The refined WTC site plan

It’s been over seven months since Daniel Libeskind was officially

chosen as the architect in charge of the World Trade Center site, and a

lot of us have been wondering what, if anything, has been going on. Well, today

we got our answer: a lot, and it’s pretty much all good. Contra Eward

Wyatt’s alarmist

reporting last week, the changes which have been made since February are

nearly all for the better, and we have now moved, as Kevin Rampe, the CEO of

the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, said today, "from a great

vision to a great plan".


most important element of the revised

plan –I took a photo of the model, which you can click on for a bigger

version – is the fact that the fate of the Deutsche Bank building (formerly

the Bankers Trust building) is no longer in question. That land is needed and

will be taken – negotiations with Deutsche Bank are ongoing,

but it was made very clear today that the bank will be forced to sell by eminent

domain if necessary. Added to that, a small parcel of land next door, which

used to house St Nicholas’ Church, faces the same fate.

The new land gives Libeskind a lot more breathing room, opening up an L-shaped

parcel which, it turns out, is vital for all manner of reasons. At the moment,

the Deutsche Bank building runs all the way from Albany Street to Liberty Street

(the southern boundary of the World Trade Center site), obliterating Cedar Street

between Greenwich and Washington. In the new plan, the L will be cut the other

way, with Cedar Street restored, creating a large park to the south of the World

Trade Center Site bounded by Cedar, Greenwich, Liberty and West Streets. Washington

Street, which currently runs all the way to Liberty Sreet, will now stop at


The plan at the moment – although this can change – is to build

a new Saint Nicholas’ Church more or less where the old one used to be. Otherwise,

however, the new two-block-long site will be largely empty: called Liberty Street

Park, it will be a place to sit and relax near the new office towers, close

to but not part of the memorial across the street. The really interesting stuff

goes on below the new park – both in terms of up-down and in terms of


For the reintroduction of Cedar Street creates a new city block between Cedar,

Greenwich, Washington and Albany, all of which will be taken up with a new tower

(Tower 5) housing some 1.7 million square feet of office space. The 10 million

square feet of office space which now need to be rebuilt in total can be spread

out over much more space, giving the new towers a bit of breathing room, and

allowing small floor plates. What that means in practice is that the towers

are more commercial, since it’s easier to rent out more smaller floors than

it is fewer big ones; it also means that they don’t read quite so much as a

wall of buildings separating the World Trade Center site from the rest of lower


The initial spiralling design remains; indeed, the addition of a fifth tower

(which was actually in Libeskind’s plans all along, albeit not quite as far

south as it is now) only serves to emphasise the visual path along the towers’

rooftops, from the 57-storey new building slowly up to the 70-storey office

block which makes up the base of the new Freedom Tower. The Freedom Tower (Tower

1) itself remains unchanged in Libeskind’s imagining, although there will surely

be a lot of negotiating between him and the architect, David Childs. Everybody

is adamant, however, that the symbolic 1,776-foot height will remain, as will

the off-center spire designed to echo the torch of the Statue of Liberty.

Now that the two towers on the south-east corner of the site can be made much

smaller, the revised design has much more freedom to play with their placement

on their city blocks. They can now spriral out, away from the recreated Greenwich

Street, with Tower 4 taking up the south-west corner of the block between Greenwich,

Liberty, Church and Cortlandt Streets.Cortlandt Street actually plays an important

role in the new plan: it now extends, as a pedestrian shopping precinct, all

the way to Greenwich Street. The narrowed-down Tower 4 leaves a lot of space

in the rest of the block for a major retail presence – enough for a big

department store, or any other kind of anchor tenant that the new retail developer

might want.

The new plan takes full advantage of the fact that Westfield America, who had

the rights to run the new retail space, has now pulled out entirely, being bought

off, essentially, by the LMDC and the Port Authority. Westfield specialises

in mid-Western shopping malls, and was adamant that it wanted large amounts

of contiguous retail space much like the dingy mall which was destroyed on September

11. That was never going to happen, but Westfield was always a major thorn in

Libeskind’s side, and its departure from the scene is a great relief to everybody

who has high hopes for this project. Now, a lot of the retail space is arranged

vertically rather than horizontally: going down to the concourse level of the

new train station, and going up two or three stories from street level.

To the north of Cortlandt Street, Tower 3 is nestled next door to just that

train station, basically on the corner of Church and Dey. While Tower 4 sits

on Greenwich Street, Tower 3 sits on Church Street, giving a bit more west-east

movement to the spriral. Again, there’s space for large-floor-plan retail between

Greenwich Street and the new tower, which should be easily incorporated into

the station, which is being designed by the great Spanish architect Santiago


The north edge of the train station is the southern edge of the Wedge of Light,

which is now actually slightly larger than it was in February. On the other

side of this great public plaza, Tower 2 stands right on what should be one

of the greatest crossroads in the world: the corner of Fulton and Greenwich,

September 11 Place. Because Greenwich Street is not north-south so much as northwest-southeast,

Tower 2 is well to the west of Tower 4, and brings the spiral back towards the

great Tower 1 over on West Street.

