With the swift lifting of a yellow plastic chain from its place on a wooden stanchion, the main atrium of the new World Trade Center transportation hub, named Oculus, opened promptly at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, Mar. 3. At last.
“This is our gift to all of you,” said Steve Plate, Chief of Major Capital Projects for Port Authority as he reached for the links. “Thank you for all your support over the years.” Plate was assisted by Glenn Guzi, Program Director for World Trade Center Redevelopment; Santiago Calatrava, the structure’s architect as well as Sofia, Calatrava’s teenage daughter, who had released doves at the project’s groundbreaking ceremony back in 2005.
Oculus is the controversial structure—enormous, spiky, and bright white—that tops the new Port Authority transit hub, at the corner of Chambers and Barclay Streets. The terminal houses PATH trains and connects to 11 subway lines. The Port Authority estimates that 250,000 commuters will pass through the vaulted hall each day. Many of them did so on Thursday for the first time, most of them snapping selfies against the dramatic sight.
The controversy about Oculus arose as the Hub project’s initial budget rose from $2 billion to almost $4 billion. This almost doubling of the budget is believed by many to be the main reason for the very understated opening. There will be some sort of a ceremony, however, when the rest of the building, including the retail spaces, opens later in the spring, according to the Port Authority.
The outside of Oculus was designed to look like a bird ready for flight, but not everyone sees that. “It’s like a dinosaur,” said 19-year-old Ricardo Rivero, an architecture student visiting from Cuzco, Peru. “I think it’s very nice; you see the light. It’s amazing, but Calatrava is a crazy guy.”
Others saw the structure differently. “Something from a boat, like a sail or something,” said Karina Sanchez-Moreno, 44, an interior designer from Miami who was using a selfie stick to capture Oculus in a photo behind her. “I love it. I think it’s beautiful.”
Although photographs released before the opening yesterday had given the public a glimpse of how the inside would look, dozens of people were waiting at 3:00 when the structure opened, to see for themselves.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a while with bated breath,” said Chris Gaylord, 62, who works in construction and walked from the Village with his wife to check out the opening. “I think it looks fantastic.”
Not all were as impressed. “When it’s finished, I think it’s going to be beautiful but right now it looks like a construction site,” said 57-year-old Judy Ward, who said she came all the way down from her home office on the Upper West Side to see Oculus as soon as it opened.
Others are also skeptical but optimistic. “It looks like a bug,” said 53-year-old Marie Oates of Murray Hill, who runs communication for a business school. “It’s probably like a kind of liquor I need to acquire the taste for.”
Karina Sanchez Moreno, 44
“I like the art but $4 billion is ridiculous.”
Betty Navarrete, 68
“It looks like it needs a paint job at this point.”