Passing The Torch

At 1,776 feet, Ground Zero skyscraper unveils a towering faith in freedom and innovation

December 20, 2003|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

NEW YORK - The world's tallest building will be a not-so-subtle evocation of the Statue of Liberty, complete with an off-center spire suggesting the upraised arm that carries the Torch of Freedom.

The body of the tower has been designed to "twist and move" as it rises through the sky, the way a human torso might twist when in motion.

The top features two tiers of observation decks, in much the same way that Lady Liberty originally had lookout points at her crown and torch. At night, the spire will cast searchlights upward, illuminating the sky like the torch.

The top will also be a giant windcatcher, with wind-harvesting turbines designed to generate up to 20 percent of the building's energy.

These are all characteristics of Freedom Tower, the largest of several structures planned to replace the twin World Trade Center towers destroyed in terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

From the moment its design was unveiled in Lower Manhattan yesterday, it was apparent that every square inch of the tower is intended to be a living memorial to the 2,700 people who lost their lives in those attacks.

"This is not just a building," said New York Gov. George Pataki. "This is a symbol of New York. This is a symbol of America. This is a symbol of freedom.

"We have an obligation to remember those we lost and to move forward and show the world how strong America is," Pataki said. "Everything we do at Ground Zero is a memorial, is a tribute to the heroes we've lost and to the courage we've shown."

Freedom Tower "will dramatically reclaim a part of the New York skyline that we lost on 9/11," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "It will help catapult Lower Manhattan back to its rightful place as a global center of innovation and great urban design."

The preliminary design is a collaboration between Daniel Libeskind, chosen last year to serve as master planner for the 60-acre redevelopment site, and David Childs, a principal of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the architectural firm chosen by developer Larry Silverstein.

With its spire and windmills and meshlike skin, Freedom Tower comes across a bit like a kit of parts, rather than a unified whole. That may be resolved as the design is refined.

What's more intriguing is the degree to which the design has become more like the open-latticework tower proposed by the team that took second place in the competition to design a replacement for the World Trade Center, a group headed by architect Rafael Vinoly and called Team THINK.

While Vinoly's team proposed a building made entirely of latticework, with individual structures inside, the upper portion of Freedom Tower is now an open lattice containing the wind turbines that will help power the building.

Childs said the design of Freedom Tower was conceived as a direct response to the Lower Manhattan site, the amount of space required and Libeskind's master plan.

Although the design is not a literal re-creation of the Statue of Liberty, it's impossible to miss the many architectural references to freedom and the unbridled spirit of the American people.

The clearest reference is the tower's height of 1,776 feet - a reference, as Pataki put it, to "the year that our country was given its independence and became free."

Its asymmetrical shape was meant to recall the stance of the Statue of Liberty.

Its skin of glass and stainless-steel cables was meant to recall the cables that support the Brooklyn Bridge, another Lower Manhattan landmark that was innovative for its time.

Freedom Tower will be 100 feet taller than Taipei 101, the 1,676-foot-tall, 101-story tower that opened this year in Taiwan and is now considered the world's tallest building. It surpassed the height of the previous record holder, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, by 165 feet.

The New York skyscraper will rise at the northwest corner of the redevelopment site created after the World Trade Center fell. Its footprint will be a parallelogram, rather than a rectangle, following the street grid that frames the site.

The tower will have about 60 floors of office space, with lobbies at street level and retail space and links to mass transit below ground. The column-free office floors will range in size from 52,000 square feet near street level to 32,000 square feet near the top. Above the office floors will be several levels of public space, including an observation deck, meeting rooms and a replacement for the Windows on the World restaurant.

The top floor, most likely the restaurant, will be about 1,000 feet above the street. Above that, the open latticework containing the windmills will rise another 500 feet. Atop that will be the 276-foot-tall spire, containing television antennas and other equipment, bringing the height to 1,776 feet.

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