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Calatravasaurus Wrecks?

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
PATH Calatrava

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s massive World Trade Center PATH transportation hub in Lower Manhattan, designed by famed architect Santiago Calatrava, is about one year away from completion—eight years behind schedule and, at a cost of up to $4 billion by some accounts, $2 billion over budget. The New York Post has dubbed the structure, which is supposed to resemble a bird spreading its wings, but which at this stage of construction looks more like the dinosaur exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, the “Calatravasaurus.”

PATH CalatravaMind you, the cost and time overruns aren’t really Calatrava’s fault. “Disagreements regarding the construction time, poor communication among agencies, and conflicting goals contributed to the price tag,” according to The Wall Street Journal, which added that “former [New York City] Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s insistence that the World Trade Center Memorial Plaza be finished on the 10th anniversary [of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks] . . . before parts of the transit hub were done complicated subterranean construction.”

Five or ten or twenty years from now, all of this might be a footnote in the chronicles of New York’s architectural history—that is, unless, Calatrava’s complicated structure starts deteriorating, as has happened with several of his other ambitious projects.

Case in point: Valencia, Spain. “For a while, this sprawling Mediterranean city embraced Santiago Calatrava’s architecture with gusto,” wrote The New York Times. “In a dried-up riverbed, Calatrava built and built, eventually filling 86 acres with his radical, and some say awe-inspiring, designs . . . But these days, he is often cast as a villain in Valencia. . . . Originally budgeted at about $405 million, the riverbed complex, called the City of Arts and Sciences—the world’s largest collection of Calatrava’s work, which includes a performance hall, a bridge, a planetarium, an opera house, a science museum, a covered walkway, and acres of reflecting pools—has cost nearly three times that much, money the region never had.”

“In numerous interviews, other architects, academics, and builders say that Calatrava is amassing an unusually long list of projects marred by cost overruns, delays, and litigation,” wrote The Times. “ . . . Calatrava is already in court over a footbridge in Venice, a winery in the Álava region of Spain, and a massive exhibition and conference center in Oviedo, Spain. . . . [I]n Valencia . . . the smooth skin of Calatrava’s opera house—some call it the Darth Vader helmet—began noticeably wrinkling just six years after the building opened,” causing the mosaic of white tiles that covers the opera house’s steel sides to begin falling off. “The buckling . . . was predictable. On days with a rapid change in temperature, the steel and tile contract and expand at different rates.”

There’s more: “In June, a Spanish court ruled that Calatrava and his team had to pay about $4.5 million to settle a dispute in Oviedo, where construction of the conference center at one point suffered a spectacular collapse,” The Times noted. “In the Álava region, a winery is suing Calatrava over an undulating roof he designed a dozen years ago. Problems with leaks, which ruin the humidity control that is vital to wine, have never been resolved. The owners of the winery . . . are asking for about $2.7 million to hire fresh architects and engineers to devise a solution.”

And now, a Spanish court has named Calatrava a suspect in a contract fraud case. Prosecutors allege he was paid $3.6 million for a convention center that wasn’t built. He did not show up for a hearing.

Nothing in New York City gets done quickly, easily, and free of political battles. Hopefully, when all is said and done, PATH riders at the World Trade Center hub will enjoy the unique station, perhaps glancing up and around from time to time to take in its unusual architecture, remembering the day when everything that preceded it literally came crashing down. Whether this $4 billion train station will ever be subject to the troubles that some of Calatrava’s structures in other parts of the world have recently begun to suffer, turning into a huge upkeep and operational problem, remains to be seen.

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