Subway Station Art: World Trade Center and Chambers Street Stations

I recently wrote about the Oculus, MTA’s new transportation hub located next to the World Trade Center site. But there is actually an art installation that predates this transportation hub that is also titled the Oculus – and it is located nearby, in the World Trade Center, Chambers Street, and Park Place subway stations. This art project began with the efforts of photographers Kristen Jones and Andrew Ginzel, who photographed the eyes of hundreds of New Yorkers. Then, artist Rinaldo Piras recreated the eyes in stone mosaics.

There are 300 unique eyes scattered throughout the connected subway stations, and it’s a fun challenge to hunt them down. (Amazingly, the mosaics were hardly disturbed in the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11.) I love this description of the Oculus by the artists, found on MTA Art & Design’s website: “Oculus was created to personalize and integrate the stations. Eyes are both subtle and strong – they engage passing individuals, allowing for meditation or inviting dialogue.”

Here are a few of my favorites.

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The installation also includes a large floor mosaic, which includes an eye in the center with a world map that extends outwards. It’s not easy to photograph, but here’s my best attempt.

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If you’d like to see the Oculus installation yourself, it is easily accessible at several subway stations. Take the E to the World Trade Center station, the A or C to the Chambers Street station, or the 2 or 3 to the Park Place station.

Solemn Reflection at the National September 11 Memorial

September 11, 2001. Any American who is old enough to remember that day can tell you where they were, what they were doing when they found out first one plane, then another, flew into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. I was not living in New York City at that time, but the memories of that day bring back feelings as strong as they were 15 years ago. It was the day before a new semester began, and I was working at home to prepare for the next day’s classes. I turned on the TV to watch the news as I sipped my morning coffee. Only minutes earlier, a plane crashed into the North Tower, but no one knew exactly what had happened. I watched in horror, along with millions of other people, as a second plane hit the South Tower a short time later.

I continued watching over the next several hours, a silent, sorrowful witness to the ultimate collapse of the World Trade Center buildings, the crash of yet another plane into the Pentagon, a final plane crash in Pennsylvania. I observed firsthand the loss of thousands of lives – something impossible to fully comprehend. How was I to go into the classroom the next day and teach when the world had been turned upside down?

Over time I have come to think of those memories less often, but it only takes a moment to recall how I felt on that terrible day. In the meantime, I’ve moved to New York City myself. I see the new towering One World Trade Center building, commonly known as the Freedom Tower, on a regular basis. I now teach many students who, even though they were alive on September 11, 2001, were so young that they don’t really remember that day. Additionally, an entire generation has been born in the 15 years since the Towers fell – a generation that will come of age in a post-9/11 world.

Despite the passage of time, September 11 has had an enduring effect on New York City and New Yorkers. The city has proved its resilience. New Yorkers take a great amount of pride in the way that they responded. There has been a sense of community uniquely forged in the fire of tragedy. Despite the fact that New York City clearly remains a target, New Yorkers go about their daily lives with purpose, a determination to carry on despite any adversity.

At the site of the Twin Towers, visitors now find the National September 11 Memorial. A multiple-layer set of waterfalls, framed in black granite, descend from the outline of each building deep into the ground. Inscribed on the surrounding walls of each footprint are the names of all those who lost their lives that day – the passengers, pilots, and crew members on board each of the 4 planes; the workers and visitors in the Twin Towers who were unable to evacuate the buildings before they fell; those who lost their lives inside the Pentagon; and the hundreds of firefighters, police officers, and others who sacrificed their lives in the attempt to save others. (The Memorial also commemorates 6 people who lost their lives in a terrorist bombing in the World Trade Center garage in 1993.)

In honor of those who lost their lives 15 years ago this weekend, here are a few pictures from the National September 11 Memorial. It is impossible to include photos of every name, but I wanted to give a sense of the solemnity of the site for those who have not yet had the opportunity to visit.

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NYC’s Oculus: Architecture as Sculpture

Most people know that on September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center’s twin towers were destroyed. What many don’t realize is that there was an important set of transportation routes, located underground in that same area, that were also seriously damaged. In the years since that day, New York City has worked to rebuild the World Trade Center site, including those transportation routes. One of the most recent efforts was the opening of the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub this year.The Transportation Hub links the PATH train platforms, where commuters arrived from the neighboring state of New Jersey, and numerous subway lines.

