27 September 2016

Grass On Top, Bicycles At Base: From The Vision Of Oculus

Here in New York, we (those of us who aren't architecture critics, anyway) learned of him from this:

Oculus lifts its wings just north of Liberty Tower, where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood.  It rises, like a cross between a ghost and a phoenix, above the transportation center that brings seven New York City subway lines, as well as the PATH system, together.

It lifts and spreads our vision over and across a plaza surrounded by tall glass and steel towers.  In a way, it's almost an inverse image of I.M. Pei's Pyramid in the Louvre courtyard, which directs our vision from a focal point above the ground and, like Oculus, spreads it, though toward the ground, in a milieu of cream-gray Oise stone walls.

Although I like Oculus, I think it's fair to criticize it for housing what is essentially a high-end shopping mall on the site of one of the worst tragedies in this country's history.  (Ironically, it sits in the same concrete bathtub as the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which is as muted and somber as the Oculus is light and airy.)  But I also feel that beauty, in any form, is a fitting way to honor victims of a horrific event.

Oculus' designer created another iconic transit hub twenty-six years ago.  In fact, it is now one of the busiest rail terminals in Europe.  But, in an ironic twist, this terminal, designed to facilitate the movement of people to, from and through a major city, has been plagued with congestion.  Now the architect who created the train station is going to add something to it that might help to alleviate that overcrowding, at least somewhat.

Santiago Calatrava, who hails from Spain but is now based in New York, has unveiled plans a grass-topped office block on the plaza of his Stadelhofen Station in Zurich, Switzerland.  His glass "twenty first century office building" will feature bulging walls with slanted angles at the corners that--to my eye, anyway--are somewhat evocative of the ribs that comprise Oculus.  There will be a triangle of grass on the roof.

But one of the most intriguing aspects of this planned building (and the reason why I'm writing about it on this blog!) is that the plan includes public parking for 1000 bicycles on the ground level.

With his plan, Calatrava becomes the latest in a growing number of architects to integrate cycling infrastructure into an otherwise commercial project.  If successful, it will have the benefit of making both cycling (particularly for transportation) and mass transit more convenient--or, to some, simply more palatable. Whatever you think of his designs, he ought to be commended for that.

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