New York, New York, USA
According to Santiago Calatrava, the church was developed from “the idea of a metamorphosis of the images of the Virgin as the Throne of Wisdom ‘Sedes sapientiae’ and turning it into a temple of the Church.”
Designed by European Prize for Architecture laureate Santiago Calatrava and developed by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church opened to the public this month, standing 25 feet above street level atop Liberty Park, across from the site of the original 16-acre World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District.
After years of construction delays, the church is built as part of the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, which is masterplanned by architect Daniel Libeskind and contains skyscrapers by Richard Rogers and Fumihiko Maki.
The church is located alongside the 9/11 memorial that stands on the site of the former twin towers.
The reinforced concrete, Pentelic marble-clad building with its interior icon paintings by iconographer Father Loukas of Xenophontos replaces the church’s former 19th-Century sanctuary that was destroyed during the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
The use of Pentelic stone symbolizes the Parthenon, and according to Calatrava, the Hagia Sophia is the Parthenon of Orthodoxy.
The walls of the central section are composed of thin sheets of Pentelic marble, with translucent cutouts that allow the building to be illuminated at night.
Surrounding the central domed spaces are four stone-clad towers that give the building an overall square shape.
The entrance to the church, which faces a large open plaza, was placed between two of these towers and leads directly to the main series of liturgical spaces.
Visitors to the church pass through a narthex and two lateral hallways before entering the nave through a pair of stone doors etched with cross-shaped cutouts.
Near the entrance is a circular painting depicting “The Souls of the Righteous in the Hand of God.”
A conch with “The Image of the Deësis” is located between the narthex and nave, depicting Christ in the middle, Saint Nicholas to the left, and Mother of God to the right.
The nave’s design was inspired by a mosaic in Hagia Sophia: the Virgin Mary as the “Throne of Wisdom.”
The soaring ceiling is adorned with colorful iconography, with carved marble motifs around its edges.
The apex of the dome features an image of Christ surrounded by 20 prophets painted in between the 40 arched ribs and 40 translucent windows.
The four curved corners below the dome show the Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The altar directly faces the entrance, while the two side niches were completed with translucent arched windows.
Above the main space, the dome is surrounded by 40 translucent windows divided by 40 stone ribs, reminiscent of the Hagia Sofia.
Alongside the main liturgical spaces, several community rooms and offices were placed on the upper floors of the towers.
“Architecture, beyond being linked to human uses from a practical point of view, 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 symbolic message, which will reach posterity. It is in this way that the message of works such as Hagia Sophia has reached our days,” states Calatrava.
Project: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Architects: Santiago Calatrava
Developer: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Client: The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Photographers: Michael Young