Hallejulah! Calatrava’s Cathedral Opens (UPDATED)

Santiago Calatrava’s new World Trade Center Transit Hub, which officially opened today, August 16, is an unabashed glory of Architecture, a breathtaking masterpiece. What I wasn’t expecting is that it’s, also, a true monument to Freedom.

As far as I’m concerned it has more to do with Freedom than that other building with that term applied to it that stands close by. You know, the one that looks like a giant hypodermic needle. Having avoided the whole Ground Zero area (even though I grew up there), the way all New Yorkers avoid Times Square, mostly out of disgust with what has been erected there thus far, I of course knew about the WTC Transit Hub, but I was afraid something would happen at the last minute and it would have been quashed or horribly altered. As a result, I hadn’t seen this building in progress. When I turned the corner onto Dey Street this afternoon, and saw it before me, a shiver ran down my spine. I was struck by the unforgettable memory of seeing that still smoldering pile of the remains of the World Trade Center right where the Hub now stands. It’s almost 15 years ago, and I can see it like it was yesterday.

I shot this on 9/11 from 5th Avenue and 17th Street.

Yesterday…The World Trade Center on 9/11. I shot this from 5th Avenue and 17th Street.

I wiped my eyes.

“‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm”*

But no. Now? It looked like a big white bird was sitting there.

I had to wipe my eyes when I saw this to wipe away the memory of what I saw on this very spot 15 years ago.

It looked like a Phoenix rising from those very ashes.

Calatrava’s new masterpiece looks like a glorious white bird (a Phoenix, or…ok, an Eagle, not that I’ve ever seen either in person) with GIGANTIC wings large enough to actually offer you a feeling of comfort, even protection (though they won’t even stop the rain), as you stand under them outside. That’s exactly how I felt when I did. The building is Angelic, and not only because it’s white all over- it has an air of something sacred that I can’t describe about it- inside and out. It’s downright Glorious. And? THOSE WINGS! Oh my god…

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A place of peace- unexpected and profound. Angels have wings, I hear.

“Not a word was spoke between us, there was little risk involved
Everything up to that point had been left unresolved
Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm
Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm”*

Nothing has had a healing effect on me thus far after that fateful day as seeing this. I don’t know what Santiago Calatrava’s intentions are with this work. I haven’t read anything he, or anyone else has said about it. All I know is that it speaks to me.

Think it's small? Look for the man walking along side about half way for scale.

Think it’s small? Look for the man walking along side to the right side for a sense of scale.

Outside, especially from the front, it looks small. Don’t be deceived. Only the dome is above ground. Inside? It’s HUGE.

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“Set a course for…you know…out there….” Captain Kirk, Star Trek.

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Below the Cathedral’s Dome, two levels of stores, food, etc, with more on wings extending off the sides.

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John Legend had just performed in the center of the floor.

After you walk in, you are immediately presented with a vast football shaped interior. “Cathedral-like” was my first impression. The longer I looked, something struck me- While there are stores all along both levels that stretch out in front of you, you can’t really see them from the viewing platforms on each end! This serves to lessen the “cathedral of shopping” effect that pure shopping malls have, and puts the focus back on the building and it’s architect’s intended impact. (I’m not sure how the merchants feel about this, because it serves to make their shops less identifiable from a distance.) I spent three and a half hours walking in and around it tonite from all sides (yes, including visiting the brand new Apple Store, prominently located and having it’s grand opening today as well. It happens to be one of the 3 Apple Stores with their new store design. Some other stores were open but the complex stretches out in all directions, and I didn’t have a chance to explore all of it today). It may be comparable in size (or bigger?) to the underground mall that was under the World Trade Center and destroyed, as well, on 9/11.

Opening Day for Apple's WTC Store- on both floors, it's 3rd with their new store design.

9pm. Closing time on Opening Day for Apple’s WTC Store- on both floors, it’s 3rd with their new store design. Like the rest of the stores, it’s a bit “hidden” by the building.

Everywhere, inside and out, this Cathedral is clad in pristine white, with copious amounts of white marble included. Just stunning. It’s pristine white glistens even in the dark (my preferred viewing time, of course. UPDATE- August 17- Scroll down to see daylight pics I took today.). The ribs of it’s twin wings soar majestically, impossibly high, providing the eye with a glorious thrill, while straining the neck to unnatural angles, as it traces their course, up, up and away. Wow. Careful! Look too much straight up and you may tip over. Unlike Calatrava’s vision, my feet need to remain on the ground.

