Winning vision for Ground Zero

New York panel's choice is the most symbol-laden of 7 proposals submitted

February 28, 2003|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

NEW YORK CITY - For those seeking a bold architectural expression of America's resilience after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it turns out the answer was in plain view all along.

The concrete slurry walls that surrounded the World Trade Center's twin towers - and held up when the towers fell, keeping back the Hudson River - will remain exposed on the site as artifacts symbolizing the strength and endurance of American democracy.

An office tower rising 1,776 feet - making it the world's tallest - is to rise near the memorial site as a sign of the country's resurgence after the terror attacks.

The slurry walls and tower are fundamental features of the design selected to guide redevelopment of Lower Manhattan over the next decade or more.

New York Gov. George E. Pataki and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced yesterday that a $330 million plan by architect Daniel Libeskind has been selected over a competing plan by a group known as Think.

The selection means that Libeskind, 56, will be commissioned to flesh out his redevelopment plan for the Ground Zero site.

The son of Holocaust survivors and best known as the architect of Berlin's Jewish Museum, he was born in Poland, raised in the Bronx and educated at Cooper Union in New York City.

Based in Berlin, he teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and plans to move to New York this spring.

During a news conference at the World Financial Center, Pataki and Bloomberg hailed the decision as a milestone in the efforts to rebuild Lower Manhattan.

Libeskind's plan, called Memory Foundations, will "put a physical shape to our grief and to our hopes for the future," Bloomberg said.

The replacement buildings will be "living reminders of New Yorkers' - and Americans' - strength and resilience for decades to come," Pataki said.

Libeskind's team was one of seven that were asked to compete for the commission last fall by Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the quasi-public group overseeing the rebuilding effort.

Two finalists were chosen early this month, and the winner was selected Wednesday.

The Think group, which was headed by New York architects Rafael Vinoly and Frederic Schwartz and included Baltimore architect Janet Marie Smith, proposed two lattice-like towers rising above the footprints of the World Trade Center buildings and housing a World Cultural Center.

Libeskind's plan allows for construction of 8 million to 10 million square feet of office space in several towers ringing the memorial space, plus cultural attractions, public spaces and a transportation hub.

Libeskind's proposal was the one most steeped in symbolism, from the height of the tallest tower to the proposed retention of the giant pit, or "bathtub," as the setting for a Memorial Garden dedicated to the victims of the Sept. 11 attack.

"The great slurry walls are the most dramatic elements which survived the attack, an engineering wonder constructed on bedrock foundations," he said in explaining why he wants to preserve them.

"Despite everything - the attacks, the collapse of the towers - those walls stood, like democracy itself."

Other elements of the plan include two large public spaces, a "Park of Heroes" and a "Wedge of Light," and a "Sept. 11 Plaza."

To create the Wedge of Light, he proposed that buildings on the eastern side of the property be positioned so that, on Sept. 11 of every year, no shadows will fall on the area between 8:46 a.m., when the first airplane hit, and 10:28 a.m., when the second tower collapsed.

Upper floors of the 1,776-foot-tall tower are to be filled not with office space but with an area called "Gardens of the World," Libeskind said, because gardens are "a constant affirmation of life."

At the equivalent of the 110th floor will be a restaurant and observation deck, he said.

John Whitehead, chairman of Lower Manhattan Development Corp., said the review panel decided Libeskind's proposal did the best job of reconciling the conflicting impulses of remembering loss and celebrating life, preserving the World Trade Center site and building a new skyline.

Whitehead said the greatest strength of Libeskind's plan is its multifaceted nature, offering a memorial site with few constraints, an imaginative configuration of commercial buildings, an "ingenious" street plan and "extraordinary" public spaces.

Think's plan, he added, "seemed to defy gravity with its optimism."

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