Sacred Ground [home]
homeground zerofreedom towerarchitects


Produced by Nick Rosen
Directed by Kevin Sim


ANNOUNCER: On July 4th 2004, almost three years after 9/11, the cornerstone of the Freedom Tower was laid at Ground Zero.

Gov. GEORGE PATAKI (R), New York: We place here today the foundation of a new tower, a tower that will reclaim our glorious skyline, a tower that will honor the heroes we lost on this sacred ground.

ANNOUNCER: But behind the public ceremony lies a bitter story of politics, money and architectural egos.

DANIEL LIBESKIND, Architect: These will be dwarfed, and you can imagine what an--

DAVID CHILDS, Architect, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill: This project is not about Daniel Libeskind.

NINA LIBESKIND, Studio Daniel Libeskind: David Childs is not capable of great architecture.

PAUL GOLDBERGER, Architecture Critic, The New Yorker: Childs and Libeskind have fundamentally different ideas of what a skyscraper should be.

ANNOUNCER: It became a struggle between idealism and power--

ROLAND BETTS, Chairman, Site Planning Cmte.: Neither of them really wants to give an inch.

ANNOUNCER: --a battle that turned a public collaboration into a private WAR.

NINA LIBESKIND: I've never worked with so many people who lie.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, inside the battle for Sacred Ground.

ELLIE HARTZ: John was just a pure and utter gentleman. I think that would be the word that most people would use to describe him. He was a very kind gentleman. He was on the 6:30 in the morning train, and then he would get home at 6:30 every night. He was an early bird.

GORDON HUIE: Susan, she was the one who was always buying the groceries or making sure the laundry is done, and make sure Dad has dinner when he comes home. Sis had a meeting at the World Trade Center.

ELLIE HARTZ: Thirteen years he'd worked for Fiduciary, and they'd always been in the World Trade Center.

GORDON HUIE: She just happened to be at the computer meeting on the 106th floor.

ELLIE HARTZ: They were on the 90th, 94th to the 97th floor. He was in the South Tower.

NARRATOR: Ground Zero. The day before, this had been 16 acres of commercial real estate. Now it was sacred ground, sacred for the people who were killed here, sacred for what had been attacked here. Nearly 3,000 people had died because they went to work in an American icon, an icon that suddenly had become dangerous.

PAUL GOLDBERGER, Architecture Critic, The New Yorker: We've never had the experience of an iconic modern building disappearing, as the World Trade Center did.

NARRATOR: Paul Goldberger is the architecture critic for The New Yorker.

PAUL GOLDBERGER: There is nothing in our way of dealing with cities and symbols that prepares us for the challenge of what to do. It's a matter of filling a void. It's a matter of helping heal the wound by healing in the sky, as well as healing on the ground. We need some kind of great symbol, some icon, perhaps a tower.

RELATIVE OF VICTIM: We need a skyline that does justice to the wonderful people we lost!

WOMAN: We would like to see them do an international competition.

ROLAND BETTS, Chairman, Site Planning Committee: It is incumbent upon us at this time in the history of this city to do something great.

LMDC OFFICIAL: We're launching a worldwide design competition.

NARRATOR: Nearly 500 designs came in from all over the world. New Yorkers wanted a building that would lay their ghosts to rest and restore their pride. They wanted to bring back their skyline. They wanted something extraordinary. And then an architect emerged who not only showed a tower, he told a story.

DANIEL LIBESKIND, Architect: I arrived by ship to New York as a teenager, an immigrant, and like millions of others before me, my first sight was that of the Statue of Liberty and the amazing skyline of Manhattan.

NARRATOR: Daniel Libeskind was born among the ruins of war-torn Poland, the son of Holocaust survivors who'd escaped the Nazis by fleeing to the Soviet Union. After the war, his family came back to find their world had disappeared forever. When Daniel was 13, they emigrated to America.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: I cannot tell you what Manhattan looks like to someone who's an immigrant and who was coming with all the anxieties and all the hopes that every person who has ever come to this country has. We saw the Statue of Liberty coming out of the mist.

NARRATOR: He grew up in the Bronx and studied in Manhattan. He became an architect whose buildings told stories. His Jewish Museum in Berlin retold the story of his own people. Now Daniel Libeskind promised to tell the story of America in an iconic tower.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: The sky will become home again to a towering spire, creating an icon that speaks to our vitality in the face of danger and our optimism in the aftermath of tragedy.

NARRATOR: Libeskind created a master plan for Ground Zero. Around the memorial, the slurry walls that had withstood the terrorist attacks would remain exposed, a symbol of the resilience of democracy. And the tallest building in the world would rise from Ground Zero, a symbolic 1,776 feet high.

