Building a Reputation


What Will Replace the World Trade Centre?

Architecture is the art of how to waste space.

- Philip Johnson

Since it is not granted to us to live long, let us transmit to posterity some memorial that we have at least lived.

- E Joseph Cossman

Appraisal: Fear in a Soaring Tower

by Nicolai Ouroussoff

New York - The darkness at ground zero just got a little darker.  If there is anyone still clinging to the expectation that the Freedom Tower will become a monument of the highest American ideals, the current design should finally shake them out of that delusion.  Somber, oppressive and clumsily conceived, the project is a monument to a society that has turned its back on any notion of cultural openness.  It is exactly the kind of nightmare that government officials repeatedly asserted would never happen here: an impregnable tower braced against the outside world.

On Wednesday, New York officials formally unveiled the redesigned Freedom Tower, an 82-story signature building at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.  The enormous pedestal, with a budget estimated at $1.5 billion, would overlook the September 11 memorial.  "Construction will climax the greatest comeback in the history of our city," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.  The new design by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings Merrill is a response to the obvious security issues raised by the New York City Police Department, specifically, the tower's resistance to car and truck bombs.  The earlier twisted glass form, a pastiche of ideas cobbled together from Daniel Libeskind's master plan and the bright minds at Skidmore, Owings Merrill, lacked grace or fresh ideas.

The new obelisk-shaped tower, standing on an enormous 20-story concrete pedestal, evokes a gigantic glass paperweight with a toothpick stuck on top.  (The toothpick-like spire was added so that the tower would reach its required symbolic height of 540 meters, or 1,776 feet - a reference to the year independence was declared.)

The temptation, of course, is to dismiss it as a joke.  And it is hard not to pity Childs, who was forced to redesign the tower on the fly to meet the governor's rigid deadline.  Unfortunately, the tower is too loaded with meaning to dismiss.  For better or worse, it will be seen by the world as a chilling expression of how the United States is reshaping its identity in a post-September 11 context.

The most radical design change is the creation of the base, which will house the building's lobby and mechanical systems.  Designed to withstand a major bomb blast, the base will be virtually windowless.  In an effort to animate its exterior facades, the architects have said they intend to decorate them in a grid of shimmering metal panels.  A few narrow slots will be cut into the concrete to allow slivers of natural light into the lobby.

The effort fails on almost every level.  As an urban object, the tower's static form and square base finally brushes aside the last remnants of Libeskind's master plan, whose only real strength was the potential tension it created between the site's various structures.  In its earlier incarnation, for example, the tower's eastern wall formed a narrow pedestrian alley that became a key entry to the memorial site, leading directly between the proposed Freedom Center complex and the Memorial's north pool.  The alleyway, which was flanked on its other side by the Frank Gehry-designed performing arts centre, was fraught with tension; it is now a formless park littered with trees.

The interior, by comparison, holds a bit more promise for the hopelessly optimistic.  Visitors will enter from north and south lobbies, where they will have to slip around an interior partition set just beyond the revolving doors - yet another concession to security concerns.  If the configuration of windows could somehow be improved, one could imagine, with some effort, a sealed cathedral-like room with heavenly light spilling down.  But if this is a potentially fascinating work of architecture, it is, sadly, fascinating in the way that Albert Speer's architectural nightmares were fascinating - as expressions of the values of a particular time and era.  The Freedom Tower embodies, in its way, a world shaped by fear.

At a recent meeting at his Wall Street office in New York, Childs tried to deflect this criticism by enveloping the building in historical references.  The height of the tower will match the height of the tallest of the former World Trade Center Towers - 1,368 feet - which will re-establish its relationship to the nearby World Financial Center, which was built at exactly half that height.  The fortress-like appearance of the base was inspired by the Strozzi Palace in Florence, the relationship between the base and the soaring tower by Brancusi's Bird in Space (from a series, examples to the left and right).  But the tower has none of the lightness of Brancusi's polished bronze form, let alone its sculptural beauty.  And the Strozzi Palace's blank stone facade is beautiful because it is a mask: Once inside, you are confronted with a courtyard flooded with light and air, one of the great architectural treasures of the Renaissance.

