, “the building can work not as a greenhouse but as an open space.”

And on each Sept. 11, he said, the rooftop could open again, “giving us the sense of unprotection.”

The idea of an entire building in movement was startling, but it would not have been the first kinetic work by Mr. Calatrava, who is a sculptor and an engineer. The winglike sunscreen at the Milwaukee Museum of Art opens and closes twice daily, and has become a civic attraction in its own right.

But this morning, Mr. Calatrava’s wings were clipped at the World Trade Center site, as officials began to reckon with budgets and timetables that they now concede are well beyond earlier estimates.

The roof is not going to be operable, said Christopher O. Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The authority is building the hub as a PATH terminal and as a connecting point for subway lines and below-ground pedestrian traffic.

“This is a tough choice, but it is the right choice,” Mr. Ward said in a statement. “It’s reflective of the kinds of choices we simply must make in the coming weeks and months if we are to establish priorities and milestones, to which we can be held accountable.”

In the text of a speech prepared for delivery to the Alliance for Downtown New York, Mr. Ward also said: “Making this decision helps preserve the overall iconic nature of Calatrava’s winged design, but it will allow the Hub” to “literally fit better with the other buildings on the site; when the wings opened they came far too close to the surrounding office towers.”

When the idea was introduced four years ago, it was said that the operability of the roof would help clear the main transit hall of smoke in case of a fire.

Given financing limits, the authority must find ways to build the hub for no more than $2.5 billion. Though officials have insisted that the hub’s signature features would be maintained, subtle and not-so-subtle changes have already been made, some that are arguably more significant than opening and closing roof wings. For instance, the underground mezzanine was originally to have been illuminated with skylights set in the pavement of the memorial plaza above. That arrangement, which far more directly affects the experience of daily commuters, was quietly scrapped in recent months.

As the design is further modified — some might say whittled away — another possibility is that more of the existing PATH terminal will be used than was originally planned.

While the mechanism to open and close the wings was relatively straightforward, the wings themselves would have to be specially engineered to maintain their structural integrity in different positions and while in motion. Keeping the roof stationary and sealed might save tens of millions of dollars at least. The defenders of Mr. Calatrava’s design have maintained that the architectural flourishes, a small part of the overall budget, are easy and obvious to trim but exact a high cost for the overall aesthetic integrity of the project.

Robert Gearty of the New York Daily News:

The bird-shaped Ground Zero transportation hub is getting its wings clipped.

The Port Authority announced today the wings of the Santiago Calatrava-designed transit center will not open and close.

“This is a tough choice, but it is the right choice,” Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward said. “It’s reflective of the kinds of choices we simply must make in the coming weeks and months if we are to establish priorities and milestones, to which we can be held accountable.”

Related: Port Authority: Forget about 9/11 memorial in 2011
Related: Disappointed leaders glad ‘the truth is out’

Ward announced the design change to a group of business leaders at a breakfast meeting of the Downtown Alliance Downtown Lower Manhattan Association.

His remarks came a day after the PA announced that a review of Ground Zero construction concluded what everyone knew: the $16 billion project was behind schedule and over budget.

The transit center has been one of the biggest culprits.

In April, the Daily News found the PATH terminal complex was nearly $1 billion over budget. The finding was based on a consultant’s report obtained by the News.

The transit hub was pegged at $2.2 billion and featured Calatrava’s elaborate design. The federal government is paying $1.7 billion. The rest would come from insurance proceeds and the Port Authority.

The plans called for a soaring glass roof that was to open each year on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

The Port Authority did not put a dollar figure on how much savings would result from keeping the roof closed.

Calatrava, a world-famous architect whose signature projects have become destination points around the world, said in 2004 that he fused a building of “steel, glass, concrete and light” to evoke a spirit of “renewal” and “hope.”

Amy Westfeldt of Newsday:

The World Trade Center’s owner announced a major design change to its multibillion-dollar transit hub Tuesday, a day after concluding that most projects at ground zero are behind schedule and over budget.