A story leaked to The New York Times revealed that the jury had voted for Libeskind's rival. "We do not expect to be overruled," one juror told The Times. But in this competition, one vote counted for more than all the rest, George Pataki's, the governor of New York.

Gov. GEORGE PATAKI (R), New York: I remember reading on the front page of The New York Times that that was the decision and thinking, "Well, maybe it's not yet the decision."

NARRATOR: The governor had gone for Libeskind's design and his story.

Gov. GEORGE PATAKI: Daniel came here, sailed past the Statue of Liberty. Daniel's emotional feel for the site reflects our own experiences, a soaring Freedom Tower, 1,776 feet high, mimicking the Statue of Liberty with a torch, as a sign that we're going beyond.

JOHN WHITEHEAD, Chmn, Lower Manhattan Dev. Corp.: Daniel Libeskind himself embodies the ethos and story of America. His plan evokes the values that define our nation.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: He said, "Mr. Libeskind, you've won."

[ Review all the design proposals]

PAUL GOLDBERGER: Libeskind is brilliant at getting the job. Libeskind won the right to be the master planner for Ground Zero. How much that actually means still remains to be seen.

ED HAYES, Libeskind's Lawyer: New York is a very rough place. It's hard to get on this island, it's hard to get off this island. I think I've been around most of the New York battles for the last 35 years. It's a rough place.

NARRATOR: Ed Hayes. He was Andy Warhol's lawyer, and Tom Wolfe's. Now, he had a new client.

ED HAYES: I'm getting paid to represent Libeskind, so if I get paid, I'm going to work. He's my third genius. The first thing he wants me to do is lead him through the jungles of New York without getting ambushed and eaten alive. And so far, we've kept him from being somebody's lunch.

There really are people that reach positions of power, and as far as they're concerned, we're just players on a chessboard. And if we have to get run over, they run us right over. American history, that's it. They'll run you down in the street like a dog. And I think I can protect him. And I can protect him.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: I have a guidebook to Manhattan printed at almost the turn of the century, which says, "If you come to Manhattan, go to the highest point, go to the steeple of Trinity church, you'll see New York like no one has ever seen it." I mean it, it's hard to believe that this was the highest point in Manhattan for such a long time, and then this whole city's just sprouted up.

I think New York, in some senses, is the quintessential city of spires, so that if you took all cathedrals, all aspirations to the sky, and put them together in a very, very small area, and had a kind of competition of spires-- of course, there are different ways of expressing those spires. You see pyramids. You see these very sharp points. You see, of course, the Empire State Building, of course, the Chrysler Building. It's a city that is carved out, completely, as a composition. And perhaps that's what was so moving about New York, is that it's not about the solitary buildings. It's about the composition of the whole city, almost like an organic work of art that is ongoing.

NARRATOR: Architecture, argues Libeskind, should not just be for people with power and money. But at Ground Zero, just a block from Wall Street, power and money were never going to be far away. The original World Trade Center had been publicly owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. But just weeks before 9/11, they leased it out.

LARRY SILVERSTEIN, Developer: I paid $3.2 billion for a 99-year lease.

NARRATOR: Governor Pataki watched as developer Larry Silverstein took out a 99-year lease on the biggest buildings in New York.

LARRY SILVERSTEIN: Seven million square feet were occupied by the investment-grade tenants, who occupied large blocks of space, and in many instances, were paying rents that I felt were significantly below market. We saw an opportunity to significantly enhance the value of the properties. It was really the culminating transaction of my business career.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever consider Libeskind as the actual main architect for the tower?


NARRATOR: As the leaseholder, Silverstein now had the responsibility to rebuild the World Trade Center. While Daniel Libeskind was winning the competition, Silverstein's architect had been privately drawing up plans of his own. David Childs was a leading architect at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, one of the largest corporate architectural firms in the world.

PAUL GOLDBERGER: Childs and Libeskind have fundamentally different ideas of what a skyscraper should be. David Childs believes in the skyscraper as a rational object. The structural idea should come first. Architecture should reflect the structural reality. Libeskind tends to begin with an idea and figure that it's the role of the engineer to make the idea of the architect possible.

DAVID CHILDS, Architect, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill: It's not necessarily such a difference between Libeskind and myself, it's the difference between the body of work that we've worked on, the scale and the complexity and the nature of the projects that we've been given to do. The tall office building will have a series of forces that Libeskind, in his experience, has never yet had the opportunity of dealing with.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: They are almost half the size. I mean these-- these buildings which now tower over, they will be dwarfed by the Freedom Tower and by the other towers. These will be dwarfed. And you can imagine what an important anchor this tower is in this site and how important it is for orienting the site actually in the sky.

