The original St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was among the buildings destroyed by the 9/11 terrorist attack. Over 20 years after that tragic day, its successor has opened at the World Trade Center site in New York, and its glowing design by Santiago Calatrava is a beacon of hope and reflection.
Drawing on Byzantine and classical architecture, Calatrava designed the church in glistening Pentelic marble – the same stone used to build the ancient Parthenon in Athens. The only non-secular building reconstructed on the site, it sits atop a four-metre thick concrete ‘mat’ on the eastern end of the new Liberty Park, 25 feet above street level, peeking out above the canopy of the World Trade Center Memorial trees.
Says Calatrava: ‘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.’
Four towers support a colossal dome, which crowns the nave. When illuminated at night, St Nicholas’ white stone facade takes on an almost papery quality reminiscent of a lantern or a drum skin.
Interior spaces proceed through the porticus, exonarthex, narthex, and into the church’s nave, culminating at the iconostasis and sanctuary. Between the ‘ribs’ and windows of the dome – which converges into a central disc – are ornate paintings depicting 20 prophets.