Public Policy Forum Blog

NYC inspired by Milwaukee

The new transportation hub at the World Trade Center, designed by Santiago Calatrava, has risen from the pit of ground zero and looks to be a near twin of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The building is slated to open in 2012. Cost overruns and a slow construction pace are making the project controversial in New York. At a total cost of $3.2 billion, it's no wonder the public is wondering where its money is going.

Milwaukee seems to have received more bang for its buck from its Calatrava, which compared to the New York building seems like a bargain at about $125 million. Both buildings have the same spiny exterior profile in vivid white and an oval great hall, but the New York version will not be able to flap its wings. In New York, Calatrava originally seemed intent on improving his Milwaukee design by making wings that could open to allow in fresh air over the train platforms. But due to security needs (in response to terrorist attacks on train stations in Madrid and London) the building will have shorter ribs that will remain stationary.

Most of the enormous price tag of the New York building is due to the extensive underground construction necessary to accommodate four PATH-train platforms, 500,000 square feet of retail, and pedestrian tunnels to other ground zero buildings, the subway station, and up to the street. The budget was also increased significantly to improve the building's security.

Milwaukee's Calatrava has become the iconic symbol of our city, giving us an identity that many might argue was well worth the price. New York seems unlikely to get that mileage from its $3.2 billion. Being at ground zero, the building will certainly be seen as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. But there will be other more powerfully symbolic buildings there, too, including the new World Trade Center itself, designed by another superstar architect, Daniel Liebskind, and the 9/11 memorial. New York City, home of the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and the Chrysler Building, isn't exactly in want of an architectural icon, and a train station seems unlikely to unseat any of those buildings from their positions of prominence.

But I can't help but wonder if anyone in New York City would notice if Milwaukee sent an invoice for a finder's fee?
Anneliese Dickman