DAVID CHILDS: Libeskind's work has largely been in relatively low-scale matters that house things like museums. It's relatively easy to take a green site and a small building and all the money in the world and a very forgiving client and sort of do a sculptural piece. But in building a city, which is the most complicated piece of architecture of all, one has to take so many different aspects together. And that's been much of my career in trying to figure out.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: A man or a woman doesn't live by function alone. There has to be something that rises our hearts and eyes above all the prosaic daily needs that architecture, of course, has to address. It's the spirit of the site. It's full of its own forces. The site will always resist bad things to be done to it. It's that poetry of buildings.

[ More on the architects' philosophies]

PAUL GOLDBERGER: Silverstein was very clever. He'd never said anything specifically about Libeskind's design for the tower, he just said it's the best site plan. What Silverstein was trying to do was protect the right to get the building designed by David Childs.

LARRY SILVERSTEIN: It's my absolute right to choose the architects. I signed the ground lease. I have the obligation to pay the grounds. I have the obligation to rebuild. I have the obligation to collect the insurance, policy proceeds for purposes of rebuilding. Who's going to make the decisions? I've got to make them. No one else is equipped to make them. No one else can.

ED HAYES: Silverstein is a traditional New York real estate operator. They don't want to give you snow in a blizzard. They don't want to give you anything. I told everybody that from the beginning. I said, "This guy will tell you anything, agree to anything, and then just not do it." He wants to pretend he wants the master plan, but in fact, he doesn't want the master plan. He wants unilateral changes grossly unsuited to the master plan. And short of putting a knife to their throat, there has to be some way of making sure that everybody will comply and play by the rules.

NARRATOR: There were people whom Governor Pataki had appointed to make sure the rules were enforced. Roland Betts, New York developer and friend of President Bush. His job for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation was chairman of the Ground Zero Site committee.

ROLAND BETTS, Chairman, Site Planning Committee: There's a lot of ego. Neither of them really wants to give an inch, and neither really wants to share. At one point, Larry Silverstein wanted to move the tall tower. That idea had to be defeated. Silverstein wanted to put another tower on top of the train station. Why? He could make more money, more rentable square feet. Well, that's not the plan we adopted, so we stuffed that.

I'm not sympathetic to Silverstein. I just said, "Look, you see this as your property. We see this as belonging to the citizens of New York and of the world." And the process we're running is trying to engage all of those voices, and one individual developer is not going to trump that effort.

NARRATOR: By the spring of 2003, the master plan was under pressure. Two very different architects were designing two very different towers.

ED HAYES: They didn't want Libeskind's involvement at all. They didn't want to listen to the master plan at all.

NARRATOR: The project was slipping behind schedule. The governor ordered Libeskind and Childs to find some way of cooperating. His aides called a crisis meeting.

ED HAYES: Working behind the scenes, we would go back and forth from room to room, trying to make this deal. The position from the beginning was, "Look, we're not going to pay any attention to you."

NARRATOR: Neither side was budging. Eight hours passed with no agreement.

ED HAYES: Finally, Childs and Libeskind went into a room and more or less got together with something that we could all live with.

NARRATOR: The architects finally worked out a deal. David Childs would design the Freedom Tower with the collaboration of Daniel Libeskind. The balance of power split 51 percent to Childs, 49 percent to Libeskind.

ED HAYES: The governor, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, forced it down Silverstein's throat.

[July 16, 2003]

DAVID CHILDS: If body language says anything, this is the picture. If we all are working together-

DANIEL LIBESKIND: It's going to be a collaboration. It's going to be something really dramatic. And it's going to restore the skyline of New York in a dramatic architectural and urbanistic way.

ED HAYES: Arranged marriages-- sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. In my experience, they work when the alternative is sudden death. If you walk away from an arranged marriage, you're going to have a genuinely bad day after.

[9/11 memorial service, September 11, 2003]

READER: --James Gregory Smith, Jeffrey R. Smith, Joyce Patricia Smith, Karl T. Smith, Keisha Smith, Kevin Joseph Smith, Moira Ann Smith, Rosemary A. Smith. Leon Smith, Jr., Bonnie Jean Smithwick, Rochelle Monique Snell, Dianne Bullis Snyder--

Gov. GEORGE PATAKI: I think continually of those who are truly great, who from the womb remember the soul's history through corridors of--

Mayor RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), New York City: Winston Churchill said, "We shall not fail or falter. We shall not weaken or tire. Repair the waste. Rebuild the ruins. Let us go forward together."

