At Cortlandt Street Subway Station, Art Woven from Words

David W. Dunlap New York Times

The Cortlandt Street station on the No. 1 line, which was wiped off the subway map on September 11, 2001, will be much more than a local stop in Lower Manhattan when it reopens in 2018.

The Cortlandt Street station’s walls will feature text from historical documents. The station, on the No. 1 line, is to reopen in 2018. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

The Cortlandt Street station’s walls will feature text from historical documents. The station, on the No. 1 line, is to reopen in 2018. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

As a gateway to destinations of worldwide significance — the World Trade Center and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum — it will be weaving together past and present, present and potential, underground and surface, commuter trains and subway service, deep-rooted memory and momentary impatience.

Weaving. Not threads or reeds. But words.

Weaving is the symbolism behind the $1 million art project being designed for the Cortlandt Street station by Ann Hamilton, who was chosen by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Arts and Design program. Ms. Hamilton, 58, a professor of art at Ohio State University in Columbus, creates large-scale multimedia installations.

Her Cortlandt Street project was approved on Wednesday by the authority board.

The construction of the station, which is to cost about $101 million, is expected to begin in mid-May.

In Ms. Hamilton’s concept, which is still evolving, texts would fill about 70 percent of the station’s walls in the form of an elaborate concordance, something like a crossword puzzle.

Text fragments reading horizontally would probably come from documents of international significance, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

At intervals, certain words from the horizontal texts would align to form vertical spines. Those words — like “human” and “justice” — would be common to passages from national documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Declaration of Sentiments, adopted in 1848 in Seneca Falls, N.Y., which held that “all men and women are created equal.”

Explaining her approach, Ms. Hamilton said: “The station is in the ground. The ground is the underlayment, the place where we prepare for everything we build above. What are the documents that are the underlayment for our civic aspirations, the ones that have been collectively authored and collectively held?”

In 2011, she created an enormous concordance for the floor of the Thompson Library Buckeye Reading Room at Ohio State. The work is titled “Verse.”

Sandra Bloodworth, the director of the transportation authority’s Arts and Design program (formerly known as Arts for Transit), said the panel that chose Ms. Hamilton last year believed that her proposal “was mesmerizing and powerful, bringing a calming quality to a charged place.”

Because the station will have a prominent entrance directly from the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, which is opening this year, Ms. Hamilton has deliberately worked in the nearly all-white palette established by Santiago Calatrava, the principal architect of the hub.

Though details have yet to be worked out, the letters will probably be about three and a half inches high and probably in a serif typeface, like Trajan, designed by Carol Twombly. They will be white on a white surface, but probably in relief or somewhat recessed, so that their contours can be discerned.

“It doesn’t demand your attention,” Ms. Hamilton said, “but it catches your attention.”

It has evidently caught the attention of those who have been given a preliminary glimpse.

“These are texts born in response to despotism, tyranny and mass murder,” the director of the memorial museum, Alice M. Greenwald, said. “They are expressions of hope and faith in the possibility that the best of our human nature can triumph over the worst.”

“To imagine that these words will now be part of the arrival and departure experience for commuters on their quotidian ritual journeys, and for tourists and visitors to the 9/11 memorial and museum, seems just right,” she said.

Catherine McVay Hughes, the chairwoman of Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan, said, “Each of these travelers will bring their own associations to the words that Ann Hamilton assembles, and we’re looking forward to learning more about it.”

Even constant users of the station ought to notice different words and passages each time they walk through, said Jessica Lappin, the president of the Alliance for Downtown New York. “When it’s completed, it will allow us each to pause, reflect and interpret the station in our own way,” she said. “It should be moving and powerful and certainly worth the wait.”


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