Can You Guess How Much the Architect of the Most Expensive Train Station on Earth Was Paid?

By Alissa Walker on at

The World Trade Center Transit Hub — aka The (other) Oculus — has already gone down in history as the most expensive train station, ever. The grand total was $4 billion (£2.8bn), about twice what it was supposed to cost, and more than the skyscraper adjacent to it. But there might be another record-breaking figure associated with this project. I couldn’t believe how much the architect got paid.

The Real Deal has a lovely graphic that breaks down the final costs of the WTC Hub. The story explains some of the budgetary increases, mostly due to the many (many) changes the design needed to undergo. Which is understandable, I think, and pretty normal for these big public projects. So some of these figures seem large, but reasonable. $355 million (£246m) to integrate the subway line? Okay. $32.1 million (£22.2m) for a skylight? Fine, I guess. But then you get to the design fees.

According to The Real Deal, architect Santiago Calatrava was paid $80 million (£55.5m) to design the WTC Hub. Not his firm; the total design fees were $408.5 million (£283m). The previous figure was Calatrava’s cut. For perspective, $80 million (£55.5m) is the adjusted-for-inflation cost to build Grand Central Station.

I’ve written about architecture for a long time, and I’ve tried very hard to think about another project that so famously ballooned over budget. I’d have to guess this is one of the largest fees ever paid to an architect, and I wonder if it was money well-spent.

I’m not being one of those “my six-year-old can design a better train station” people; I don’t doubt Calatrava’s skill (even if it’s not suited to my particular taste) and I’m sure he had a lot of people working on the project who should also be paid well. And I do agree that the city deserves great infrastructure; if anything should be cost billions of dollars, it should be a public building.

But. BUT. That’s just it – this is public money. As some have mentioned, the Port Authority has a deal to turn part of the station into a mall, which is not open yet, and so some of that money will be recouped. But there’s also the fact that Calatrava’s buildings are infamously nightmarish when it comes to maintenance. Maybe he can pay for any repairs out of his own pocket. [The Real Deal]