The wings on the dome designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava will no longer open and close once the hub is built, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive director Christopher Ward said Tuesday.

The change is expected to shave hundreds of millions of dollars from the hub’s budget, which has fluctuated between $2.2 billion and $3.4 billion.

Calatrava had designed the retractable roof so that it would open each Sept. 11 at the time of the terrorist attacks that destroyed the trade center, shining a sliver of light down into the atrium. The architect’s office declined comment Tuesday.

Ward said the change would prevent the hub from imposing on the structures near it, including the memorial and office towers.

“This is a tough choice, but it is the right choice,” he said at a downtown business breakfast.

Ward has cited the difficulties of building the transit hub among more than a dozen issues that have slowed rebuilding at the 16-acre site. Other problems include the behind-schedule dismantling of a condemned ground zero tower and the challenge of building several projects around a working city subway line.

The memorial to the 2001 terrorist attack will not open by its 10th anniversary, Ward said Monday.

Ward didn’t set a new schedule, but he said a committee of developers and agencies would set new “clear and achievable” timelines by September. He said plans to build five office towers, the $2 billion-plus transit hub, a Sept. 11 memorial and a performing arts center would be completed, although “the question is when and for how much.”

Gov. David Paterson said later Monday that the Port Authority “will come back and alert us if they feel that perhaps the project is planned beyond our ability to perform.”

Under the most current estimates, the memorial would have been first to open on the site in 2011. Other projects were scheduled to open by 2013, although the performing arts center never had a construction plan.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who chairs the foundation overseeing the Sept. 11 memorial, said Tuesday he had hoped the memorial could open sooner. Bloomberg spearheaded its fundraising, while the Port Authority is in charge of building it.

“I’ve pushed the Port Authority as much as I can,” the mayor said. “I’m not so sure they aren’t doing a good job. I think it’s easy to go and criticize them. I’m just pointing out that they set the priorities.”

The report ordered by Paterson — the third governor to push for speedy development of a 16-acre site where a temporary train station is the only completed project in seven years — suggested that the earliest projections, just after the attacks for rebuilding ground zero, weren’t truthful.

Ward called the estimates offered during Gov. George Pataki’s administration, “emotional dates.”

Paterson promised that in the future, “we will tell the truth every step of the way” about the project.

Pataki once predicted that steel for the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, the tallest skyscraper planned for the site, would be up by 2006. Steel has just risen above street level for the tower, most recently estimated to open in 2013.

“Did we set aggressive timetables? Absolutely,” Pataki spokesman David Catalfamo said Monday, adding that they were based on engineers’ estimates. “All the same people who are there now were there then.”


Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela contributed to this report.

At first I could not make up my mind as to how I feel about this in terms of the design being changed. On one hand I think to myself that this hub needs to be constructed already. It is only a hub meant to connect riders to other available services. Since this is the case lets just build it already & move on.

However the other side of me thinks that what is the point of getting a world class design if it will never be used? It seems like a complete waste of time to get world renown architects to work on a design & in the end just piss on it & use something else. It seems to be a waste of time which is clearly not on the side of the people responsible for creating & finishing this project.

In the end I decided it would be best to build the most cost effective station. In all honesty this particular hub is not a necessity. The current World Trade Center hub is in pretty good shape & does not need a complete makeover from its current state to a world class architectural piece. I think Omar said it best when left this comment in response to the New York Times piece:

This is all money better spent on upgrading the existing, rapidly deteriorating, public transit network. WTC already has an adequate, modern, glass-’n-steel station. All of Lower Manhattan gleams and shines.

Have you SEEN Columbus Circle station? Or any of the other stations along the 1-2-3? They look more like survivors from some forgotten war than stops on some of the city’s most trafficked subway lines.

Before we erect a world-class monument to further highlight the remarkable gap in wealth and prestige separating the Financial District from parts North and South, perhaps we ought to reconsider our priorities in a City and State facing massive budget deficits, and a Country in economic free fall.

Oh by the way kiss the reopening of the Cortlandt St stations anytime soon goodbye!

xoxo Transit Blogger

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