Once upon a time, there was incredible excitement for the soaring World Trade Center transportation hub designed by Santiago Calatrava. Now, it's considered a bloated boondoggle, and the NY Times sticks a few more nails in the coffin: "The price tag is approaching $4 billion, almost twice the estimate when plans were unveiled in 2004. Administrative costs alone — construction management, supervision, inspection, monitoring and documentation, among other items — exceed $655 million."
The design was greeted with acclaim; Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp wrote in 2004, "With deep appreciation, I congratulate the Port Authority for commissioning Mr. Calatrava, the great Spanish architect and engineer, to design a building with the power to shape the future of New York. It is a pleasure to report, for once, that public officials are not overstating the case when they describe a design as breathtaking."
Now, Times reporter David Dunlap weaves a depressing tale of regrets and staggering bureaucracy about the structure: "A 2005 construction contract was supposed to set a guaranteed maximum price, but to accelerate the work, several expensive subcontracts were approved. And in 2008, the authority rejected money-saving suggestions worth over $500 million." There are also cinematic moments:
Mr. Calatrava’s boldest gesture called for a roof that could open to the sky. In 2005, not yet convinced that the roof was practical to build, authority officials including David Steiner, a board member, visited the Milwaukee Art Museum to see Mr. Calatrava’s operable roof there.
As they waited outside the museum, the officials were joined by schoolchildren who had also come to watch. When the screen opened, the children applauded. Mr. Steiner turned to Mr. Calatrava and, according to the recollection of those who were there, said: “O.K., Santiago. You can have your goddamn wings.”
It would take another three years to kill this exorbitant idea.
FWIW, the Milwaukee project was budgeted at $37 million in 1997 and went to $122 million by the 2001 opening.
Mayor Bloomberg's apparent desire to complete the 9/11 Museum and Memorial site at certain points also increased costs: "With the deck for the memorial in place, cranes could not lower materials and equipment to the hub mezzanine below, so the authority bought 10 flatcars for $3 million and used PATH as a freight railroad." The lack of leadership didn't help either: "Consistent direction was rendered almost impossible by constantly changing leadership: four New York governors who appointed five executive directors of the authority, and five New Jersey governors who appointed four chairmen."
Certainly an arresting structure, but one whose details do not match the shimmering images that Mr. Calatrava used to seduce officials a decade ago.
For instance, the ribs of the mezzanine looked sleek as silk in the renderings but in reality have the texture of stucco because of a fire-protective coating. Asked in March why no one had smoothed the surfaces, Mr. Calatrava’s office answered, “The client was not prepared to spend the additional money.”
The World Trade Center Transportation hub is scheduled to open next year. It was originally projected to open in 2009. Still, the Port Authority wants you to know that "the main transit hall is 365 feet long, 90 feet longer than the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal."