The Oculus - The World Trade Center Transportation Hub, New York

Santiago Calatrava
Date Built
Opened March 3 2016
70 Vesey Street
The Oculus is Santiago Calatrava's replacement for the original Port Authority Trans-Hudson rail system building that was destroyed on September 11, 2001.  The architect's website explains that the mandate was to provide a commuter rail station and at the same time, "... provide seamless, indoor pedestrian access to Brookfield Place, towers 1, 2, 3 and 4, as well as the new Fulton Street Transit Center; and creates an inspiring, light-filled public gathering place. .....

..... was to conceive the building at grade, the 'Oculus', as a free standing structure and situate it along the southern edge of Daniel Libeskind's 'Wedge of Light' plaza. This treatment of the site creates a kind of pause amid the dense commercial towers and links the procession of green spaces extending from City Hall Park to the churchyard of St. Paul's, through the WTC Transportation Hub plaza to the gardens of the Memorial and Battery Park along the Hudson. "

"The 'Oculus' is comprised of steel ribs and glass arrayed in a large elliptical shape. The ribs extend to create two canopies over the north and south portions of the plaza.  The rafters spring from two 350 ft arches flanking the project's central axis. Between the arches, a 330 ft operable skylight frames a slice of the New York sky, and opens on temperate days as well as annually on September 11. "

"Access into the building is provided from Church and Greenwich Streets through the east and west arch abutments of the Oculus. .....

...... Entry stair landings cantilever over the large below grade piazza called the Transit Hall. Escalators, elevators and stairs provide access to the upper and lower retail concourse levels. The lower concourse is approximately 34 ft below street level, and 160 ft below the apex of the operable skylight. The column-free elliptical space is approximately 350 ft long, by 115 ft across at its widest point."

As with many of Calatrava's buildings, the Oculus is not without its critics.  Writing in the Guardian on March 4, 2016 Jimmy Stamp said, "... I despised the new World Trade Center transportation hub before I even saw it. It’s $2bn over budget, has suffered from construction problems and design compromises, it’s seven years late and still incomplete, and its architect, Santiago Calatrava, has left a trail of lawsuits and angry clients around the world.  By most measures, the new hub is a debacle of extraordinary scale and, I believed, it had earned my derision. But when I was standing on the marble floors in its enormous, gleaming central concourse two stories below street level, staring up at a clear blue sky between bone-white ribs vaulting 160ft over my head, I, like Jonah in the whale, repented – at least for the moment."  He ended the article by concluding that, "... The Oculus is deeply flawed, but I appreciate its aspiration and grandeur. In my review of Fulton Center, the other downtown transportation nexus located just one block away, I lamented the building’s utilitarian “transit vernacular” and its lack of artistry or ambition, calling it “a vision of New York’s cold future”. The Oculus presents a more optimistic vision, one based less on present realities and more on future possibilities. Less Blade Runner, more Star Trek."