What the tower evokes, by comparison, are ancient obelisks, blown up to a preposterous scale and clad in heavy sheaths of reinforced glass - an ideal symbol for an empire enthralled with its own power, and unaware that it is fading.  This obsession with symbolism extends all the way up to the tower's spire.  Childs has long been itching to reposition the original spire, which as Libeskind envisioned it had to be set at the edge of the tower to echo the outstretched arm of the Statue of Liberty.  In the new version, the spire rises out of the centre of a tension ring mounted on the top of the building - an abstract interpretation of the statue's torch - an idea that, like Libeskind's, has more to do with pandering to public sentiment than with any big architectural idea.

All of this could be more easily forgiven if it were simply a result of bad design.  But ground zero is not really being shaped by architects.  It is being shaped by politicians.  Soon after the new security requirements were announced, it became clear that the entire building would have to be redesigned.  That could have been seen as a last chance to repair what had become a confused master plan - one that had little connection, except in the minds of Libeskind and Governor George Pataki, to the original.  Instead, the quality of the master plan has been sacrificed to the governor's insistence on preserving hollow symbolic gestures.  Absurdly, if the Freedom Tower were reduced by a dozen or so stories and renamed, it would probably no longer be considered such a prime target.  Fortifying it, in a sense, is an act of deflection.  It announces to terrorists: Don't attack here - we're ready for you.  Go next door.

Nicolai Ouroussoff is a writer for The New York Times

Source: 30 June 2005 © International Herald Tribune all rights reserved


2 Years of WTC Plans Lie in Ruins as Pataki Orders a New Tower

by Tom Topousis

It's back to the drawing board for the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero.

Governor Pataki yesterday ordered up a complete redesign of the planned signature skyscraper in the wake of Police Department warnings about security risks.  The move is a major reversal of Pataki's promise to move rapidly to restore lower Manhattan's skyline with an "iconic" post-9/11 tower that would be the world's tallest building and a symbol of liberty.  Officials familiar with the decision say a new design by architect David Childs is expected within several weeks and will include a building that will rise 1,776 feet, like the original proposal from April 2003, but otherwise will "look a lot different."

Pataki's announcement followed a meeting yesterday with Mayor Bloomberg, the Police Department, developer Larry Silverstein and officials from the Port Authority and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.  "What emerged from the meeting was a renewed commitment to realisation of the Freedom Tower as a bold symbol of the rebuilding," read a Pataki statement.  "A consensus also emerged that a new design for the Freedom Tower is required in order to meet NYPD's security standards."  Pataki said the new design would remain consistent with architect Daniel Libeskind's master plan for the World Trade Center site.

The NYPD delivered a report to Silverstein on 6 April citing its concerns with security at the tower.  Among those concerns was that it could be vulnerable to a truck bomb because of its proximity to West Street and the mostly glass construction of the lower stories.  Top NYPD brass had been pressing the Port Authority for nearly a year about their concerns regarding the safety of the building, which because of its planned height and symbolic nature could be a target of terrorists.  The NYPD report, which both identified problems and solutions, was sent early last month - finally forcing a second look at the Freedom Tower.  Charles Gargano, Pataki's top economic adviser and a vice chairman of the Port Authority, said: "I don't want to get into the blame thing.  We have to move forward."  While the Freedom Tower will take longer to finish, Gargano stressed that other projects, including construction of the transit hub and the memorial, are all on time.  When Pataki laid the cornerstone for the Freedom Tower on 4 July he said the building would be done by 2009.  Rebuilding officials now say the completion of the tower will be delayed by up to a year.

