Calatrava-Designed Church at World Trade Center Opens
7. December 2022
St.Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at dusk (Photo © Alan Karchmer for Santiago Calatrava)
Consecrated this Fourth of July, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center finally opened to the public on Tuesday, December 6, for the Feast of Saint Nicholas.
Described by the church as "humble," St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was previously housed in a row house that had been used as a tavern, from its founding in 1916 to September 11, 2001, when the church was destroyed in the collapse of the World Trade Center's South Tower. If that longtime home was admittedly humble, Santiago Calatrava's design, unveiled in November 2013, is anything but. Though small, the church is a gleaming, Byzantine structure proudly overlooking the WTC Memorial from the elevated Liberty Plaza.
St.Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine and public plaza overlooking reflecting pools (Photo © Alan Karchmer for Santiago Calatrava)
The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine is the second structure at the World Trade Center designed by Calatrava, coming six and a half years after the "quiet" March 2016 opening of the grand, expensive and controversial WTC Transportation Hub. The $57 million church is comparatively diminutive, but it was not free of its own controversies, with construction delays and financial setbacks pushing its originally anticipated opening from 2017 to this year, following the resumption of construction in the midst of the pandemic.
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine: Pentellic marble illuminated at dusk (Photo © Alan Karchmer for Santiago Calatrava)
It's easy to overlook any controversies or delays given the final result. The Pentelic marble cladding (the same marble as the Parthenon) gives the small church a strong presence during the day, while the laminate stone-and-glass dome glows "by the light of 10,000 candles" after sunset. Calatrava was inspired by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, also using 40 windows and 40 ribs in the dome, where images of twenty prophets are featured between the ribs. Services are held beneath the dome, though it should be noted that even though Saint Nicholas was consecrated as a Greek Orthodox church it is also an ecumenical national shrine that is open to all faiths.
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine: Angle from the Narthax into the Nave (Photo © Alan Karchmer for Santiago Calatrava)
With the opening of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine this week, only one more public facility remains to open at the World Trade Center site: the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center, designed by REX for a site directly east of One World Trade Center. Like St. Nicholas, the PAC — visible in the distance in the second photo, above — features a laminated stone exterior that will glow in the evening hours. One the PAC opens next year, the two low-scale buildings will bookend the memorial at the middle of the WTC site, further using light as a means of giving religious and cultural meaning to a site anchored by millions of square feet of office space.