Page N1.2 . 27 August 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - News Department
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    Reconstruction Complications Continue


    After a marathon negotiation session in mid-July, some of the tension appeared to ease. Libeskind and Childs agreed to collaborate, with Childs to lead the design team and to maintain a commitment to follow Libeskind's overall vision. Kevin Rampe, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, called it a "historic collaboration."

    Civic Outcry

    Meanwhile, civic groups, including "Rebuild Downtown Our Town," voiced opposition to the proposal to move the tower from its original location in the Libeskind competition project. They worried that positioning it near or over a glass-ceilinged train station would have a negative effect on the surrounding streetscape, view corridors, and civic life.

    Joining the citizens' outcry were editorials in the New York Times calling for more openness in decision-making processes. In mid-July, the newspaper proclaimed: "...this cannot ever be treated as a normal real estate development, in which Mr. Silverstein would be expected to maximize return on every dollar of investment... The more open and transparent this process, the more likely it is that what emerges at ground zero is a vision as close as possible to Mr. Libeskind's plan and to the aspirations of us all."

    In the face of public outcry and Libeskind's own strong opposition was the impetus, the developer finally withdrew his proposal to move the tower. Other controversies remain however.

    Calls for Rationality

    New York New Visions (NYNV), a coalition of architects, planners, landscape architects, engineers, and other design professionals, has consistently called for more open debate, greater respect for public input, and a rational, professional analysis in the design development process.

    In August, NYNV issued a statement arguing that the site's environmental impact study would be a good opportunity to apply such an analysis in the public interest. NYNV complained that the planning process to date had been "driven by the normal realities of political jealousy, institutional rivalry, media excitability, and a fear of public involvement, all of which are part of doing business in New York."

    More specifically, NYNV asked for a design program with less office space, less built density, less retail space, especially less underground "anti-urban" mall space, and an examination of design alternatives for sustainability. These might include, for instance, on-site power generation, alternative renewable energy uses, and water conservation.

    Summer of Discontent

    Amid these calls to open various issues to public discourse, official credibility was again called into question when the August 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reported problem pregnancies among women who were exposed to dirt and soot from the September 11, 2001 attacks. This compounds environmental safety concerns following reports of 9/11 emergency workers now suffering disabling respiratory ailments despite having been told two years ago that the particulates in the air around Ground Zero were harmless.

    Other complaints focus on Libeskind's design. One major feature of his site design, a park area dubbed the "Wedge of Light," was configured, as described in Libeskind's competition project, to be unshaded every September 11th between the hours of 8:46 a.m., when the first airplane hit, and 10:28 a.m., when the second tower collapsed.

    According to an analysis by Eli Attia that claim was evidently based on theoretical sun angles and did not take into account the tall buildings to the east that would shade most of the "wedge" during those specified times. Backpedaling, Libeskind has explained that the park area was not intended to be a literal Stonehenge-like sundial but that some of the incoming light would be reflected from neighboring buildings.

    Amid all the bitterness, distasteful political wrangling, and battles of giant egos, one bright light has emerged. In early August, it was announced that renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has been awarded the design of the transit station at the World Trade Center site.

    He will work collaboratively with two engineering firms, DMJM + Harris and the STV Group. Calatrava, who is also an engineer and a sculptor, is known for his soaring designs. Perhaps he will inspire New Yorkers to soar up from their endless squabbling and figure out how best to rebuild Lower Manhattan.

    But despite calls for rational planning and repeated process changes to redress previous shortcut attempts, it seems that decisions are still being rushed. Republican Governor George Pataki has pushed for an aggressive construction schedule that calls for ground breaking for the first tower by August 2004, in time for the Republican National Convention.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

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



    ArchWeek Image

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

    ArchWeek Image

    One of the pedestrian design concepts for Lower Manhattan that was presented and rejected in summer 2002.
    Image: Lower Manhattan Development Corporation

    ArchWeek Image

    A sunken memorial garden would leave open the "footprints" of the fallen towers and show part of the slurry wall.
    Image: Studio Daniel Libeskind

    ArchWeek Image

    Emergency workers untangling wreckage at the World Trade Center disaster site were misled about the need for protective gear.
    Photo: Michael Rieger/FEMA News

    ArchWeek Image

    The "Wedge of Light" will not meet expectations as a sundial for remembrance.
    Image: Studio Daniel Libeskind


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