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I bent over backward to get this shot. Imagine what it was like to install EVERY ONE of those MASSIVE ribs! Wow. (PS-Don’t call me when they need cleaning.)

Still? That THRILL is an important part of the feeling I want from architecture, Mr. Renzo Piano (who’s new Whitney Museum, which I recently wrote about)! Here is engineering, like the countless, huge ribs (as visible as Mr. Piano’s engineering is at the Whitney), that is both functional and endlessly beautiful to behold.

Even though it is far from completed, right now I’d say this is the greatest new public space in Manhattan since, perhaps, the old Penn Station in 1910. It seems to cast a respectful glance back to Grand Central Terminal (which also lets light in so magically along it’s ceiling and that glorious glass wall). Once completed, Calatrava may have given us a “Grand Central Terminal” for the 21st Century.

Path Train Station. Notice the 2 people looking up at the great hall before them!

Welcome To New York. The Path Train Station. Notice the expression of the 2 people looking up at the great hall before them!

I saw more people taking pictures of it in ten minutes than I have in 15 months take pictures of the new Whitney. Even the guard was proudly posing! Inside, everyone I spoke to from the security guards, to the construction workers taking down the stage from John Legend’s performance had a glow about them. There was actual pride in the voice of one guard I spoke to off in the corner by a staircase. “I don’t know anything about art,” he told me, “but someone came by and said I don’t understand what all the hoopla is about. I told him you have to have an artistic eye.” I shook his hand. Pride from someone who hasn’t even been on the job for 12 hours yet. Inside and out, people from all over the world were not only taking pictures of every angle of the place, they were posing in front of it, next to it, all over it for selfies and groups shots. They felt it, too.

A Security Guard, back to us, poses.

Take a bow! A Security Guard, back to us, poses. Working in a work of Art is it’s own perk.

For me? It’s a new masterpiece this City SORELY needs, ESPECIALLY in a public building. It makes arriving in Manhattan the special thing it is, again. Walking around today, it’s already a hit, less than one day in. I grew up downtown. My father had an office 2 blocks from the World Trade Center. I remember it being built, and I saw it destroyed. Looking around today, after a while of being away, I was just sickened at what’s gone up, like I am in most other areas of the City. While I’m glad the 9/11 Museum seems to be a big hit, I’ll never “get” the building they put it in, which I saw for the first time, and which is right next to Calatrava’s Hub. The Hub directly faces the Memorial Pools, where the Twin Towers stood. Being there today, I was struck by just how big the area is. When I was at the World Trade Center, as gigantic as they were, the surrounding area somehow felt small. Now, it feels big, and it feels like it’s a mishmash of ugly buildings, except this one, that don’t have anything to do with each other. Yeah, like the rest of New York, and that’s a shame. I say this with ultimate respect for all those we lost, and with pain that things haven’t turned out better down there. They deserve better, and so do we. At least we have one great building there, and one, that for me, also speaks to what happened there, as well as to our future.

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Seen from the front, the ribs are short on one side, long on the other. Walk to the back, the short side is now long, the long side, short.

Along with everything else it says to me, it says that YES! It IS possible something great can be built in New York City in the 21st Century!

Quibbles? Well, it’s far from finished, so I’ll hold off getting very critical about it until it’s done, but I will say I don’t like the front doors, on either of the two entrances. Frankly? They look terrible. They feel to me like they weren’t Calatrava’s choice.

But? Given how hard (read that “impossible”) it is for great architects to get ANYTHING built in Manhattan, let alone something as monumental as this is, I’m absolutely thrilled! Best of all, it’s open 24 hours, so I can wander over there any time of day or night to enjoy it’s beauty, and let it continue to speak to me. It’s a dialogue I look forward to continuing. Maybe even in daylight. Well, let’s not get crazy.

I couldn’t help thinking the more it sunk in how great this is that it certainly sets the bar VERY high for the next Penn Station and Port Authority Bus Terminal! GOOD LUCK with that!

“Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line
Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine
If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born
Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm”*

UPDATE- August 17- Due to a request I got, I went back to shoot it in the daylight-

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To the left in the background is St. Paul’s Chapel, which somehow survived 9/11, and the top of Frank Gehry’s Apartment Tower in the far distant left.

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Looking up from the dead center of the floor.

All the paraphernalia that was on the floor last night was removed leaving a large, open glorious space. I hope it stays that way.

All the paraphernalia that was on the floor last night was removed leaving a large, open glorious space. I hope it stays that way.

 *-Soundtrack for this Post is “Shelter From The Storm” by Bob Dylan, published by Bob Dylan Music Co., from “Blood On The Tracks.”

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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