Form or Function? Santiago Calatrava and the critics

This week, controversial architect Santiago Calatrava unveiled his latest masterpiece – the World Trade Centre Hub in New York. Perched beneath a string of skyscrapers, the wings of the “Oculus” hub are perched, ready to soar. Opening day has come and gone and the critics are divided.

World Trade Center Oculus / Santiago Calatrava image via Vanity Fair

Image via Vanity Fair

The World Trade Centre Hub has been hotly debated. Budget blow-outs, a controversial design and heightened political tensions have surrounded the construction of New York’s latest monument. Calatrava is resigned to the bad press. “There is so much vulgarity in the everyday”, he remarked, “that when somebody has the pretension to do something extraordinary for the community, then you have to suffer.”

World Trade Center Transportation Hub / Santiago Calatrava

Image via Dezeen

World Trade Center Hub / Santiago Calatrava

Image via Santiago Calatrava

Calatrava is not alone. The Oculus has been hailed as a “people’s cathedral”. Paul Goldberger from Vanity Fair remarked that “this is the first time in a half a century that New York City has built a truly sumptuous interior space for the benefit of the public.” Prominent architect Alexandra Lange remains (somewhat) unconvinced: “it is beautiful, it is effective but the ‘why’ question is not answered for me by what I see here.”

World Trade Center Transportation Hub / Santiago Calatrava

Image via Dezeen

Calatrava intended for the hub to be a symbol of renewal and hope. Its form, which is intended to mimic a bird taking flight, is breathtaking in its scale and its complexity. And indeed, it is this that has raised many a brow. Calatrava’s design is art. Function, in his world, always plays second fiddle to form. It is form that inspires, form that brings new life and artistic vision to cities. For now, the jury is still out. We eagerly await the results of Calatrava’s hearing. He, on the other hand, will more likely keep his head held high and continue doing what he does best.

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