Designs for Ground Zero
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RAY SUAREZ: Ever since the terrorist attack and the collapse of New York’s Twin Towers, there’s been wide-open speculation on what should be done with the 16-acre site in Lower Manhattan. Now, questions about Ground Zero’s future are a step closer to being answered. Seven teams of architects have unveiled new designs for the Trade Center site. They range from twinned crystalline towers that would be the tallest in the world, to a design of five glass towers, each joined by three interconnecting horizontal floors, to a design of five angular buildings that includes a memorial in the sky. The final design is expected to be selected early next year.
With me now is Daniel Libeskind, an American architect based in Berlin. He designed one of the proposals called Memory Foundation, a skyscraper and memorial that sinks 70 feet into the ground. And Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for the New Yorker magazine.
Well, Paul, they started out with very similar set of parameters: Retail space, office space, room for a memorial park, and a transportation hub. What did the teams do with it?
PAUL GOLDBERGER: Well, they’ve done really very visionary things this time, Ray. This whole process was in response to an effort last summer, when the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is in charge of rebuilding at Ground Zero, made what I guess we will now have to, what history will record as a false start.
They did several preliminary plans that turned out to be really mainly driven by putting back money making real estate. They were quite banal, quite ordinary, and people felt that they were simply not up to the dignity and significance of this occasion, and this site, which at this point I think is the most famous building site in the world.
And they were received so negatively, that the Development Corporation essentially went back to the drawing board and said, “Well, we have to do something better.” They issued a call to architects from around the world to respond. More than 400 did. They chose these seven as representative of really the highest architectural ambitions of today, and said, “Go to it.”
RAY SUAREZ: Well, “ambition” is a good word, I think. I wasn’t even sure that buildings could do some of the things that these designs have in them– swooping, soaring, coming apart, and then returning together with sky-high platforms that attach some of these projects. They really are much more about architecture than real estate, aren’t they?
PAUL GOLDBERGER: Absolutely. This time they really are. They are dreams. They are visions. They’re the boldest things we can come up with at this point. I think what better place than Ground Zero to reinvent the skyscraper, to bring the skyscraper to the next generation. The skyscraper is the great contribution of American culture to world architecture, and here on this site where American culture was itself so threatened, what a wonderful thing to actually think that there we can push the skyscraper forward when we rebuild.
RAY SUAREZ: Daniel Libeskind, give us an imaginary walk through your design.
DANIEL LIBESKIND: Well, I started with really the urbanity of New York. What happened on that site. The site has forever been marred by the memory of the tragedy and loss on the site. So, memory is a very important aspect of how to develop the site. I started with that. Because in fact the entire site, the 16 acres, has to be, I think in my view, designed with the traces of September 11 in the design of all the spaces.
And I started with the foundations — going all the way down to Ground Zero, all the way 70 feet down into the bedrock where the indelible footprints and tower one and tower two are. I thought, “that’s a sacred space; it’s now no longer just any space. It has to be protected it.
I created a site for the memorial competition right there and protected it with a cultural museum, and then of course, the busing station, the city developing all around it, and of course including a very dramatic gardens of the world building which is there as well. So it’s a dynamic project, but I thought to make it a realistic project, something that could be phased easily, something that is practical. And that’s why I actually didn’t believe that this design, you know, a 100 story skyscraper, because I thought, “well, today perhaps people will not want to be on the site that high.” I suggested 70-floor high skyscraper, but of course, I extended it in the gardens to 1,776 feet in the air, which would make it the tallest.
PAUL GOLDBERGER: I think that’s a key…
RAY SUAREZ: I’m sorry. Go ahead.
PAUL GOLDBERGER: …I think that’s a key part of your project, in fact, because it reclaims the sky. That’s terribly important. I think people want to go back into the sky in some way there. We don’t have to do it in the form of a habitable skyscraper, but a symbol that puts the skyline back, that heals the skyline, as well as healing on the ground is very important.
RAY SUAREZ: But if you remember those 90 days after September 11, people were talking about the end of the skyscraper, whether big cities ever again would commission extremely tall office towers, whether people would ever want to work in them again. And yet towers and skyscrapers are very much at the heart of these seven projects.
