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what do the critics think?
A sampling of what architectural critics and others were saying about the compromise Freedom Tower unveiled in December 2003.

Inspired Start, Yes, But Work Remains
Newsday, Justin Davidson -- Dec. 20, 2003

"With the Freedom Tower, the 1,776-foot skyscraper designated as the architectural retort to terrorist barbarism, David Childs has found a form that draws its strength from altitude. …

"The model presented yesterday is a start -- closer to the hundredth draft than to the first, but still far from a finished work. It represents a hurried compromise between architects with radically different sources of inspiration. Libeskind, whose master plan called for the world's tallest buildings in the first place, begins with metaphors and then finds a way to incarnate them. Childs, who is the tower's architect of record, works logically from the specifics of the site -- the layout of the streets, the proximity of water, the intensity of wind.

"The result leans toward the rational but can be read poetically too. …"

A Skyscraper Has a Chance to be Nobler
The New York Times, Herbert Muschamp -- Dec. 20, 2003

"The surprise of yesterday's unveiling is that in its present form the Freedom Tower is much closer to being a piece of architecture than the public had any right to expect. The forced collaboration between David M. Childs, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and Daniel Libeskind might have brought out the worst instincts of each, resulting in a corporate gloss on the apocalypse. Instead, the architects have come close to transcending what's left of their battered selves. With some shrewd editing, the design could become one of the noblest skyscrapers ever realized in New York. …

"Adaptability and conceptual balance are the essential qualities of the design. Its success as architecture is contingent upon the integrity with which these qualities are maintained throughout. The design's weaknesses represent lapses from the consistency of its own internal logic.

"There are two of them: the sloped roof at the summit of the building's inhabited portion, and the broadcasting mast that rises from the open-lattice superstructure above. These features are both concessions to weak ideas that Mr. Libeskind presented a year ago. …

"Here's the paradox. These concessions to Mr. Libeskind actually prevent the design from achieving the symbolic status he sought with his initial ideas. They deprive the design of its integrity and sharply curtail its effectiveness as symbolic form. …"

High-Rise Plan a Soar Winner
The New York Post, Steve Cuozzo -- Dec. 20, 2003

"With the Freedom Tower unveiled yesterday, David Childs and his Skidmore, Owings & Merrill team have done the impossible: They transfigured the conflicting demands of Gov. Pataki, Larry Silverstein, Daniel Libeskind and an impatient public into something original and brilliant at Ground Zero. …

"Pay no attention to what learned architecture critics say about it: They can't even agree on whether to save or demolish tiny 2 Columbus Circle, and their politically driven blather should not be welcomed at Ground Zero.

"Forget too, about whether or not the Freedom Tower's cloud-busting antenna shaft properly echoes the Statue of Liberty -- the whole idea was a Libeskind whim that means nothing.

"Think instead of what the downtown skyline needs: The grand gesture that the Twin Towers never offered apart from their sheer size, and a bold reclamation of the sky. The Freedom Tower delivers both with a vengeance. Oh, and a building that -- as Larry Silverstein promised yesterday -- will work in the real world.

"On a site defined as much by heroism as by atrocity, the Freedom Tower is heroic. Without sunken pits and voids, the tower, an affirmation of downtown's renewed life, is already the World Trade Center ground's best memorial. …"

Reaching for the Sky, Falling Short
Chicago Tribune, Blair Kamin -- Dec. 21, 2003

"Here's the maddening thing about the revised design for the iconic tower at ground zero, unveiled Friday: It isn't so bad that New Yorkers are likely to junk it, as they did the uninspired first round of plans for rebuilding the World Trade Center.

"The design … would produce a world's tallest building that would strive for -- without reaching -- great aesthetic heights. …

"This is not the skyline icon that New York and the nation deserve in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The parts don't constitute a persuasive whole, at least not yet. …

"Childs' revised design, despite its structural filigree, is too strong, too monolithic. It repeats the twin towers' mistake of overbearing massiveness. It's as if he had created a hipper version of one of the old World Trade Center high-rises. …

"The design has merits, and it certainly is a major improvement over the first round of ground zero plans, but that is faint praise. Childs, an architect of considerable talent and conscience, can do better. If America is to truly honor the victims of Sept. 11, the imperative to do so is not simply aesthetic, but moral."

