No one seems very impressed by the six
plans which have been put forward for the redevelopment of theWorld
Trade Center site. The pretty much unanimous view seems to be that they’ve
been hamstrung by the requirements to include 11 million square feet
of office space, as well as 600,000 square feet of retail space. Even
the man who unveiled them, John Whitehead, said almost apologetically
when he did so that he would change his plans if none of these ones
My initial reaction was pretty much along the same lines. All of the
plans of necessity include five or six huge new skyscrapers, which are
represented only in the most schematic way, and read visually as opaque
blocks turning the site into an office park. Certainly, at first glance,
the plans’ similarities far exceed their differences, and none of them
comes close to the bold and imaginative (yet, of course, completely
impractical) plans which we’ve all seen in art galleries or the New
But look more closely, and I think the Memorial
Square plan has a lot to be said for it. Why?
- It preserves the "sacred footprints". Personally, I don’t
think this a necessary part of an effective memorial, but a lot of
people, including George Pataki, do. If we can come up with a good
plan which keeps them inviolate, then so much the better.
- The area south of Liberty Street is much more successfully integrated
into the rest of the plan than it is in the other proposals. Because
of this, the plan effectively manages to enlarge the 16-acre site
to include Liberty Square Park, which is untouched and unrelated in
the other five plans. In Memorial Square, there’s a green space running
from 1 World Financial Center all the way to Broadway, which opens
up the total perceived area of the memorial plan impressively.
- I really like the promenade which enables people to look down on
the memorial space without having to make quite the emotional commitment
involved in actually going into it. A large part of the rebuilding
plan is involved in revitalising Lower Manhattan: this is going to
be an area where hundreds of thousands of people live, work and shop
every day. They’re going to want to be able to go about their daily
lives without feeling the need to stop and reflect every time they
approach the memorial.
- It’s the only plan with an opera house: something new for downtown
which will bring high culture to what used to be little more than
a downmarket shopping mall with office blocks on top.
- The entrance gates to the memorial, built into the wall which surrounds
the memorial site and which supports the promenade, will be visible
from a lot of places, most importantly from all the way up Greenwich
Street. There’s an approach to the memorial here: you don’t
just stumble across it on your way to the "transit hub".
- The plan doesn’t rely on raising lots of office buildings for its
impact. The office towers could come along a lot later; indeed, they
could never come along at all, and the sightlines etc would only be
improved. This is true of most of the plans, of course, but I think
the Memorial Park is the most versatile in that respect.
I certainly hope that something more imaginative than Memorial Square
will eventually be built on the site. We have here an opportunity for
amazing new memorial architecture, and nothing we’ve seen so far really
seems to open up that possibility. But even if all these plans are ultimately
discarded, I think it will still be worth remembering some of the lessons
learned from what the Memorial Square proposal has brought to the table.