Silverstein, who has yet to line up a single tenant, called yesterday's meeting productive.  "It is crystal clear that we all share one goal: delivering a spectacular and secure Freedom Tower as quickly as possible," he said.  The Freedom Tower will remain in the same northwest corner of the World Trade Center site overlooking West Street, but it will be moved slightly away from the street to better protect it from potential car bombs.  Another expected design change involves the lower 150 to 200 feet of the tower, now largely glass, that will have to be better protected.  Libeskind yesterday seemed resigned to the changes.  "Security is clearly the paramount concern," he said.  "While the shape and details of buildings may change, the intent, spirit and direction of the master plan remains intact."

Any tension between City Hall and Albany about improved security was downplayed.  At a town a town-hall meeting in Brooklyn last night, Bloomberg said, "We made some major progress today in terms of satisfying the demands of the Police Department that this building be really safe."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose district includes Ground Zero, blasted both Pataki and Bloomberg.  "The lack of coordination and cooperation by the governor and the mayor has cost us months of delay and resulted in the decision by Goldman Sachs to consider other locations for their headquarters," he fumed.  Goldman Sachs had proposed a massive headquarters across West Street from the Freedom Tower site, but pulled out recently over concerns about security.  But Senator Charles Schumer, who has been pounding his fist for faster action on lower Manhattan, yesterday lauded Pataki and Bloomberg for "moving quickly and decisively."  He said there had been "a change in attitude" among leaders about the project, which came from public pressure.

Additional reporting by Stephanie Gaskell and Ed Robinson

Source: 5 May 2005

Tower Terror Fears

by Tom Topolis and Steve Cuozzo

Police concerns about protecting the Freedom Tower from terrorists have forced the developer of the world's tallest building to go back to the drawing board for significant design changes that could further delay the project.  Ground Zero developer Larry Silverstein was given the findings from NYPD counterterror experts three weeks ago, sources said yesterday.  NYPD spokesman Paul Browne declined to discuss the report because it involves counterterrorism strategies.  But he said the department's concerns about protecting the 1,776-foot tower go back more than three weeks.

"The Freedom Tower must be built in a manner consistent with the highest safety and security standards and yet allow for a bold design that reclaims New York's skyline with an enduring symbol of freedom," said a spokeswoman for Governor Pataki.  She said design changes in the Freedom Tower won't slow other efforts to rebuild the area, including the groundbreaking for a new transit hub this summer and construction of the 9/11 memorial to begin in 2006.  A spokesman for Silverstein insisted that "safety and security are of the utmost importance" to the developer.  "The New York Police Department recently raised new questions, which we are now addressing with all our governmental partners, including the NYPD," said Silverstein's spokesman.

Published reports last year cited NYPD concerns about the location of the tower just 25 feet from the street and recommended moving it farther back.  Sources familiar with the project and the security issues said the design changes shouldn't set the project back more than several months and would not result in moving the building on the site.  Before the call for changes, the tower was slated to be complete in 2009, with steel rising next year.  One source cited frustration with the NYPD bringing up the security issue so late in the rebuilding process but said every effort would be made to ensure that the tower will be as safe and secure as possible.

Source: The New York Post Tuesday 26 April 2005

Poor Reception for World Trade Centre Plans

New designs for redeveloping the World Trade Centre site have received poor reviews from many speakers at a public hearing who say the city should not be in a rush to put up new skyscrapers.  "I don't think it's appropriate to build this way again," said Peter Gadiel, whose 23-year-old son worked at the World Trade Centre and was killed in the September 2001 attack.  "If you really want to do this, then have the Port Authority offices at the top of these buildings," the Connecticut resident said, referring to the agency that owns the 16-acre (6.475-hectare) World Trade Centre site.

