Ground Zero, a Conduit of People and Memory
15, 2003 David Dunlap
|The sight of those escalators,
travelers may weep.
Almost everything else about the rebuilt PATH station
at the World Trade Center will be different. But that
sweeping array of eight parallel escalators linking
the mezzanine to the concourse 35 feet above —
really the defining architectural feature of the old
station — will be piercingly familiar.
How extraordinary, in a landscape so transformed, to
come upon this surviving spatial recall of the World
Trade Center, this three-dimensional memory of a world
that ended on Sept. 11, 2001, after passengers were
evacuated from a seven-car Hoboken train on Track 3.
Though the new PATH station is six or seven months
from reopening, it has already taken discernible form.
One can begin to experience the space as it will be,
especially since the finishing touches are not going
to change it much. The
gray steel beams and columns and X braces will be left
exposed, as will the underside of the corrugated floor
The station will not be heated or air-conditioned.
There will be only one newsstand and little
advertising. No windows in the station will open on to
the 70-foot-deep "bathtub" in which it sits.
This PATH station is not meant to be contemplative. Or
permanent. Though some of the structure will
eventually be reused, it is now more of a conduit for
55,000 passengers, a stopgap until an ambitious new
transit center is built. Its purpose, said Joseph J.
Seymour, executive director of the Port Authority of
New York and New Jersey, "is to restore
transportation that's been severed."
Yet, as the first public portal at ground zero, the
station is necessarily symbolic, whether intended or
In its branching form, the station's 25-foot-high
Church Street canopy, designed by Robert I. Davidson,
the authority's chief architect, might come to be seen
as a steel sprout, the first shoot of renewed life to
emerge above ground.
In the lack of finish, the station interior will
convey the accurate impression that the future of the
trade center site is far from decided.
In its diffidence toward its surroundings, the station
will reflect the tremendous popular ambivalence about
the site; a mass graveyard that is now the linchpin in
the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan.
In orientation, with only a single entrance at Church
Street, the station turns its back on Battery Park
City. To get there, commuters will have to funnel off
to Vesey or Liberty Street and cross West Street. Mr.
Seymour said there was no alternative for the time
being, since the entire area around the station is, or
soon will be, under construction. But an escalator is
to be added at the Liberty Street pedestrian bridge,
and an additional pedestrian bridge is to cross West
Street at Vesey Street.
The station will function much as it did.
As a matter of fact, it will still be known as World
Trade Center. When PATH officials were asked if that
name ought to be reused, Mr. Davidson said, they
answered, "What else would you call it?"
Trains will still cross the river through cast-iron
tubes completed in 1909 for the Hudson & Manhattan
Railroad Company, predecessor to PATH. The two tubes
survived 40 days of flooding after Sept. 11 —
"It was biblical," said Anthony G.
Cracchiolo, director of the authority's priority
capital programs — but required new tracks, power
lines and signals as part of a $544 million
reconstruction project, which also includes repairs to
the Exchange Place station in Jersey City.
The World Trade Center station will still have five
tracks and three platforms. (Two cars from the
abandoned Hoboken train were salvaged and taken to
Kennedy International Airport, where they are stored
with other artifacts of the attack,
said Peter L. Rinaldi, general manager of the trade
center site in the priority capital programs unit.)
Above the platform level, a 22-foot-high mezzanine
stretches 416 feet by 140 feet; that is slightly more
floor area than the main concourse at Grand Central
Terminal. Even in a raw-edged state, it is an imposing
volume. Currently open at the sides, the mezzanine may
be enclosed in translucent vinyl screens or fiberglass
boards, possibly imprinted with famous quotations
about New York.
It will also house the single work of art in the
station: a 118-by-13-foot mosaic mural designed by
Giulio Candussio of the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli
in Spilimbergo, Italy, northeast of Venice, where it
is being fabricated. The mural is a gift from the
regional government of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
Titled "Iridescent Lightning," it is
composed of a gigantic jagged bolt running the length
of the wall, varying in color from fiery bursts of red
and orange to cooler strands of green and blue. Full
of peaks and valleys, it is meant to capture
the energy and continuity of life.
But there will be no more vivid evocation of continuum
than the unmistakable 58-foot-wide escalator bank,
where the machinery is new but the space is almost
unchanged. For an instant, as commuters face that
silvery mechanical cascade
again, it may feel as if the world itself is
For an instant.