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introduction: sept. 7, 2004

Within days of the Sept. 11 attacks, the questions began: What should be built on the site of Ground Zero? Who should build it? And should anything be built there at all?

In "Sacred Ground," FRONTLINE tells the inside story of the first stormy year in the struggle to design the Freedom Tower, the signature skyscraper to rise on the site where the World Trade Center once stood. The central battle involves relative newcomer Daniel Libeskind -- who, in February 2003, won a competition to design the site's master plan after the original six designs for the site were overwhelmingly rejected by the public -- and David Childs, the architect handpicked by the site's developer, Larry Silverstein, to actually build the tower.

Libeskind's master plan proposed a 1,776-foot skyscraper for the northwest corner of the site; the tower would be topped by an asymmetrical spire designed to echo the outstretched arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty. But even before the master plan competition had begun, Childs had started sketching his own skyscraper for Silverstein.

By the spring of 2003, the two architects were designing two very different towers and New York Governor George Pataki ordered them to find some way of cooperating. The architects finally worked out a deal, referred to by some observers as an "arranged marriage," in which Childs would design the Freedom Tower with Libeskind's collaboration. The balance of power split 51 percent to Childs, 49 percent to Libeskind.

Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker, says that at the root of the conflict is the fact that Libeskind and Childs have two distinct philosophies about architecture.

"Childs and Libeskind have fundamentally different ideas of what a skyscraper should be," he says. "David Childs believed in the skyscraper as a much more 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."

Though the two architects agreed to collaborate on the Freedom Tower, their architectural battles were far from over. In October 2003, Pataki turned up the heat and announced a Dec. 15 deadline for the design. But Libeskind and Childs were still designing parallel projects with no progress towards a common design. Childs and his collaborators were designing a 2,000-foot torqued tower; Libeskind insisted that certain elements from his original design must remain, including the asymmetrical spire referencing the Statue of Liberty and the symbolic height of 1,776 feet.

A compromise design -- a combination of Childs' torqued tower with Libeskind's asymmetrical spire and symbolic height of 1,776 feet -- was hammered out in the few days leading up to the deadline. But the critical reaction to the compromise Freedom Tower has been mixed.

"In the end, the Freedom Tower is a sad compromise," Goldberger laments. "It is not as good as Daniel Libeskind's original vision, neither is it as strong as David Childs' first vision of that building. Really is like that old cliché about a camel being a horse designed by a committee. We now have the camel of skyscrapers."



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posted sept. 7, 2004

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