The main feature of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub is the Oculus, the above-ground structure that covers the station and underground shopping area. Designed by Spanish artitect Santiago Calatrava, the structure has structural “wings” that extend over the site, although many critics think that it looks like oversized dinosaur bones. (Most commonly, people say it looks like a Stegosaurus.)

Here’s one perspective of the World Trade Center site. You can see the white “wing” of the Oculus in the foreground. The tall building behind it is One World Trade Center, also commonly known as the Freedom Tower. Other parts of the World Trade Center complex are still under construction.

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Although the Oculus has had its share of controversy (not everyone appreciates the design, it took much longer to complete than anticipated, and it came in way over budget), its striking architectural details make for interesting photos. Here are a few photos of the outside of the Oculus, showing how changing the camera angles features different aspects of the structure’s architecture.

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The inside of the Oculus is equally photogenic. The building is full of light, which makes the white marble almost glow. When you look down from the top balcony to the lowest level, the people below almost seem to be moving across an ice skating rink.

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The best way to get to the Oculus is by public transportation. Visitors can take the PATH train from New Jersey. If traveling by subway, you can take an E train to the World Trade Center station, the R train to the Cortlandt station, the 4, 5, J, or Z trains to Fulton Center, or the 1, 2, 3, A, or C train to the Chambers station.

Note: If you visit the Oculus, the National September 11 Museum and Memorial are located nearby and are definitely worth visiting.

St. Paul’s Chapel

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In lower Manhattan, there is a relatively small chapel and graveyard, located across Church Street from the World Trade Center site and surrounded by tall buildings. It is known as St. Paul’s Chapel. Although visitors might be tempted to walk right by the chapel without going in, St. Paul’s is definitely worth a visit.

St. Paul’s Chapel has roots going back to the colonial period. Completed in 1766, the chapel is an example of Georgian architecture. It was built as a chapel-of-ease for parishioners of Trinity Church, also located in lower Manhattan, who felt that Trinity’s location was not always convenient. Both St. Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Church are part of the Episcopal Church. (Episcopalians trace their roots to the Church of England.) Today, St. Paul’s is known as Manhattan’s oldest church building still in use. The stone and brown trim exterior presents a solemn image, especially with the weathered gravestones surrounding the chapel, but the interior is light and bright.

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St. Paul’s Chapel has a special connection to the early political history of the United States. After George Washington’s inauguration as the nation’s first president in 1789, he walked to the chapel to pray. (If you recall from my previous post about Federal Hall National Memorial, New York City was the first U.S. capitol.) The chapel has a replica of Washington’s pew, as well as one of the earliest paintings of the Great Seal of the United States.

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More recently, St. Paul’s close proximity to the World Trade Center site meant that the chapel played a special role in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001. Amazingly, St. Paul’s Chapel was not damaged when the World Trade Center towers came down – even the windows survived. (However, the interior of the chapel was covered in dust from the debris.) The chapel quickly became an important refuge for the recovery workers in the days and months following 9/11, with volunteers offering the workers physical and mental support. Because of its efforts and its location, St. Paul’s became a site for memorials to the victims of 9/11, as well as the host for messages of support for the recovery workers. Today, the chapel offers a continuing memorial to the victims, and visitors can tour exhibits showing photographs of the chapel’s role as well as messages of sympathy and hope from people around the world. It is a somber and inspiring experience.

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Outside the chapel, visitors will find the Bell of Hope, which the Lord Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury presented to the people of New York City on the first anniversary of 9/11. One of the special things about this bell is that it was made by Whitechapel Foundry in England, also known for creating the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and Big Ben in London.

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How can you get to St. Paul’s Chapel? It is located between Broadway and Church Street, with Fulton Street as the cross street. There are numerous subway stations located near the chapel, but here are the closest ones. Take the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, or Z trains to the Fulton Street Station, the R to Cortland Street, or the E to the World Trade Center station. If traveling from New Jersey, you can also take the PATH train to the World Trade Center stop.

Staten Island Ferry

For many New Yorkers, the Staten Island Ferry is a means to commute to work, but it can also be an opportunity to see the city from a different perspective. You can take some great photos of the downtown Manhattan skyline from the ferry, and you have two opportunities to do so – as you head away from Manhattan towards Staten Island, and again as you head back to the city on the return trip. And one of the best things about the Staten Island Ferry: it’s absolutely free!