GORDON HUIE: We were born and raised here in Chinatown. I grew up playing in the World Trade Center. For them to build something to cover it, or even build a commercial structure over it, I feel great pain. I don't know how one voice can actually influence our politicians or anything like that. As I look at people now and as I walk the streets, I see people going back to business as usual.

NARRATOR: It had taken Nina Libeskind, Daniel's wife and business partner, 10 years to steer his Jewish Museum through the tricky politics of Berlin. But nothing had prepared her for New York.

NINA LIBESKIND, Studio Daniel Libeskind: [on the phone] Hello?

ED HAYES: Hi, it's Ed Hayes. Hi. So how's your-- how's everything going down there? Any problems or anything?

NINA LIBESKIND: It's tough. They're just liars. I mean, it's just incredible.

ED HAYES: There's just going to be a lot of conflict all the time.

NINA LIBESKIND: They don't ever mean what they say, and they don't ever say what they mean. So they'll talk about it, and they'll make it-- you know, who knows what they're going to do? Do you know how many people that work for SOM in the city? It's scary. You meet thousands of them. It's a gigantic office.

ED HAYES: You know, it's a big city. Welcome to the United States.

NARRATOR: The honeymoon with New York was over. Libeskind's collaboration with Childs was collapsing, and each side had its own story to tell.

NINA LIBESKIND: I have to tell you that when Daniel walked into that first meeting, I've never seen anyone so shocked when he walked out. He had no idea that this was going to happen. He thought that David was a pretty reasonable person. And when he walked into that first meeting, David said, "I have no intention of working with you. I have no intention of doing your building. I have no intention of doing the Freedom Tower. I couldn't care less about the Statue of Liberty. I couldn't care less about how you feel about that site. It's nothing to do with what I'm going to do." So Daniel said, "Well, then what are we collaborating on?" And he said, "We're not."

DAVID CHILDS: Well, we're the architects. We're-- we're painting the picture. And so-- and that was what was agreed to, so he can't be disappointed in that.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: And he said, "Well, my tower is already perfect. It doesn't need any help from you, Mr. Libeskind. It-- you have some great ideas here, but my tower is perfect." So I said, "Well, what is the collaboration?" He said, "You can comment on it."

DAVID CHILDS: Collaborators -- you think of a man and a wife -- are two people that are equal, two hands working together. You know, there were two equals. There wasn't. There would be a design architect, that's a very different, and that was to be me. "There could be 10 outstanding items, and I may vote my 51 percent opposite to your 49 on all 10 of them. You understand that, Danny?" That's-- and he said, "Absolutely, I understand." And we again shook each other's hand, looked each other in the eye.

That's what was decided. That was what was written down. That was what was signed. And that was what was verbalized. He even signed the piece of paper where it was described exactly in those terms.

ED HAYES: The agreement that they signed says, "The expertise of Studio Daniel Libeskind will be integral to the team. The building will be based on the master plan site, which are being developed by Studio Daniel Libeskind." I don't know, how could it be more clear? I mean--

NARRATOR: Part of the problem was Childs already had another collaborator. The structural engineer, Guy Nordenson, had been working on an idea for a tower. The footprint of Ground Zero was irregular. These torqued towers offered a solution. Childs and SOM were interested.

GUY NORDENSON, Structural Engineer: The mother of the project was the Statue of Liberty, and that that had had some impact on the appeal of this form, the appeal of the figural qualities, abstract figural qualities of this form.

NARRATOR: If the twisted tower mirrored the forward movement of the Statue of Liberty, it meant that Libeskind's was not the only tower to draw inspiration from this national icon.

GUY NORDENSON: Childs and his team really liked it.

INTERVIEWER: Well, David must have thought it was Christmas, really, because you resolved his problem with the shape of the site, and you also gave him a great rhetorical device with which to attack his rival.

GUY NORDENSON: Well, it was Christmas for all of us.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: Look, if you were to put this here, there is no longer any-- now, just from the point of view of a neighborhood, there's no more, no longer any connection between Ground Zero, as they're integrated. There's just a stick-alone tower. Nice in Singapore and Shanghai, somewhere else, in Chicago, with lots of space around. Fine. Beautiful. Great idea. Formal exercise. But it's not part of a neighborhood. It's not part of the ascending spiral. And that's very, very important. It's also not part of the composition because it does not define the slurry wall. It's very important for people to be orientated.

