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Santiago Calatrava on New Stations

grand central terminal gct grand hall

Catching up with our reading this weekend, and came across the article “Winged Victories, The soaring ambition of Santiago Calatrava” from last week’s New Yorker. The profile of Calatrava, written by Rebecca Mead, included this passage about what role train stations play in cities.

“A station, Calatrava believes, should be a grand gateway to a city, like the Gothic stone gates of his native Valencia, built in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to impress upon the rest of Europe the city’s status as a trading power. “If you conceive these buildings with a purely functionalistic point of view, they easily become obsolete,” he told me. “In Zurich, they made a kind of shopping mall in front of the main station. Nobody wants to shop there. The place that, twenty years ago, everyone thought was very beautiful, today everybody says is a place where they never want to go. People don’t even want to traverse through, and in the night it is insecure, because there is no grandeur. They just wanted to take advantage of the poor fellow whose train arrives in the city to go to his job—to sell him a piece of bread, or a tomato, or a juice, or a beer.” Calatrava has built more than ten stations so far in his career. “You go into Grand Central and you immediately understand that this has been done for you: it is a gift to everyone, it is a gift to the city,” he told me. “I understand the problem of the person who cannot eat because he has no money; I understand how tragic is the person who is homeless. Because of that, I like doing stations, because they are the home of everybody, and because you are providing a beautiful moment in the life of people who work so hard. I am not a food producer; I am not a doctor; I am an architect, and I use my work for a sense of philanthropy, and not for any glory. This is a Stoic concept: to stay in the middle, which permits you to be free from the ambitions of the high, and permits you, through your liberty, to deliver something to those who don’t have anything.”

We couldn’t agree more about that a train station should serve as a “grand gateway” to a city, and that Grand Central is a “gift to everyone.” Has anyone been to the train station in Zurich? What do people think about the “shopping mall” impact he describes?

Read “Winged Victories, The soaring ambition of Santiago Calatrava” in the The New Yorker by Rebecca Mead.

Photo via flickr from Robbanz.