10 Excuses for Santiago Calatrava

The verdict, apparently, is in. Both the New York Daily News and the New York Post recently blasted the new transit hub downtown. The much-delayed (10 years) and insanely over budget (2 billion dollars-plus!) Santiago Calatrava-designed station is an easy target. The white, winged beast is clearly excessive. Logic (and the ever logical editorial writer at the Post) tells us that the building is fiscally irresponsible. How do you justify a four billion dollar train station, serving just 50,000 passengers daily, when the infrastructure of the city is literally crumbling around us? These are difficult, if not impossible, points to refute. But I have a fond place in my heart for Calatrava’s graceful, biomorphic forms. So I feel compelled to defend his new building, as best as possible. Should you find yourself as a cocktail party, next to a drunken blowhard attacking the train station, feel free to use this handy annotated list.


  1. Think of its cost as a “Beauty Tax.”  And, as such, it should be aggressively amortized. For a 100-year cycle, that’s about $40-million annually. Very affordable. For 50-years, it’s roughly the price of a half dozen overpriced apartments in a sliver building on 57th Street. Anything in the 20- or 30-year range, however, the numbers start to get a little pricey.


  1. You try building a 365,000 square-foot pterodactyl/mall atop active train tracks.


  1. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey was the client.


  1. At least it’s not a glass and steel box (it’s a glass and steel bird).


  1. It will make an amazing ruin.


  1. With sea-level rise imminent, the building (for another billion or two, give for take an additional billion for expected cost overruns) might easily be retrofitted for boats and gondolas.


  1. Knowing that the merest smudge will ruin the aesthetic, Calatrava’s great bird will transform sloppy New Yorkers into persnickety neat freaks. (Imagine: the first litterless train station in the history of the wheel.)


  1. Cleaning the great outstretched wings could theoretically employ thousands.


  1. Did we forget to mention, the Port Authority was the client?


  1. The building is the product of hope and idealism. Don’t laugh: In 2004, when New York had already grown weary of the squabbling at Ground Zero, Calatrava charmed us with the soaring vision of a bird taking flight from the hands of a child. We all wanted to believe that this tortured, seemingly endless, process would produce something more aspirational than a series of tall office buildings. We wanted a unique and singular structure. Ten years later, that’s exactly what we’ve got (cost and delays be damned!).


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