It's not part of the master plan. It doesn't acknowledge the Statue of Liberty in any way. Well, it's twisting, but it doesn't acknowledge what the Statue of Liberty is doing, what it's moving forward with that flame. So the flame, the meaning of space, the meaning of things which are not metaphorical, but are actually palpable in every person's imagination, are absent in this particular exercise/. And that's why the collaboration has to really embrace how can we transform this area? How can we-- you know, how can we meet somewhere where Mr. Childs's ideas of a twisting tower, and everything that he has with it, is adequately inscribed into a composition which is not just about stand-alone tower?

DAVID CHILDS: This, I think, very powerful, unique -- there's no other tall tower like this in the world -- shape can be iconic, can be sculptural, can be asymmetrical, can have a symbolic relationship to the Statue of Liberty, and do all of those things, but-- and yet not be some bad copy of an outline of a building's shape that was done as a mater plan in a series of a couple of months.

And then that shape, if it continued, would go up and catch the wind. And it was at that point we suddenly thought, "Catch the wind." This is one of the valleys in the world that has the most constant year-in, year-out directional, high-velocity wind coming down through here. If we could do that and make not just a pilot study about how we would respond to the environment, but use it so that we could develop up to 40 percent of the energy of this building in a technology that was 5,000 years old, the windmill, wouldn't that be wonderful?

PAUL GOLDBERGER: Libeskind could push only so far, Childs could push only so far. Nobody fully controlled it. Well, the governor couldn't get rid of either Childs or Libeskind. He couldn't afford to make either of them go away. The governor had really believed that Daniel's tower could simply be built as he envisioned it. The governor had himself proclaimed his intention to build that building. He couldn't make Childs disappear because Childs had the endorsement of Larry Silverstein, the man who was going to build the building, and because of the insurance, who had the money. It's a total mess.

[ Read Paul Goldberger's interview]

Gov. GEORGE PATAKI: There are so many people with so many interests looking for their way to achieve their goal, but it can't be an individual's goal. It has to be our goal. Otherwise, you could easily have what has happened so much in the past, particularly in New York, when you have all these different elements, and that's competing interests battling each other to the point where very little gets done. That's not happening here, and it's no going to happen here.

NARRATOR: Pataki knew the arguments between the architects were threatening the project. At the end of October, he turned up the heat.

Gov. GEORGE PATAKI: Michelangelo and Pope Julius II made the Sistine Chapel. Just think what Libeskind and Childs are going to come up with for the Freedom Tower! Today, I'm pleased to announce we're going to know the answer to that question by December 15th. That's the deadline I've set for the design. I know everyone in this room wishes you the best of luck.

ELLIE HARTZ: I keep wrestling with it every day, trying to make sense out of it, and I can't. Some people, they're not ready for it at all. It takes time. John spent many years going in and out of that station-- 30, to be exact. They put up a very nice little memorial for all those people who commuted from there every day. There's just a little plaque there, saying, "In memory of our friends who left and never came home." And they're named. That makes me happy.

It takes a long time. Intellectually, you can-- OK, OK, this has happened. I get that. OK. This is what I have to do. But emotionally, to take all that in is just a very long process. And it's astounded me at how long it takes, or is taking.

NARRATOR: With Pataki's deadline, the race to design the Freedom Tower telescoped into just a few weeks. At Studio Libeskind, the battle was on to incorporate iconic elements of Daniel's vision within the structure of Childs's tower.

ED HAYES: [on the phone] How're you doing? So we're going to pursue that?

NARRATOR: At SOM, Childs and his colleagues forged ahead in their own direction. Their tower was getting taller.

ED HAYES: Yeah, OK. I'm getting the stuff from the guy now.

NARRATOR: Parallel projects were racing towards a deadline, but there was no progress towards a common design. By the end of November, Nordenson and Childs were planning to build their tower as high as possible.

GUY NORDENSON: I suggested this thing be 2,000 feet because I knew that the higher it could be, the better it was in terms of broadcasting, and that the whole purpose of having something this tall was to create this platform for the antennas.

NARRATOR: But for Libeskind, a 2,000-foot tower would have completely overwhelmed his master plan.

NINA LIBESKIND: [on the phone] Hello? I'm in a meeting. I'll have to call you back. You can't imagine how tense things are. I promise you, it's-- it's beyond your imagination. I will. All right, thanks. 'Bye.

All I'm saying is that the press, the whole world is waiting for December 15th.   So we have three alternatives. One is that we agree to disagree, which is another stalemate. One is that you go show your buildings to the governor. If he decides he doesn't like what you're doing, then you'll have to do it again. And the third alternative is that they walk away.

ED HAYES: Pataki has invested his place in history in that master plan, and I just don't see him backing off that.