Last month, architects presented nine new designs for rebuilding the site after initial design concepts presented over the summer were panned by the public as dull.  Among the new ideas are proposals for building the world's tallest structure, along with space for retail and commercial development, cultural institutions, gardens and memorials to the nearly 3,000 victims of the September 11 attacks.  The architects include Norman Foster's Foster and Partners of London, which designed the new German parliament in Berlin, and American Richard Meier, architect of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.  The issue of what should be built where the twin towers stood has been contentious, with politicians, businesses and victims' relatives at odds.  Many relatives oppose any redevelopment because they consider the area a mass burial ground.

If there is new development, it needs to make safety the top priority, said Sally Regenhard, the mother of a firefighter who died in the attacks.  "I am not concerned how tall the buildings are," she said.  "I am concerned about how safe the buildings are."

But some speakers at the hearing, sponsored by the Port Authority and the Lower Manhattan Development, the agency overseeing the planning, called for new buildings at least as tall as the destroyed twin towers.  They said anything less would be a victory to the perpetrators of the attacks.  "We will rebuild 110 stories of occupied height and we will go back," said Jonathan Hakala, spokesman for an advocacy group called Team Twin Towers.  Hakala said rebuilding officials have blocked public involvement in the design plans and should hold an open architectural competition for the entire site.  Others said the plans ignore the needs of residents of lower Manhattan and instead focus on drawing tourists to the site.  "Please don't try to turn lower Manhattan into a downtown Disneyland," said John Dellaportas, a resident of the Battery Park City neighbourhood.

On Tuesday, a public hearing will be held on what kind of memorial should be built at the site.

Source: Stuff 15 January 2003 from Reuters

Winning Entry

Studio Daniel Libeskind - The "bathtub" becomes a memorial space utilising the bare exposed concrete slurry walls of the Trade Centre foundation.  It contains a museum six stories below street level.  It creates two wedge-shaped public plazas where sunlight will shine without any shadows on 11 September each year.  Tall towers rise above the pit, oriented so that the sun will strike their glass facades every 11 September at the exact time the first plane hit the north tower (8:46am), and again at 10:28am when the second tower collapsed.  The tallest building rises to a height of 1,776 feet, with the transparent walls of the upper stories encasing multiple floors of indoor vertical gardens, dubbed the "Gardens of the World."

The final design photos and more information can be found on the page following this one.

by Phil Hirschkorn

The announcement naming Libeskind was made 27 February 2003 the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, an agency created after the attacks to oversee redevelopment of the 16-acre site.  The site will also include a memorial to those killed.  Libeskind was named earlier this month as one of two finalists in the design competition (the other was the entry by Think, below).  New York Governor George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg were on hand for the announcement.  Pataki and Bloomberg personally favoured the Libeskind plan over its rival, sources said.  The governor and mayor felt Libeskind's design offered the maximum flexibility for a memorial, as it provides acre-wide "footprints" of the twin towers.  "There was unanimous agreement," said Matt Higgins, an LMDC spokesman.  The committee included representatives of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which built the trade center, owns its land, and months ago began rebuilding transit lines on it.

The LMDC had commissioned seven teams of architects last fall to submit designs for skyline-restoring towers, as well as a train station, park space, and cultural facilities, including a museum.  The designs allocated several acres for a memorial, to be chosen in a separate competition commencing this spring.  Libeskind was one of four architects who proposed structures higher than the world's tallest building, which the 110-story twin towers were when they were completed in the early 1970s.

The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur now hold the record of being the tallest buildings, at 1,483 feet, followed by the Sears Tower in Chicago, at 1,454.  Three architectural teams proposed re-creating twin towers.  Libeskind did not.  Libeskind's proposed 1,776 foot tall tower represents the year of American independence, demonstrating "the durability of democracy."  The top levels will hold indoor gardens that will be a "confirmation of life."  The tower, attached to an office building, will be adjacent to a museum, a performing arts centre and a rail station and integrated into a restored intersection of streets; the site was an elevated plaza during the life of the trade centre.  Libeskind's plan will also leave exposed part of the trade center's 70-foot deep concrete foundation walls, known as the bathtub, for keeping out Hudson River waters.  "Not everything was destroyed.  At bedrock level, New York stands as vital as ever before," the architect explained.  Libeskind, 56, is a former New Yorker who is now based in Berlin, where he designed the Jewish Museum that opened September 2001.  Born in postwar Poland, his parents were Holocaust survivors; his father and his aunt were the only two of 11 children in their family to survive the Auschwitz concentration camp.  The Libeskind family emigrated to Israel and then to the United States when Libeskind was a teenager, arriving by boat in 1959 in New York harbour.

