Page N1.2 . 05 March 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - News Department
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Libeskind Scheme Chosen for WTC


His design also includes an interpretative museum, an elevated promenade that encircles the memorial site, a rail station, hotels, a performing arts center, office towers, underground malls, street-level shops, and restaurants. If constructed as proposed, the site will eventually have 10 million square feet (930,000 square meters) of office space, about the same as in the original towers, and 880,000 square feet (82,000 square meters) of retail space.

Making it Work

That's the vision. The reality may be far different. Now another difficult phase begins, as architects, engineers, developers, and public officials consider the countless compromises that will be necessary to make the vision structurally, economically, and politically sound.

Already there have been compromises. In early February, the LMDC narrowed the competition from seven teams to two. Vying with Libeskind was the team THINK, headed by Rafael Vinoly, Shigeru Ban, and Frederic Schwartz. For several weeks, the LMDC worked with both teams to modify their preliminary designs, based on both existing and still-emerging considerations.

For example, an engineering study of the slurry wall found that it could not be left as is. Lack of lateral bracing and exposure to freeze-thaw cycles could prove disastrous. So the 70-foot deep pit, which had been applauded by public opinion, was partly filled in with underground parking and shopping malls, leaving a depression that's only 30 feet (9 meters) below street level.

With the rapid pace of the competition process and the complexity of all the design elements, there may not have been time yet to understand the effect of such revisions on the symbolic value of the exposed wall.

Paying for the project is an unresolved challenge. In early February, developer Larry A. Silverstein, who holds a lease to the property, announced that he would veto any of the designs then being considered, including any building over 70 stories.

Silverstein claimed the right to such a veto because it is his company that will be receiving the insurance reimbursement for the World Trade Center's destruction, "the only private source of funds for redevelopment." According to a report in the New York Times, rebuilding officials claim that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the land, is entitled to the money.

Regardless of who turns out to be correct, the debate over redevelopment rights promises to be contentious. If Silverstein prevails, the final appearance of the site may be less like Libeskind's design and more as envisioned by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the architecture firm Silverstein has hired to develop its own plan for the site. In contrast to Libeskind's lack of any major office building in his design portfolio, SOM has many decades of experience building highrise offices.

Public Processes, Private Decisions

As the next phase of planning, analysis, and design begins, interested parties will demand careful scrutiny of decision-making processes. The LMDC has gone to great lengths to invite public reaction to design proposals. They have sponsored exhibits, held public hearings, and hosted a Web site.

In the process, the LMDC collected nearly 13,000 comments said to be "critical in guiding the planning process." It was this public input that insisted that the selected project be one that both restored the skyline and preserved the footprints of the fallen towers.

But such public opinion may be at odds with professional opinion. A few days before the Libeskind decision was announced, according to a New York Times story, the LMDC site committee appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki to carry out the rebuilding, voted to endorse the THINK plan.

However the elected officials subsequently overruled their own appointees. It appears that public opinion (or some other less visible pressure) was found more compelling than the weeks of study conducted by the committee.

Calls for Rational Planning

One group that has been particularly vocal in their call for open decision making is New York New Visions, a coalition of 21 architecture, engineering, and planning organizations. While accepting the Libeskind decision, they have publicly called on officials "to revisit assumptions and refine the selected scheme with respect to other planning processes especially with the imminent memorial design competition, the mayor's vision for Lower Manhattan, and continuing transportation, infrastructure, and retail development analyses."

Architect Mark Ginsberg notes that the Libeskind proposal is "only a sketch of the final solution... There is a danger that this strong concept can fall victim to the normal forces of New York City development, and be whittled away behind the scenes and out of public view."

Planner Ethel Sheffer adds: "The ongoing planning process never well conceived or explained must now come to grips with the many remaining divisive and thorny issues." These include, she says, the effects of so much new retail space on the existing downtown and the effect of an influx of tour buses on pedestrian ambiance and air quality.

Adds Hugh Hardy FAIA, chair of NYNV's Plan Review Task Force: "We also call on the Port Authority to be forthcoming not only with their recommended plan and program for the site, but also with their justifications for those recommendations... Studio Libeskind's challenging and well-conceived scheme gives us an agreed framework for achieving that vision, but only if prudent steps are taken to preserve the vision."

It is also unclear how much of the immediate acclaim for the Libeskind proposal is based on a thorough comprehension of the scheme, or on approval for a few particularly outstanding, somewhat conceptual elements — and what difference that might make as the planning process continues to evolve toward some eventual construction.

Have the more radical elements of tilted and angular forms been widely understood? How literally will (and should) the more desconstructionist aspects of the Libeskind design be taken, as the project develops? And what kind of urban space would be created around some of the relatively aggressive glazed object buildings?

As a next step, The LMDC and Port Authority will work with Studio Daniel Libeskind to develop the details of the much-heralded scheme, most urgently the plans for underground transportation infrastructure. The LMDC will continue soliciting public comment during an environmental review.

An international competition for the memorial will begin soon. The LMDC hopes to have that design selected by September 11, 2003. Meanwhile, despite an apparently successful outcome to the major architectural competition, questions about what buildings will get built on the site and when, and who will pay for them are still far from being answered.

B.J. Novitski is managing editor of ArchitectureWeek and author of Rendering Real and Imagined Buildings.

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ArchWeek Image

A model of the design by Studio Daniel Libeskind for the World Trade Center site in New York.
Photo: Jock Poddle

ArchWeek Image

The sunken memorial garden and surrounding glass towers.
Image: Studio Daniel Libeskind

ArchWeek Image

Lower Manhattan, showing the sun angles calculated to define the "Wedge of Light" plaza.
Image: Studio Daniel Libeskind

ArchWeek Image

Ground-level floor plan of World Trade Center site design by Studio Daniel Libeskind
Image: Studio Daniel Libeskind

ArchWeek Image

A plan for phasing development over time.
Image: Studio Daniel Libeskind

ArchWeek Image

The Wedge of Light plaza.
Image: Studio Daniel Libeskind

ArchWeek Image

Cross section/ perspective through the proposed memorial garden and World Trade Center museum.
Image: Studio Daniel Libeskind

ArchWeek Image

Entrance to the museum and site.
Image: Studio Daniel Libeskind


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