NINA LIBESKIND: They are not taking their building off the table.

ED HAYES: All right, all we care is-- we get-- you did a master plan. Everybody loves the master plan. They don't like it. Too bad. Not our problem, right? If I-- you're my client. If you say, "Ed, you do this"--

NINA LIBESKIND: OK, at some point, Ed, either Daniel, directly or through others, has to make it clear to the governor that there will be no image on December the 15th. That's the point I'm trying to make. They are already making models.

ED HAYES: Right. Tomorrow--

NINA LIBESKIND: They don't seem worried. They seem relatively relaxed, that they're-- that they're winning this. So I don't get it.

ED HAYES: I'd rather--

NINA LIBESKIND: This one is tough. I think I've never worked in a situation with so many people who lie. And they stare you straight in the eye and they lie. That's very disconcerting.

ED HAYES: We'll see what we can do. If we have to, there's a lot of guys in this that are not exactly the good fairy, we'll find a solution.

NINA LIBESKIND: Yeah, right!

NARRATOR: A week before the governor's deadline expired, New Yorkers woke up to news of more trouble at Ground Zero. That day, there was a ceremony at another Silverstein building.

[December 2003]

CONSTRUCTION WORKER: Mr. Silverstein, how are you, sir?

LARRY SILVERSTEIN: We're good. We're good. And we're even better because you guys are here.

CONSTRUCTION WORKERS: Thank you very much. Thank you.

NARRATOR: The governor tried desperately to downplay the dispute.

AIDE TO GOV. PATAKI: David? David? David! David, come on in here. David? David, get in here. David, get in here!

REPORTER: These two gentlemen to your left haven't been speaking since Monday about the Freedom Tower. What is-- what's going to happen to them?

Gov. GEORGE PATAKI: I have enormous confidence in both of them. Daniel Libeskind has outlined an incredible vision for the master site of the Lower Manhattan, and David Childs, as you see today with 7 World Trade Center, has a record of achieving just incredible success with important buildings in New York. And I'm confident they'll be able to work this through.

REPORTER: In the past, you've said that the building must look like the building we saw--

Gov. GEORGE PATAKI: I think it's important that the symbolism that Daniel designed into the building be an important part of it. It's a symbol. And it's a symbol of-- and David agrees. And Daniel, of course, agrees. And I-- and Larry agrees.

LARRY SILVERSTEIN: These two creative geniuses will get together, will give us what it is that we are all expecting from them.

REPORTER: Mr. Childs, do you agree?

DAVID CHILDS: We've been focused on getting the most-- the best building in the world, that is strong and safe and beautiful and symbolic, leading the way to the future, just as the governor said, since the middle of July. We're working hard on that, we're working together and we're going to achieve it.

REPORTER: But will you-- will you-- can you live with what's there or no? Can you live with what he says now?

DANIEL LIBESKIND: Well, we're working on it. No, we're-- because design is not a static process. We're developing it. We have one more week, as the governor said.

DAVID CHILDS: And we're focusing on finalizing that now together, so we're intending of getting this done in short order.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: I know nothing. I know nothing because I've not been in direct communication with David Childs or with SOM. I don't know what they're doing now. We've been kind of expelled from their offices. And still the word "collaboration" was used today, and it will be in all the newspapers, in the speech of the governor. But I think the powers that are, know what's happening.

ROLAND BETTS, Chairman, Site Planning Committee: I mean, you have to understand that Childs's building was 50 percent-- as a week ago, was 50 percent taller than the old World Trade Center.

INTERVIEWER: But we're talking-- a week ago is just a few days before the governor approves--

ROLAND BETTS: I know. That's why we've got to get it right.

INTERVIEWER: The description of events that you're telling us now suggests that you've actually been betrayed, or at least very seriously misled. Is that how it feels?

DANIEL LIBESKIND: Yes. Yes. But I don't intend to sell my soul. I don't intend to just stand there and say, "Yeah, I've been betrayed," and I just shake my head and smile and shake hands and be there for the photo opportunity, for that moment, because this tower's impact will be there forever.

INTERVIEWER: I spent this morning talking to one of the family members. They are a bit bemused but also kind of a but upset because all they see is two gigantic dinosaur egos fighting, and they thought it was going to be sort of slightly more decorous than that, the process.

ROLAND BETTS: Well, I'd love to tell you that they're completely wrong, but they're not.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: Why would a big firm and a big developer have a unitary voice on developing Ground Zero, after all the public process? Why would they once again have the full control of their private egos on a site which belongs to everyone? Why would their tower put into shadow the memorial and all the public spaces? Why would it do that, both literally and metaphorically? The "business as usual" pressure is on. The memory of 9/11, of course, is there, but the pressure to dissolve that moment and to proceed in a kind of brutal way, to redevelop the city with developers and money and power and ego, is there.

