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The Oculus Skylight Did Not Open In Tribute To 9/11 Victims, As It Was Designed To Do


Despite assurances that repairs would be finished by September 11th, the retractable skylight at the Oculus, the $3.9 billion transit and shopping pavilion at the World Trade Center, did not open this morning in what was to have been an annual tribute to 9/11 victims.

The rubber seal of the 355-foot retractable skylight is thought to have ripped during last year’s anniversary of the 2001 attacks, according to the Wall Street Journal. Since that time, the Port Authority, which owns the World Trade Center, has spent roughly $30,000 trying to patch up the leak using Flex Tape, a commercial waterproof adhesive. In May, the Authority said the issue would be resolved in time for this year’s 9/11 ceremony.

But last week, the Port Authority issued a statement that said that the skylight would not be opening on September 11th “due to continuing engineering analysis necessary to repair the skylight operating systems.”

“Under the advice of expert consultants, we are conducting engineering analysis on the Oculus skylight operating systems and reviewing carefully the best approach to repair a complex, one-of-a-kind architectural feature,” Port Authority spokesperson Lindsay Kryzak told the New York Post. “Our priority is to get it right.”

Although it may have been unavoidable, the snafu is not a trivial circumstance. As part of its grandiose and what some have criticized as overwrought and unconscionably expensive design, the arched skylight was intended to be a central breathtaking element of the Oculus. In a symbolic gesture, the eye of the Oculus is supposed to open every September 11th at 8:46 a.m., the exact time the first plane hit, until 10:28 a.m., when the second tower collapsed and which is also the moment when the sun shines the strongest into the building.

All told, the skylight is open for 102 minutes, during which time the Oculus is meant to transform from a mere transit hub and mall into an uplifting memorial.

“Buildings, in general, they can embody the memory of events,” the Oculus’ architect, Santiago Calatrava told Architectural Digest in 2017. In addition to being a memorial, the Oculus is also “a monument to life,” he added.

The skylight, however, was not part of Calatrava’s original vision. Under his jaw-dropping proposal in 2004, he called for a hydraulic roof where the two wings of the Oculus would pivot open up to 50 feet.

But amid ballooning costs, the Port Authority in 2008 was forced to scrap the idea and install a retractable skylight instead. Calatrava was reportedly unhappy about the compromise and even suggested that the city should instead simply build the underground part of the transit hub and wait until it had enough money to build the iconic part.

Money remains a problem for the Port Authority, which has continued to lose money at the World Trade Center, in part because of the high cost of security. The complex has been dealing with leaky ceilings since 2015.

Prior to the opening of the Oculus, the architect said about skylight feature, “In all weather conditions, the public will experience a subtle sense of man’s vulnerability, while maintaining a link to a higher order.”

In the meantime, here is a look at what the opening of the Oculus looked like on September 11th, 2017.

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