Berlin-based architect's design picked for WTC site

With 1,776-foot spire, Ground Zero development would be tallest in world

February 27, 2003|By Josh Getlin and Suzanne Muchnic | Josh Getlin and Suzanne Muchnic,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW YORK - A soaring spire, angular office buildings and a deep pit marking the foundation of the World Trade Center was chosen last night as the winning design for a major rebuilding of the site, according to sources familiar with the decision quoted in news reports.

Ending an intense, monthlong competition between two teams of world-renowned architects, a blue ribbon panel selected the Studio Daniel Libeskind plan for the site over the offering by the THINK group led by Rafael Vinoly and Frederic Schwartz.

The final decision, set to be formally announced today, was made late yesterday by New York Gov. George E. Pataki, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and members of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

John Whitehead, chairman of the development corporation, telephoned Libeskind with the news, telling him that his "vision has brought hope and inspiration to a city still recovering from a terrible tragedy," according to the Associated Press.

Libeskind, who did not return phone calls from the Los Angeles Times after the news became known, reportedly said that being chosen to redesign the site of the Sept. 11 terror attacks was a "life-changing experience."

In a concession statement, Schwartz said: "I am honored to have participated in this process and will continue to help the city, the state and other planners in any way I can. Since 9/11 I have been dedicated to working with my city and my country to the best of my ability."

The decision, made on the 10th anniversary of the 1993 bombing attack on the World Trade Center, ended a fierce tug-of-war that dominated the architectural competition.

The Libeskind proposal, which features a 1,776-foot spire as well as office buildings, will cost an estimated $350 million to construct. It was thought to be the front-runner, largely because it had been endorsed by Pataki and Bloomberg. But the THINK plan, which called for two distinctive, steel lattice towers, had unexpectedly won the endorsement of a development corporation planning committee Tuesday, and seemed to be picking up momentum.

"I can tell you that it was a unanimous decision, and the decision was clear," said development corporation spokesman Matt Higgins, who declined to comment on the choice as the decision-makers left their evening meeting.

"We still don't know what happened," said Ric Bell, executive director of the American Institute of Architects New York chapter, during an interview on the local all-news channel NY1.

"But I'm very happy with the selection," added Bell, who speculated that the Libeskind proposal - which, like Vinoly's plan, was one of nine competing proposals unveiled weeks ago - was chosen because of "how the site would be integrated into the neighborhoods surrounding it, and with public transportation."

Planners cautioned, however, that economic pressures, engineering requirements and other unforeseen factors will force changes in the winning design. A separate international competition to design a memorial on the ground once occupied by the fallen towers will be held later this year.

Both architectural teams had extraordinary credentials, and received strong public support for their plans to rebuild on the World Trade Center's hallowed ground. But Libeskind's design had enormous appeal for those who wanted to ensure that the replacement for the World Trade Center would include a powerful memorial as well as new office buildings.

Josh Getlin and Suzanne Muchnic write for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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