"I never forgot that skyline and what it means to an immigrant, an American.  It's not just a symbol.  It's not just something up in the air.  It's about the values that we all share," Libeskind said.  He went to high school and studied architecture in New York.  His previous projects include the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, England, and the soon-to-be-built Denver Art Museum.  His plan for lower Manhattan leaves parcels of space to build from 6.5 million to 10 million square feet of office space, as the market demands.  "The art of urban planning is not just to do fantasies, to impose mega-structural ideas, but to create rich fabric that has the complexity of New York City.  New York City is not just a simple-minded village," Libeskind said.

The choice of Libeskind marks a turning point in this most public of architectural competitions.  The LMDC has considered tens of thousands of comments received via e-mail and at an exhibition of the design models, and held more than 50 public hearings.  A massive town meeting last July rejected six original site proposals, and prompted the new competition that led to Libeskind.  The plan put forward by Vinoly and Schwartz proposed a pair of stainless steel lattice towers rising 1,440 feet with a museum at the 35th floor - heights lowered since the plan was unveiled two months ago.  The towers would have housed what they called a "world cultural centre."

Source: Thursday 27 February 2003

My favourites (the winning entry was definitely NOT one of my favourites):

Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey and Steven Holl

Five tic-tac-toe towers rise to a height of 1,111 feet on the north and east sides of the site, evoking, the architects say, the interlaced fingers of two hands.  Outer walls are made with high-tech material that absorbs sunlight during the day and glows at night.  A memorial plaza would surround the twin towers' footprints, which have glass-bottom reflecting pools that bring light to the transit hub below.  These pools are the starting point for memorial corridors that extend out to platforms over the Hudson River, filling the same space the shadows of each tower would have occupied before their collapse, with parks lined with trees and 2,800 lights representing the victims who perished.  Twelve of the site's 16 acres are left as open space.  (Some suggest "these reflect the Lego fantasies of a Ritalin-dependent child...")

Think: Frederic Schwartz, Rafael Vinoly, David Rockwell, Shigeru Ban and others

The trade centre is transformed into the World Cultural Centre, with two 1,665-foot-high latticework structures arising around the footprints (without touching them) like a great scaffolding.  The structures would anchor individual buildings - an open ampitheatre, galleries or a conference centre, a memorial museum (shown linking the two towers) - that could be constructed inside them.  Viewing platforms sit high atop the towers.  Eight mid-rise office buildings and a hotel would occupy the perimeter of the site, complementing the public-use buildings.  (Some suggest these look "like gas tanks thrust more than 1,000 feet into the sky...")

Sir Norman Foster and Partners

Two 1,764-foot, solid-concrete-core towers with triangular facades would be linked at three points as they rise.  From their triangular (rather than rectangular) base, a vast park, partially on a deck constructed over West Street between Fulton and Liberty Streets, would stretch toward the Winter Garden and the Hudson River.  Outer walls can open up on indoor gardens.

The World Trade Centre footprints are preserved as empty spaces, walled in with steel and stone, creating two voids.  From below ground level (three stories below the surface of the 20-acre park), visitors can look up at the sky through the voids.  A diagonal wall divides the void into an area for the public and an area for victims' families.  (Also described as "what the WTC might have looked like had it been designed by artists rather than by hacks..."

Source: The New York Post Thursday 19 December 2002; some of the description came from the New York Daily News published on the same day.  The quote immediately above is from Steve Cuozzo's column "Reality Check" in the Post

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