The first portion of Santiago Calatrava's World Trade Center Transportation...

The first portion of Santiago Calatrava's World Trade Center Transportation Hub, known as the Oculus, open to the public in New York on March 3, 2016. Credit: Getty Images/ TIMOTHY A. CLARY

The newest architectural must-see structure in New York City, the Oculus at the World Trade Center, has been called both angelic and a boondoggle of a day-old-turkey carcass.

Its superstar architect, Santiago Calatrava, compares it to the image of a child's hands releasing a bird.

A different way to understand the centerpiece of the $4 billion transit hub, whose construction went years over schedule and $2 billion over budget, is as an object from a galaxy far, far away — like a "Star Wars" sequel, the Oculus is monumental, not very subtle, sort of unasked for, and we'll probably grow fonder of it even as it gets dusty with age.

Hopeful on the outside, sparse on the inside

Approaching the Oculus, astute "Star Wars" fans might remember Queen Amidala's white celebration dress, worn at the victory parade on Naboo.

The minuscule dots on Amidala's cheek clarify the aggressive white makeup on her face, foregrounding the elegant circular fan fluttering behind her head for a sense of flight and motion — worthy symbols for a Queen celebrating victory over the evil Trade Federation at the end of "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace."

The Oculus offers the same sensation, surrounded for now by a construction site that accentuates its diaphanous, hopeful uplift.

But once inside, there is an entirely different sensation.

The cavernous, cocoon-like central space is impressive and a visitor can't help but stare skyward, gazing toward the 350-foot skylight topping many stories of air and light.

Too bad the rest of the design does little to add to that all-important upward gaze. The nearly antiseptic white marble floor is vast and uninterrupted by anything to make it less visually boring — ok for walking through or hosting the occasional indoor event, but not tarrying.

Restaurants and stores will eventually fill out the wings of the Oculus as part of a "luxury mall," but even those additions will have a hard time breaking up the almost oppressive whiteness of the interior, which evoke something of heaven but more of an idea of a glossy future which has not come to pass.

In that vein, the Oculus recalls the well-lit and airy but still somehow strangely stifling scenery of Cloud City, Lando Calrissian's digs in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, where the spotless white corridors weren't exactly what they seemed. And rarely did anyone sit, pause, enjoy themselves on Bespin. They were always en route, rushing over cold white floors. Life in the Oculus looks to be similar.

It's a space designed for looking up, briefly, but then leaving.

A space to grow into

Of course, transit is the main function of a train station. And New Yorkers will make this place their own as we always do. But it seems like a missed opportunity for a more welcoming public space.

The Port Authority's impossible task at the World Trade Center was to rebuild a key transit hub and entrance to Manhattan, while also creating a lasting memorial to one of New York's darkest days.

Certainly there are other transit priorities — the Second Avenue Subway, a new Penn Station, trains that run on time — that could have benefited from the political will and federal funding that brought the Oculus to fruition. But while the final passageways and retail sections branching off the Oculus are still being built, the visitor might have a warmly hopeful feeling walking around the sterile white passageways, while listening to the laughter and side-conversation and hammer-falls of the many, many construction workers.

Soon, the Oculus will be a part of our cultural heritage and cityscape.

But as a public space its design doesn't succeed as clearly as its twin, the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place a few blocks to the west. A friendly glass domed structure, its panes were blown out on 9/11, but the edifice remained standing.

Brookfield Place has the same corridors of luxury stores that it seems we need in New York City. But its marble tiles are elegantly colored where the Oculus' are cold and pale. Its central space has benches to rest on and a wide dramatic marble staircase for gathering (or marrying, a common weekend occurrence). The Oculus' interior feels barren in comparison. And of course, the Oculus has no answer to the Winter Garden's joyous indoor palm trees.

The Winter Garden is the warm and welcoming Jedi Temple. Hopefully, in time, the Oculus will have the same binding Force.

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