Oculus World Trade Center Transportation Hub is $2 Billion Over Budget and Seven Years Late

Is this the world's biggest white elephant?

Have you ever wondered what the most expensive train station in the world would look like?

Well, it looks something like this: the Oculus World Trade Center Transportation Hub is currently costing a stunning $3.7 billion and counting.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey along with famed architect Santiago Calatrava are slowly (very slowly) bringing you what should have been the crown jewel of lower Manhattan. Instead, Calatrava’s visionary biomorphic design has been bogged down by exorbitant schedule delays and a bevy of squandered funds.

At a pretty $2 billion above its estimated budget and seven years behind schedule, the ambitious project is looking more like the combined caprice of egos rather than the architectural benchmark it sought out to be (see China’s Amazing World Expo 2015 Pavilion Designs). Once completed, it should improve mass transit across Lower Manhattan, but thus far it has only invited a host of criticism.

A Press Release From 2004

In a press release dated back to 2004, the Port Authority painted a picture of a “freestanding glass-and-steel mass transit hub […] featuring ribbed arches that evoke a cathedral.” The structure no longer boasts a glass roof, and its multiplied white ribs do not quite resemble the arches of a cathedral. Rather, and without offense, the structure could pass as a hybrid between a Spinosaurus and an inverted fish vertebrae. It’s a far cry from Calatrava’s romantic brainchild—a dove in flight.

At the time, Mr. Calatrava said the landmark structure would be “the Port Authority’s gift to New York City.” Unfortunately for the city of New York, it seems this is one generous gift that cannot be returned for store credit.

Conceived over a decade ago and situated right above the national September 11 memorial, the entire hub was initially set for completion in 2009 (see Artist’s World Trade Center Doc Set to Debut). This includes the flowering oculus, an underground mezzanine and the subway and Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) tracks.

Perhaps the most intriguing and indeed expensive part of the entire development is the “oculus” pavilion which is set to house an impressive mall operated by Westfield Corporation. The 365,000-square-foot complex is being advertised by its proprietors as “the most complete retail destination in New York City,” as well as an important new space for concerts, TV broadcasts, and fashion shows. Thus far, it appears as though the architectural endeavor will better serve shoppers than commuters. The transportation element is intended to serve 160,000 PATH riders, or four times the number of people who commute on it today. But from where the project stands now, that estimate seems high.

In the Hands of Santiago Calatrava

The erection of the building is in the hands of Santiago Calatrava. Some consider him ingenious, others insufferably obstinate. The Spanish architect has inspired an onslaught of controversy around his recent projects.

Known for distinguished edifices around the world, such as the Olympic Sports Complex in Athens, the Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, or the Samuel Beckett Bridge in Dublin, Calatrava’s avant garde designs are sleek, beautiful and arresting. Yet, at times, they have failed to crystallize for lack of attention to detail or for an inability to deviate from the bigger picture, necessitating an unforeseen outpouring of funds.

Take an important ongoing adventure in his hometown, Valencia, Spain: the Palau de la Artes. The idea here was to house the greatest assemblage of Calatrava’s work, including a planetarium, a science museum and an opera house. Valencia hoped to inspire the kind of attention that Bilbao garnered with Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim (see Will the Frank Gehry-Designed World Trade Center Arts Complex Ever Be Built? and The Guggenheim Museum Will Stay in Bilbao Until 2034). Instead, the region has fallen into debt with the cost of the project climbing close to $1 billion over a 13-year period. The debacle has even inspired a mantra, “Calatravatelaclava,” or “Calatrava bleeds you dry.”

Calatrava originally designed an exceptionally light and translucent structure for New York, one that has slowly evolved into anything but. Today, bold and striking as it stands, additional white ribs were added and glass was eliminated due to building complications.

When it was initially reported that Calatrava would take over construction of the ground zero station, he was hailed as an invigorating agent who would “embolden New York.” Whether or not the curvatures on this Oculus match the caliber of his previous work remains to be seen.


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