DANIEL LIBESKIND: Well, again, I think it depends on how one treats the sky. I believe that Paul is right, that one has to restore a peak to the sky of New York. People are missing it. It has to be there. But in my view, it doesn’t have to be a conventional sky scraper. It can be a high building, a high point, a high dramatic sky figure, but it does not have to be necessarily just a conventional, occupiable office building. And that’s exactly what I did with my gardens, because I really turned sort of a garden up vertically, and made the upper levels really into public spaces. But the rest of it is really attached to a rather normal skyscraper, which can be built today and is not 100 stories high.
PAUL GOLDBERGER: I think there are other issues with 100-, 120-, 150- story skyscrapers we have to think about as well, which is they don’t always make economic sense. We were not building a lot of them even in the years before September 11, before security became such an intense concern, because they didn’t always make money. And I think we’re going to have to think seriously about whether that equation has changed. I suspect it probably hasn’t. We will find that some of these, even the most appealing ones, do not necessarily make sense economically. But that’s another strength I think of Daniel’s project, which is that the part that goes very high is just a symbol. It’s a kind of spire for the city, as opposed to a habitable conventional sky scraper that high.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, some of the projects took the original towers almost as kind of a design cue, didn’t they? If you look at the sink project, there’s an homage to the towers. It almost looks like it from a distance.
PAUL GOLDBERGER: Well, there are a lot of people who I think really revere the towers as an icon. They are our first skyscraper martyrs. While most architects and architecture critics didn’t admire them, and I know I didn’t as a work of architecture, I understand the new role of cultural significance that they take on.
So I sort of see how there’s an appeal to creating that kind of scaffolding out of the framework that sort of echoes roughly the shape of the original towers, but in the particular project you’re talking about, Ray, the think project, it’s used for very different purpose. They convert that solid box of the original twin towers into a framework into which are inserted smaller sections that actually serve a cultural purpose. So it becomes a very different kind of a statement, and I think, actually, potentially a very beautiful symbol. I don’t know again whether that one will make sense, but it’s something that is provocative and visually very powerful.
RAY SUAREZ: Any other standout aspects of some of these projects that really caught your eye?
PAUL GOLDBERGER: There are a number of aspects of several of them that do. Certainly the aspect of Daniel Libeskind’s scheme that he presented that extraordinarily powerful use of the excavation as a memorial, I found very moving — United Architects, a very interesting group of young architects who are particularly skilled in technology and the computer, have really done this enormous mega-structure that kind of reinvents the sky scraper in a very provocative way. I find it a little bit gargantuan, but also visually quite powerfully exciting.
And the sense that a number of them have that we have to think about the skyscraper in new ways in terms of the ecology, the environment, gardens in the sky, is a common theme in actually quite a few of these. And I found that extraordinary that so many architects are now talking in terms of landscaping 40, 50, 60, 70 stories in the air.
DANIEL LIBESKIND: I just have to make a comment that we should not take the skyscrapers or high-rise buildings out of context. I think it’s important to remember that people walk the streets, they’re using the subway and path trains, and they’re at retail level, at ground level.
We have to I think create an urbanity of the 21st century which doesn’t only depend on it, it has to be something that touches the souls of citizens and people. There has to be a intimacy of spaces; there has to be symbolism in the grandeur of the important memorial space. There also has to be a dynamism view of New York from the 19th or early 20th.
I’m a believer that the entire project gives really an opportunity to rethink how to build, how to build ecologically, how to build in a way as a critique of what we already inherited and is beautiful. But I think we also have to move forward. I think tying the past of the site, what happened on it, to the future and to a completely exhilarating and new aspiration of the architecture is really the task that this project really must address.
RAY SUAREZ: Paul, does anybody have any money to actually build any of these things once it’s decided that some of these designs are exactly what the site needs?
PAUL GOLDBERGER: Well there’s some money. There’s some federal money. There will be money through the Port Authority, which owns the site. The developer who had leased the Trade Center before September 11 stands to get a significant amount of insurance money which will be part of the rebuilding fund. And then some of it will probably be financed through conventional ways, which is institutions lending money in the hope of future profits — the way any other commercial building is built.
So, by the time we’re ready to build, which is still a couple of years away, at the earliest, and probably more like three, four, five years for the rest of the planning process to continue, by that time, I think the money will come into play. It’s also important to remember that all of these projects were designed so as to be able to be done in stages, in phases over years, and even the fastest schedule anybody can conceive of would not see anything finished there for ten to fifteen years out.
RAY SUAREZ: Daniel Libeskind, Paul Goldberger, gentlemen, thank you both.
PAUL GOLDBERGER: Thank you.
DANIEL LIBESKIND: Thank you.