I have been keeping an eye on the progress of rebuilding Ground-Zero, so-called, for some time. Having been in NYC on that fateful day more than 14-years ago and having been witness to the events of that day — both with my own eyes and through the lens of news coverage, I have been waiting, patiently, anxiously for that wound to be sewn up.
Since construction began on Santiago Calatrava’s transportation hub, I made a point of checking in whenever I was downtown. When it opened to the public some months ago, I was in Colombia so I had to rely upon news coverage to covey its successes and failures.
And so it was with guarded excitement and anticipation that I made something of a pilgrimage to the site yesterday to see and to feel it with my own eyes and body. Coincidentally, I made this trip immediately before heading up to Christopher Street for a vigil to the massacre at Pulse in Orlando. That tragedy, freshly in mind, somehow infused my visit to the Oculus with a more immediate significance.
First of all, getting into the Oculus was not straightforward. It is still not accessible from street level as it is still an active construction site. You have to go in through the Path entrance and snake around underground before finally emerging into the light-filled “soaring” space. In so doing, you realize that the transportation hub is much more than the (in)famous winged Oculus — it is a series of underground connections with access to 1 WTC, other buildings in the WTC complex, in addition to the Path and MTA stations. Calatrava’s now-signature white ribs and white marble floors unify the various spaces. I can’t speak to the question of cost and value of this project — I will leave that to Michael Kimmelman (see above link) and others. But I can say that Calatrava has created a space that is quite impactful; it is as serene as it is awe-inspiring. Because it is difficult to get to and the retail stores are not yet open, the Oculus itself is only inhabited by those with the express desire to be in it, plenty of security and law enforcement, and the occasional commuter (N.B. I was there on a Sunday). It’s function not yet fully realized, it feels like a memorial–a space for reflection. I feel lucky to have gone before it is fully realized. I suspect the impact will change once there are bustling crowds with their Burberry and other high-end shopping bags, rushing to catch a train, mixed with tourists and pilgrims who have come to see what has risen from the ashes.