Last year, I had the honor of being part of the Blessing Ceremony of the ground on which the St. Nicholas National Shrine is currently being built.
Very inspiring words were spoken during that ceremony, and it could be sensed that the foundations of this project are being formed of something more than just concrete and steel. Hope, a spirit of renewal and an aim for reconciliation were bound into the site materials during that ceremony.
In a way, that ceremony reaffirmed my belief that this project will become much more than just the reconstruction of the church that was destroyed during 9/11. It will become a phenomenal symbol of unity, as well as a symbol for overcoming adversity and re-emerging from difficulties.
As I mentioned during that ceremony, on September 11th, I was in Athens working on the projects for the Olympic Games, and I like to draw a parallel between what I saw in Plaka on one of my visits, and the renaissance of this church in New York. In Plaka, it is noticeable how the ancient Greeks integrated the columns of the destroyed Parthenon into the walls of the Acropolis. A new Parthenon was built and it was so extraordinary that it did not only survive until the present day, but it became undoubtedly the paradigm of classical architecture.
In confronting the challenges of the design of the New Church that had to respect the traditions and liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church, but at the same time reflect that we are living in the 21st century, I gathered inspiration from the symbols of the Orthodox Faith and particularly from the Hagia Sophia, which I consider to be the architectural paradigm of the Orthodox Tradition (similar to what the Parthenon is to classical architecture). The new Church is principally based around a central Cupola. The skin of the drum and cupola is divided into 40 faceted panels in recognition of the 40 windows in the Hagia Sophia cupola. The corner towers are clad in alternating large and small horizontal bands of white and grey marble, reminiscent of the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora. Taking the Church of the Rotunda in Salonica and the Hagia Sophia as models, the Nave of the church lies under the all-embracing span of a central cupola; at the center of which is the Image of Christ (Pantocrator).
The pictures and watercolors on display during the coming weeks in the Benaki Museum in Athens, show clearly how this inspirational iconography took me by the hand and led me to the final current design.
Although St. Nicholas is very different from it historical predecessors, the singularity and clear expression of the cupola, the subtle treatment of the exterior facade and the strict implementation of the liturgical procession, establish it in the great tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church. It is entirely fitting that the St. Nicholas Church, perched above the canopy of the World Trade Center Memorial oak trees, shrouded entirely in stone and the only non-secular building on the reconstructed site, occupies its raised position within Liberty Park. As such, it will be a spiritual beacon of hope and rebirth for the congregation and the City, embodied through the hundreds of thousands of visitors who will pass through the World Trade Center site.