Saturday, April 29, 2017

Postcard from New York: Calatrava's Path Station

All photos by DC

 Santiago Calatrava's work is scaleless, which is one of the reasons I generally dislike his projects for European cities. But it works well in the US, where everything else is scaleless too.

In fact, at the Ground Zero Memorial, it is the only intervention with a relatively human scale. Everything else soars up above your head or burrows under your feet. On the ground plane, you're left with a confusing mess of walks, plantings and low barriers, more confusing now while still under construction  – Libeskind's famous disappearing master plan?  Calatrava's fossilized wings become a focus point, the only visual reference within reasonable range, though they seem to be ambiguously oriented, their curving sides pointing towards I'm not sure where. In fact, the building shows what appears to be its backside to the Memorial Park (although there isn't actually a real facade, just another rear end on the other side). And it looks quite freaky when seen from the Wall Street canyons.   

In the Park, you don't even  sense the vast pits of the memorial fountains until you are on top of them, although they are stupendous in themselves. Looking over one of them, someone asked if there was another one. You'd never know. And the museum – was there a museum there? Though admittedly I was operating at less than full visual capacity.

Inside, Calatrava scores again. A clear, legible space. The white stone floor looks like an ice skating rink. As I have observed about the sandy walks and stone plazas of Spain, it’s a surface that enhances and ennobles people as they move across it, converting their progress into a choreography of presence. The secret: the ground plane is luminous and abstract, a real stage of public appearance. The only other space in New York that does something similar is the entry plaza to Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building, which is raised above the surrounding streets, almost unfettered by barriers, so that it is the very air of the plaza that gives people that electric sense of being. Another European in America. The main hall at Grand Central Station has something of this expansive generosity, but in a more subdued, Beaux-Arts tone. And the populated lawns of Central Park in the summer. And Rockefeller Center. In all of these, something happens when view points are organized at varying elevations.

Another bit of European urbanity: the benches around the exterior edge of the hall, as in a Renaissance palace.

I don't think anyone has pointed out that the ribs of this hall evoke the vertical gothic ribs of Yamaski's original towers.  Despite their awkward refusal to touch ground on the white marble floor – instead, Calatrava tucks them under the mezzanine galleries in graceless little elbows, as if they were neon lighting tubes or radiator fins, bizarrely undercutting their structural reading. This isn't modern weightlessness, it's kitsch modern weightlessness. (There was something a little kitsch in Yamasaki's neo-gothic too, but no need to go into that now.)

More from my New York visit:
Billionaires' Row

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