Here are a couple of examples of the photos you can take from the ferry. The day that I took these photos, the air was a bit hazy, but you can still see the possibilities. First, here’s the look back at the Whitehall Terminal on the southern tip of Manhattan, where I boarded the ferry.

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I took this photo of the skyline which shows both the possibilities but also the drawbacks of shooting photos on a hazy day. The tallest building is One World Trade Center, also known as the Freedom Tower, built near the site of the 9/11 Memorial.

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As the ferry travels further from Manhattan, the perspective changes further.

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You may also get good photos of the Brooklyn Bridge and Governor’s Island, depending on your location on the ferry.

As we traveled further, we passed a ferry going the opposite direction. This is what the Staten Island Ferry looks like.

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The ferry also passes by the Statue of Liberty. She’s still some distance away, but with a good camera you can capture some special shots.

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If you’re thinking of taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, here are some things you should know. First, remember that locals use the ferry to get to work every day. That means that the ferry is most crowded during peak commuting times in the morning and early evening. You will have better views – meaning you will have better photo ops as well – if you travel on the ferry outside of those peak times. You can access the ferry schedule here. The ferry runs 24 hours a day. You will experience great views during daylight hours, but it can also be a magical way to view the city after the sun has set at night. Keep in mind the weather as well. If it is raining, foggy, or hazy, your views will not be as good. If it is cold or windy, make sure you are bundled up. The best views are from the outside deck areas, and the wind is even colder when the ferry is moving.

It’s also helpful to know what to expect at the ferry terminals. There is no waiting in line. When the doors open for boarding, you just work your way with the rest of the crowd to board. If you are uncomfortable in large crowds, you may find the boarding process intimidating. There is some seating where you can wait prior to boarding, as well as decent public restroom facilities.

Where can you catch the Staten Island Ferry? In Manhattan, you can catch the ferry at the Whitehall Terminal at the southern tip of the island, near downtown. To get to the Whitehall Terminal, take the 4 or 5 train to the Bowling Green station, the J or Z trains to the Broad Street station, the R train to Whitehall Street station, or the 1 train to South Ferry (make sure you are on one of the first five cars for the 1 train).

From Staten Island, you can take the Staten Island Railroad to the St. George Ferry Terminal. Numerous buses also go to the St. George Ferry Terminal, although some only run on weekdays. For more information about getting to the ferry terminals, please see the Staten Island Ferry’s website here.

Picturing Manhattan: Views from a Boat Tour

One way to get some great photographs of Manhattan is from the water. A few weeks ago, we decided to take a boat tour around the city. It was a bright, sunny day. Unfortunately, the warmer temperatures combined with the sun made the sky a little hazy. I was able to capture some good photographs, particularly of some of the bridges, but the skyline photographs were not as clear. Still, I think even those turned out pretty interesting!

There’s no better way to see the bridges of New York City than from a boat. I got some good shots of some of the most iconic ones. First, here are a couple of different views of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Next, here is one of the George Washington Bridge. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the George Washington Bridge, claims that it is the busiest bridge in the world–but you couldn’t tell that from this photograph!

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The Manhattan Bridge, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Chinatown, makes for a good photograph or two.

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And here’s the Williamsburg Bridge, connecting the lower east side of Manhattan and Williamsburg, Brooklyn:

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And finally the Washington Bridge (not to be confused with the George Washington Bridge), connecting the Bronx to Manhattan. I like the combination of stone and steel on this bridge, which was built in built in the 1880s.

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It’s possible to get some interesting angles for photographs of the downtown skyline, including good view of One World Trade Center, now the tallest building in the Western hemisphere.

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If you go on the right day, you may even get some photographs of sailboats on the water.

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Of course, Manhattan boat tours also include the opportunity to take photographs of the Statute of Liberty, so here are a couple of those:

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Here’s one last shot from the back of the boat, as we traveled down the Hudson River during the tour.

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A little bit more about the tour: There are a lot of boat tours out there. We chose a tour that went all the way around the island of Manhattan because we had never had the opportunity to see the northern part from that vantage point. The tour lasted 2 1/2 hours, which to be honest is too long, especially in the sun. We splurged and upgraded our tickets with the promise of better, reserved seating, no lines, and free water. The seats were still not that comfortable, but they probably made it easier to get good photographs. For most people, a shorter tour that goes around the southern end of Manhattan would be sufficient–you still have the opportunity to see many of the bridges and the Statue of Liberty, and there are plenty of awe-inspiring views of Manhattan.