Capitalism Tops Democracy in Tower's Design
Los Angeles Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff -- Dec. 20, 2003

"The new design for the Freedom Tower at the site of the former World Trade Center is exactly what the public should expect from a process in which commercial interests push the public interest to the background: a slightly better-than-average design that lacks imaginative power. …

"What is most striking about the design… is its lack of originality. … Childs has preserved many components of the Libeskind design -- but has watered them down to the point that they have lost much of their punch.

"The diluted design raises questions as to what kind of architectural standards we should expect for a project so weighted with meaning. Architecture -- especially at this scale -- is a political as well as an aesthetic process. The issue is which takes precedence. …

"The second-rate quality [of the tower design] speaks to the limits of the democratic process when it comes face to face with commerce. As such, it underscores the limits our culture places on the imaginative process, even under circumstances when the public welfare should rule."

A Monumental Mediocrity
The New York Sun, James Gardner -- Dec. 22, 2003

"God it's bad! I know that we aren't supposed to say out loud, let alone in print, such things about the Freedom Tower design… Especially as the press, and many citizens as well, seem to be bending over backwards to persuade themselves that, just maybe, the tower is not as bad as it looks. Unfortunately, no amount of good will can alter the sad reality that now confronts us: The mountains have labored and a mouse is born; a pretty bit mouse, I'll allow, but infinitesimal in its competence and conception.

"What nice thing can we say about it? Well, it's certainly the tallest in its class. …

"Beyond that, the whole sorry process has had the morbid fascination of a train wreck in slow motion. This monumental mediocrity, this clash of clumsy half-measures and compromises, has, with awesome inexorability, yielded exactly the result everyone had labored to avoid. Just this once, you may recall, our officials and their architects were going to rise to the occasion, to produce something that would awe the world. And yet, the result is pretty much what happens when unimaginative bureaucrats imagine they have an imagination -- they do something wacky in the smug satisfaction that at least they aren't doing something boring. …

Standing Tall Downtown, and for Something
Newsday, Douglas Davis -- Dec. 23, 2003

"… What won? The off-center spire proposed by Libeskind, child of the Polish holocaust (raised in the Bronx from the age of 10): It survived. Not precisely as we all wished. Not precisely as the witty, looped form that reminded us of the arched arm of that beloved lady in the harbor (we call her the Statue of Liberty). …

"Look at the image again, friends. It isn't the provocative line we hoped to see, yet it's still without a doubt the most imaginative tall building in the world. …"

Let Freedom Tower!
Slate, Christopher Hawthorne -- July 2, 2004

"… This is what it has come to at Ground Zero: A premature, election-year press conference held on Independence Day to celebrate the start of construction on a building called the Freedom Tower, which is designed to be precisely 1,776 feet tall and to rise next door to a vaguely conceived but lavishly outfitted museum called the Freedom Center. Who says patriotism is dead?

"If this were all happening in service of a truly great piece of architecture -- or even a very good one -- it would be easier to keep the cynicism in check. But the Freedom Tower doesn't promise to be much better than pretty good. …

"All this is looking more and more like the process that brought us the original Twin Towers in the late 1960s and early '70s. Then, as now, an ambitious Republican governor pushed through the construction of an oversized new architectural project that promised to flood lower Manhattan with more commercial space than even the rosiest projections suggested it needed. …"

The 1,776-Foot-Tall Target
The New York Times, Daniel Benjamin -- March 23, 2004

"… The 1,776-foot-tall Freedom Tower, designed to be the world's tallest and to stand where the World Trade Center did, will become a top target for Islamic terrorists as soon as it is occupied. …

"Many will consider an objection to the Freedom Tower on safety grounds to be bad manners. After all, the resolve to overcome disaster is in our bones and in our history. Some will argue that building a more modest structure will not lower the likelihood of an attack against America, which is true but beside the point. Others will say that to scrap [the] Freedom Tower is to hand terrorists a victory.

"This ignores the difference between heroic resolve and foolishness. Dangling an iconic and indefensible target in front of terrorists is inconsistent with a strategy of reducing our vulnerabilities wherever possible. …"

 

 

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posted sept. 7, 2004

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