[December 14, 2003]

NEWSCASTER: Saddam Hussein has been captured. He was taken into custody after a joint operation by troops--

NARRATOR: With the battle for Ground Zero still deadlocked, Governor Pataki had extended the deadline by four days.

TV INTERVIEWER: Do you think that this increases our chances to catch bin Laden or not?

EXPERT: I don't think it has any connection whatsoever with bin Laden--

NARRATOR: A senior official with the Development Corporation said they were now in a difficult position because it was clear that the architects at SOM never intended to change their designs. The official concluded that there was not one element in the current design that Daniel Libeskind had a hand in creating, that his involvement had not made one bit of difference.

ROLAND BETTS: When I saw Childs's tallest iteration, it was 2,100 feet. It looked ridiculous. And I know who holds the cards here, so I immediately called Pataki and said, "Look, I just saw this thing, and you've got to get-- somebody's got to get in there and bring the hammer down because you can't stand up in front of a crowded room of reporters -- you, who's been the big champion of the Daniel Libeskind plan -- and say, 'Here's the Childs Freedom Tower, and it's- I think it fits beautifully,' because it doesn't. And you'll look like a jerk."

NINA LIBESKIND: It ain't over til it's over. You bet we're still fighting. And we'll fight the day that they-- if they don't reduce it by 200 feet, Daniel will not be standing there, and he will have to call his own press conference or deliver a press release, and that'll be it. We are not giving up. And I said we might fail, but we're not giving up. It ain't over til it's over.

NARRATOR: This is where the Libeskinds would make their stand: The tower must be 1,776 feet tall and be crowned by a spire that echoed the torch on the Statue of Liberty. With just three days to go, one final meeting with all the Players had been called.

NINA LIBESKIND: We've got six minutes.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: OK, take this one away for a second. That works. OK, so what does it-- how big is the diagonal?

NINA LIBESKIND: The most important thing to me, as a lay person, would be the expression of--

LIBESKIND STAFFER: Yes, yes. Just because you put a pole on the corner of the building, it does not make it eccentric.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: This is the idea of the Statue of Liberty.


LIBESKIND STAFFER: So should we work it like this?

NINA LIBESKIND: This is the new vision of the Statue of Liberty.

NARRATOR: The latest word from the Childs camp was that they had agreed to add a spire to their building.

NINA LIBESKIND: [on the phone] This building makes some real concessions, which are pretty ugly and pretty stupidly done, but from their point of view, is inspired. There are some parts of this building which we won't accept, like the spire. OK, he's there. Hang on. Hang on.

It's Ed.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: [on the phone] Hi, Ed. Well, you'll see it. It's just a thin antenna, off-center in the building. It has nothing to do with the Statue of Liberty, OK, as if the head of the Statue of Liberty withered to one, you know, artery. So it's-- it's-- it needs more work, to say the least. OK. Great. I'll call her and tell her. Yes. Yes. Thank you. OK, perfect. Thanks.

Let's just think for a second. You know, Ed had a good point. If they end the building at 1,060, right, then they have to have an antenna which is more significant.

NINA LIBESKIND: I believe they have signed off.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: They did what?

NINA LIBESKIND: I believe they have signed off on it.


NINA LIBESKIND: Excuse me? The bullies up north. The governor wants a building. He's pushed him as hard as he can get. All I would work for--

DANIEL LIBESKIND: Who has? I would prefer--

NINA LIBESKIND: David Childs--

DANIEL LIBESKIND: Who has?You know something?

NINA LIBESKIND: --is blocking the governor. What do you think he's going to do with us?

DANIEL LIBESKIND: He's blocking the governor?

NINA LIBESKIND: That's right. So let's-- let's talk about what we can achieve today.

Omar, my dear, you're a brilliant model maker, but you have to hurry it up.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: So let's take this model, as well, OK, to show them. Are we taking anything else? Anything of our own?

OMAR: No. We're not.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: We've got nothing.

OMAR: We have nothing!


NARRATOR: And so less than 10 months after Daniel Libeskind won the competition to design the World Trade Center site, his team carried the last remnants of their vision away to the climactic meeting. The senior official at the Development Corporation said that everyone needed to step back and ask, "Is this the best we can do?" And he warned that if they got it wrong, then the governor would be blamed for the failure.

Ed Hayes was at the meeting.

