Santiago Calatrava Celebrates The Reopening Of The Only Religious Structure Destroyed On 9/11 At The World Trade Center

by Regina Cole for FORBES

Located in the heart of the World Trade Center campus, St.Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine overlook reflecting pools.© ALAN KARCHMER FOR SANTIAGO CALATRAVA.

Today, world-renowned architect and engineer, Santiago Calatrava, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, and Greek Orthodox Church officials celebrated the historic reopening of the new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine. It was the only religious structure destroyed on 9/11. Spanish-born Santiago Calatrava was tasked with redesigning the building entirely, creating a space that directly addresses the traditional Greek Orthodox liturgy while honoring the Church’s connection to the greater World Trade Center Memorial site. The St. Nicholas Church is the second completed structure at the World Trade Center campus to be designed by Santiago Calatrava; thew first is the World Trade Center Transportation Hub.

“To see the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine finally open is emblematic of Lower Manhattan’s storied future and defining past,” said Santiago Calatrava. “I hope to see this structure serve its purpose as a sanctuary for worship, but also as a place for reflection on what the city endured and how it is moving forward. Architecture can have an intrinsic symbolic value, which is not written or expressed in a specific way but in an abstract and synthetic manner, sending a message and thus leaving a lasting legacy. Thank you to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the Friends of St. Nicholas and the WTC Memorial Museum for their fervent support throughout the course of reconstruction and for believing in my architectural vision.”

The new building has an arresting presence in lower Manhattan. © ALAN KARCHMER FOR SANTIAGO CALATRAVA.

Calatrava’s design for St. Nicholas Church was heavily influenced by Byzantine architecture and landmarks, specifically a mosaic in Hagia Sophia, the Virgin Mary as the “Throne of Wisdom.” In a series of watercolors, Santiago Calatrava symbolizes a metamorphosis from that mosaic into the facade of St. Nicholas. The Hagia Sophia-inspired dome features 40 windows and 40 ‘ribs’— the same number of ribs inside Saint Nicholas, which are visible from both the interior and the external subdivision of the roof. The dome features twenty prophets whose images alternate between the dome ribs. The architectural elements incorporated into the structure are based on an in-depth study of the relationship between Byzantine architecture and numbers.

The entire exterior of the structure was intentionally made of Pentelic marble to parallel the Pentelic marble that makes up the Parthenon in Athens. The dome is made of thin stone and glass laminated panels that are illuminated from behind. When illuminated, these areas of the façade create an incandescent aura that makes the entire church appear to glow from within, invoking the feeling of being a beacon of hope amid the night. The exterior of the church consists of four solid stone-clad towers that ultimately form a square shape, which hosts the dome-like building. The corner towers and two west-facing towers are clad in alternating large and small horizontal bands of white and gray marble reminiscent of the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, Turkey.

The new building has an arresting presence in lower Manhattan. © ALAN KARCHMER FOR SANTIAGO CALATRAVA.

In St. Nicholas, due to the scale of the church, the Narthex forms a single continuous space. The arch forms a sheltered Porticus approximately eight feet deep in front of the entry doors that open onto the Exonarthex (opposite the church's main Altar). From there, the church moves through a series of liturgical spaces including the Narthex, and into the Nave (main Altar) of the church, eventually landing at the Iconostasis and Sanctuary.

Calatrava collaborated with DLR Group on the lighting design for St. Nicholas Church to allow the church to read as solid stone by day, and then glow “by the light of 10,000 candles” at night, while also carefully balancing supplemental lighting with the ever-changing natural light within the church interior.

Interior of the new building. © ALAN KARCHMER FOR SANTIAGO CALATRAVA.

This Shrine will be a place for everyone who comes to the Sacred Ground at the World Trade Center, a place for them to imagine and envision a world where mercy is inevitable, reconciliation is desirable, and forgiveness is possible,” said His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America. “We will stand here for the centuries to come, as a light on the hill, a shining beacon to the world of what is possible in the human spirit, if we will only allow our light to shine before all people, as the light of this Shrine for the Nation will illuminate every night sky to come in our magnificent City.

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine is the culmination of Calatrava-designed projects at the World Trade Center Campus, joining the WTC Transportation Hub – commonly known as “the Oculus” which opened to the public in 2016. Envisioned by Santiago Calatrava to symbolize a dove released from a child’s hand, the Oculus is situated at an angle in contrast to neighboring buildings and even the entire grid of the city, thereby allowing the light to shine directly overhead. The downtown architectural landmark has become one of the most photographed structures ever, responsible for bringing in tourists and helping reenergize the lower Manhattan area.

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