Everything is Less Than Zero

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Proposal for World Trade Center PATH Station, Santiago Calatrava/PORT AUTHORITY

I see that the big transit center by Santiago Calatrava that’s planned for the World Trade Center site is being whittled away again for cost-cutting reasons. This doesn’t come as a surprise. The New York and New Jersey Port Authority, which is overseeing the project, has watched the budget climb to $2.5 billion. (Actually higher for a while, until it was yanked back down.) But it’s also in keeping with the general willingness to walk away from the idea that Ground Zero should re-emerge as anything other than a business-as-usual business district that happens to be built around a memorial. The cultural facilities that were supposed to be a feature of the place are either gone from the plan or iffy. (Museums? We don’t need no stinking museums.)

A few weeks ago it was the design for the separate subway hub nearby, which has already been dumbed down once, that was put under pressure again. Part of the thinking now for that dwindling project involves moving the planned Frank Gehry-designed theater off the Trade Center site and plunking it on top what was supposed to be the light flooded, glass domed station, thereby screwing up two projects at one time. (Theaters? We don’t need no stinking theaters.)

That leaves the Calatrava station, which is scheduled to be complete in 2011, as one of the few surviving elements of the Trade Center master plan that isn’t just one more office building. It’s been undergoing a slimming process almost from the time it was proposed. Now we’re promised more “value engineering”, which any architect will tell you is a process that has a way of arriving at “blander and cheaper”. The Port Authority promises that the overall integrity of Calatrava’s bird-like design will be respected. But it also says that more revisions to the design may be needed if it can’t find a contractor to build the station within the $2.5 billion budget.

I’m just waiting for the other wing to drop.