This Is Not An Architectural Critique Of The New PATH Station, Part 3

by Don Friedman on January 5, 2017

Part 1: here.

Part 2: here.

As I was wandering around taking pictures, it occurred to me that there’s a thing at the PATH station that requires some explanation. You can see the thing in the picture above if you look hard. (Click on all pictures to enlarge.) It’s way off in the distance.

The “arch” at the centerline of the whale-ribcage roof that I talked about in Part 2 of this Not-An-Architectural-Critique is clearly visible above, running from the mid-height of the right edge of the picture through the mid-height of the picture as a whole, and suddenly disappearing slightly above and to the right of the blue/purple light at the midnight of the left edge. The horizontal straight line where the arch suddenly ends? That’s the thing.

The Oculus and the station roof (the whale ribcage) are notable for their lack of straight vertical or horizontal lines. The columns I mentioned in Part 2 are straight but tilted; the ribs that make up the most visually noticeable portion of both structures are curved, tilted, or both. The thing is dead straight and perfectly horizontal.

Here it is from the Oculus, looking west:

Here it is from the station, looking southeast:

I can understand a desire to separate these two large interior spaces (I can also understand a desire to unify them – it’s not a clearcut decision) but why separate them with something that so jarringly different?

It’s relatively low-ceilinged, too:

The answer is that the thing predates both new structures and can’t be moved. One last hint: it’s still under construction:

The thing is the Seventh Avenue local subway, the 1 train, crossing through the site. The old World Trade Center concourse was only a few feet below street grade (the plaza that was its roof was slightly elevated, so even though you went down one level to get to the concourse, you were only about ten feet below the sidewalk) and the subway was another level down from there. The new main concourse level – the floor of the Oculus – is much lower than that and the PATH station concourse is lower still, so the 1 train suddenly is in mid-air.

The PATH train, then called the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad, came first, in 1909. The portion of the Seventh Avenue subway down to South Ferry (the part that passes through this site) opened in in 1918; the BMT Broadway local (now the R train) opened at the east edge of the site the same year. When the original World Trade Center was constructed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Cortlandt Street station was heavily modified; it was damaged on 9-11 and demolished during the clean-up. The PATH station and trackage were also modified during the original WTC construction and again recently.

It’s probably worth pointing out that Cortlandt Street station operated for 83 years and has now been closed for 15. It’s scheduled to reopen in 2018, but this is not a negligible interruption in service. Also, trains work best when they move in straight lines or gentle curves. Without regrading a mile of subway track, there was no way to get the thing out of the new public space. It looks a little funny, but I like the reminder that the current, very shiny public space is the third iteration of that location, from Radio Row to the first WTC to the new WTC.

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