The unassuming white townhouse at 155 Cedar Street that was once home to the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was destroyed on September 11, 2001, when the south tower fell. The loss of that building created a spiritual void in the new World Trade Center campus, which will soon be filled by the impressive new $50 million monument to the Greek Orthodox church that’s now rising.
Designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, St. Nicholas will formally be known as the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center.
But the building won’t only serve as a church. “It will have a much broader calling than a normal parish,” says Andrew Veniopoulos, the project coordinator for St. Nicholas for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, who took Curbed on a recent tour of the construction site.
The design for the new St. Nicholas is inspired by the Byzantine churches Hagia Sophia and Church of the Holy Savior of Chora, both in Istanbul. Taking a page from Hagia Sophia, the Greek Orthodox equivalent of St. Peter’s Basilica, the dome of Calatrava’s St. Nicholas will have 40 ribs arching towards a crowning icon of Jesus. Here, ten foot skylights will be placed between the ribs, allowing light to stream in to the white marble nave.
The church sits on top of the entrance ramps to the vehicle security center at the World Trade Center, at the end of the acre-long Liberty Park and about 50 yards from where the church once stood. Veniopoulos points out that the park is like the church’s very own acropolis, or high fortified area, but this design characteristic has proven challenging in the piecing together of St. Nicholas. It took workers several tries to perfect the installation of the church’s mechanicals, which will hide in a three-foot-tall space between the top of the ramps and the floor of the nave. But the workers finally got it right; the church’s concrete floor has been poured, sealing the mechanicals in place.
When the building is complete, the nave will seat about 130 people with overflow room on the church’s third floor. On the second floor will be the bereavement center and donor recognition areas (the church’s offices will be offsite).