exorcism was held yesterday at the World Financial
Center Winter Garden at Battery Park City. The spirit of
diminished expectations that produced the Winter Garden
and buildings like it was severed from the soul of New
York. In place of suburban shopping-mall atrium design,
there emerged civic architecture of the highest order.
Santiago Calatrava's design for the World
Trade Center PATH station should satisfy those who
believe that buildings planned for ground zero must
aspire to a spiritual dimension. Over the years, many
people have discerned a metaphysical element in Mr.
Calatrava's work. I hope New Yorkers will detect its
presence, too. 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.
Mr. Calatrava has the creative magnetism that the
Spanish know as duende. The envious call this quality
star power. I call it soul. Derived from duen de casa
(lord of the house), duende descends on great poets,
musicians, and dancers at peak moments of inspiration.
It has alighted on Mr. Calatrava once again. The PATH
station will be more than a building. It will cast out
the defeatist attitude that has clogged New York's
architectural arteries since the destruction of the old
The PATH station has been designed in collaboration
with the Downtown Design Partnership, a joint venture
between two local firms, DMJM & Harris and the STV
Group. It is aligned on an east-west axis, occupying a
portion of the site designated as the Wedge of Light in
Daniel Libeskind's ground zero plan. In place of a wedge
(in reality, an inglorious traffic intersection), there
will arise what Mr. Calatrava envisions as a bird, most
likely a dove, released from the hands of a child. No
more second-hand Statues of Liberty here, in other
words. Rather, a prayer for peace. The outspread wings
of this elusive bird are the design's most dramatic
feature. Composed of steel and glass, the wings form two
gigantic canopies that will shelter an open plaza
surrounding the station. Some may see the shadow of an
angel in this architectural image: a descendant of those
great winged sculptures that descended on the skylines
of great European cities in the mid-19th century.
Bethesda Fountain in Central Park is their worthy
American cousin. Mr. Calatrava has revived the genre in
the form of an entire building.
The bird's torso reminds this viewer of Eero
Saarinen's magnificent ice hockey rink at Yale. Like
other Saarinen projects, such as the former T.W.A.
terminal at Kennedy Airport, the rink was criticized for
making a showy display of structure that lacked
structural justification. This criticism has been aimed
at Mr. Calatrava, also. Though trained in engineering as
well as architecture, Mr. Calatrava is a highly
expressive, not to say an expressionistic, architect.
Yet he differs from Saarinen in one crucial respect. His
expressive gestures do not rely on concealed structural
support; they have the integrity of their own physical
being. Mr. Calatrava needs no hints from the solar
system to make architecture out of light. He has been
doing it for years. The genius of his design unfolds
underground, where light from the roof cascades down
three levels from the street to the train platforms. The
intermediary levels mezzanine and concourse are sleek,
dynamic spaces, open to the sky. At night, lighting from
within the building will illuminate the plaza and the
office towers surrounding it.
It is easy to mistake Mr. Calatrava as an architect
of sweetness and light. Risk and mortality are seldom
absent from his designs. In the time capsule he designed
four years ago for The New York Times Magazine, for
example, a steel thorn appears to project forward from a
pair of full-bodied lips. Like Henry Moore, Mr.
Calatrava is often inspired by the skeletal remains of
living forms. This formal source acquires greater depth
of meaning at ground zero. The spreading canopies
portend the afterlife. "The duende will not
approach if he does not see the possibility of
death," wrote García Lorca, the poet who
introduced the creative imp to many non-Hispanic
readers. Mr. Calatrava's reading of the concept is
lighter. He once compared it to whiff of orange blossoms
on the hills around Valencia. But in both cases the
image derives from the land.
This is the gentle paradox of Mr. Calatrava's
transportation designs. They bring a sense of rootedness
to the experience of movement. This quality may derive
from Mr. Calatrava's affinity for Gothic religious
architecture. The great cathedrals, too, are epic
processionals, walks through lightness of structure,
enclosure, and space. It helps to visualize the
station's design in conjunction with "Reflecting
Absence," the memorial designed by Michael Arad and
Peter Walker. Both projects emphasize procession into
the ground. The memorial procession will be darker. In
the station, circulation will be radiant. The
penetration of depth will be common to both. Mr.
Calatrava is a poet of movement. Bridges and rail
stations are among his finest lyrics. They connect the
traveler not only to points in space, but also to the
cosmopolitan idea. It has been a long time since New
York has forged this strong a link to the rest of the
world. It is poetry in the ancient sense of connective
tissue: the beliefs and aspirations that hold a society
In Europe, the winged statue was a totem of an
earlier cosmopolitan age, an era when the continent was
linked by trains. Infrastructure gave us modern
cosmopolitanism, that is to say. May the art of making
connections help bring peace.