ED HAYES: I said, "Look, you know, you agreed this building was going to fit within the master plan. Now you say you don't want to do that. Call the governor's office and tell him. Get him on the phone. Don't tell me, tell them." They said they didn't want to do it. I said, "Well, look, I'm going to do it.

NARRATOR: Twenty-four hours later, the governor phoned David Childs.

GUY NORDENSON: In a phone call between the governor and David Childs, the governor said, "I agreed to go along with your idea for this twisted shape," which had been presented on several occasions to the governor. But he was uncomfortable with the height. He wanted to cut it down to 1,500 feet and then add a spire that was offset, that recalled the Statue of Liberty. To make such a radical change so quickly was very upsetting.

INTERVIEWER: So you resigned?


INTERVIEWER: Such radical changes were made to the plan.

DAVID CHILDS: Well, in fact, the-- I wouldn't-- well, I don't know what radical changes you're referring to. There was a lowering of this piece, but the basic building shape, and so forth, was an evolutionary piece that had happened. People are allowed to change their mind.

INTERVIEWER: Would it be fair to say there's been quite a lot of arm twisting in the final days?

ROLAND BETTS: Yes. Very fair. A lot of arms are aching.

LARRY SILVERSTEIN: I-- the plan was always to have it 1,776 feet in height. That's what it is. That hasn't changed.

NINA LIBESKIND: You can take a horse to water, you can't make him drink. You can beat him, you can't make him drink. The only thing you can do is to, you know, make him so thirsty that he finally drinks. And I think we pushed it just to that point.

ROLAND BETTS: I thought people would behave better, too. They've behaved like [expletive], OK? I wish I had stayed in there and been a referee in the active sense of chairing the meetings, and basically saying to David Childs, "Stop it. Grow up." But I didn't.

I feel bad for Daniel. The truth is, he came in with all his little outfits and his glasses and his black cowboy boots and his black clothes and all, I thought, ''This guy could turn out to be a real pain to work with," but he's not. He's a sweet guy. He just hasn't been treated very nicely by the powers that be.

PAUL GOLDBERGER: I think it was well-meaning to try to get these two architects to collaborate, but ultimately, it was very unrealistic. Do you ask Matisse and Dali to collaborate on painting a picture together? No.

[December 19, 2003]

Gov. GEORGE PATAKI: When Daniel Libeskind revealed his master site plan, the idea was to create a building, the tallest building in the world, yes, but symbolically 1,776 feet tall. And the critical element was a spire that would replicate the torch of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. That Freedom Tower will be built, it will have that Libeskind spire, will soar 1,776 feet high.

But mostly, today is a celebration of the successful collaboration of two brilliant architects who understand that this is not just a building, this is a symbol of New York, this is a symbol of America, this is a symbol of freedom. So to Daniel Libeskind and to David Childs, congratulations. And to Larry Silverstein, for your assistance, for your commitment to making sure that the Freedom Tower will be built, thank you, as well.

PAUL GOLDBERGER: In the end, the Freedom Tower is a sad compromise. It is not as good as Daniel Libeskind's original vision. Neither is it as strong as David Childs's first vision. It really is like that old cliche about a camel being a horse designed by a committee. We now have the camel of skyscrapers.

Gov. GEORGE PATAKI: Great job. Great job.

DAVID CHILDS: I hope I did right by you.

GORDON HUIE: Every Sunday, when I'd drive Susan down to church, I would sit on Madison Street and Susan would go get our coffee and tea. Since the bombing, I try to keep the same routine going.

DAVID CHILDS: It is the world's tallest, and there are many innovative features to it.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: --powerfully and meaningful way, yes, to the master plan.

GORDON HUIE: I buy the tea and everything, and I sit there on Madison Street.

DANIEL LIBESKIND: It rises to reflect the Statue of Liberty spiral, the dynamics--

DAVID CHILDS: This is a very strong concept of how to make something structurally sound. The building itself has a tremendous amount of--

DANIEL LIBESKIND: That's what Mr. Childs has done.



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An October Films Production in association with Vivum Intelligent Media for WGBH/Boston and Channel Four

(c) 2004 WGBH Educational Foundation
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ANNOUNCER: There's more to explore at FRONTLINE's Web site, including pictures and an overview of the worldwide design competition that ended in Daniel Libeskind's master plan, profiles of Libeskind, David Childs, their previous work and philosophies, more on the story of the symbolic Freedom Tower and the views of architecture critics, plus a chronology of the political and architectural battles over rebuilding Ground Zero, and more at

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A nation at war, a nation divided. The most important election in a generation. How will you decide? The Choice 2004.


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posted sept. 7, 2004

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