But back to Liberty Street Park: what’s going on underneath it is actually

more important than what’s going on to its south. Office buildings need truck

access, you see, and there simply wasn’t any way to build secure truck ramps

and parking facilities within the confines of the World Trade Center site –

especially if the wishes of the families of the September 11 victims were to

be upheld, and nothing – not even an underground truck ramp – could

be built on the footprints of the Twin Towers. So now Liberty Street Park is

essentially a pretty, green roof for a massive truck-security operation which

then leads to an underground road which has access to all five towers in a big

loop. It’s crucially important infrastructure, and an elegant solution to a

seemingly intractable problem.

It’s very clear that a lot of very driven people are working extremely hard

to get a visionary plan built – at least in its initial stages –

within a very compressed timeframe of just four years from now. It’s also clear

that the Port Authority is a central player in this process: while in general

increasing the number of cooks tends to spoil the broth, no one’s really talking

any more about removing the Port Authority from the rebuilding by swapping its

World Trade Center land for the land which New York City owns under JFK and

LaGuardia airports. Indeed, New York City and Michael Bloomberg seem quite content,

at the moment, to take a back seat and let the LMDC and Port Authority do most

of the heavy lifting. That’s probably wise: the single most important person

in the whole scheme remains George Pataki, and there’s no point stepping on

his toes and telling him how to do things at this stage.

With the departure of Westfield America and the clear determination to take

control of the Deutsche Bank site, this plan really looks as though it is actually

going to get built. It’s expensive, of course, and the chances are that West

Street will not be buried underground despite desperate attempts by Libeskind

and the LMDC to get the funding to do that. The Freedom Tower will be on West

Street, where it makes architectural sense, and not next to the train station,

where Larry Silverstein wants it; the rest of the towers, so long as they’re

basically the right height, shouldn’t pose much of a problem.

We have yet to see even the most preliminary ideas of what the memorial might

look like, of course, and if that turns out to be a big and ambitious scheme

then chunks of the site plan as it presently stands could well change substantially.

Especially in the area of the footprints, the present scheme is extremely vague,

to give as much freedom as possible to the memorial designers. The exposed slurry

wall will certainly remain; the waterfall on the south-east corner of the site

probably will; and the rest is completely uncertain.

But even ignorant of what’s going to go in the middle, it’s clear that New

York is going to have a vibrant new downtown, complete with a set of new skyscrapers

which actually work – instead of compete – with each other. Anybody

who’s been to the Toronto Dominion Center knows what can happen when office

towers work in unison: it’s pure architectural poetry, and elevates the space

and the spirit. Today, I’m more confident than ever that such a thing can happen

in New York City.

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15 Responses to The refined WTC site plan

  1. Will says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive description.

    Have you heard any discussion of traffic flow once Greenwich Street is restored? With all the noise over the burying of West Street, I haven’t heard anyone point out that if Greenwich is extended through the site, its position at the mouth of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel makes it ideal for through traffic from Tribeca and the Holland Tunnel. –not to mention every tour bus and drive-by gawker who wants to see it without actually visiting.

    The little bit of Greenwich street below the WTC site is often overlooked, not being part of BPC or Tribeca, but Tribeca activists who appreciate the small-town feel of Greenwich Street below Canal would be well advised to pay attention to the fact that they’re a do-not-enter sign away from living on a Battery Tunnel onramp.

  2. Rob Springer says:

    The plans for the site as a whole sound good, but I still prefer the idea of using a version of the plans drawn up Antonio Gaudi. One sketch of them managed to combine Art Nouveau and Art Deco. It would have been shorter than the Empire State but still enclose a lot of office space. A google search on “Gaudi WTC design” will show it to you. I’d like the hear what you think of it.

  3. Mike Matterson says:

    The vertical version of Central Park in the tower sounds like a great place to pick up chicks, or to to for a first date! God, I hope they don’t cancel the gardens.

  4. geoff says:


    i love gaudi.

    i love walt disney as well, but i’m not about to put his head on defrost in the hopes of getting the 2003 version of steamboat willie.

    this is nyc… not vegas. we don’t need kitsch versions of gaudi anymore then we need a parthenon.

    to even propose building the form of the gaudi scheme (and i say form, since it was designed as a hotel) is to admit that you no ideas that look to the future and are lacking in anything that can react to the present.

    or is it really as simple you just like the shape?

    i can only hope that i missed the sarcastic humor of your suggestion.

  5. Felix says:

    Greenwich Street — my guess is that they’ll simply block access to the Battery tunnel from that street. You’ll get the tour buses and the gawkers, but you’ll always get them, and they shouldn’t bother the Tribeca residents overmuch.

    Gaudi — obviously impractical and not going to happen, but the fact that so many people seem to like the idea so much I think does say something about the public’s lack of faith in contemporary architecture. Better the genius we know, even if he’s a complete anachronism, than the avant-garde chap in cowboy boots who we can’t really be sure of. What I’ve been trying to do in these postings is explain exactly what Libeskind is doing Ò with luck I’ve had some success.

  6. BPC says:

    “the chances are that West Street will not be buried underground despite desperate attempts by Libeskind and the LMDC to get the funding to do that”

    Can you state your source for this statement about “desperate attempts”? I have personally spoke to Mr. Libeskind about West Street, and he has told me that his plan will work equally well with either of the State DOT’s two proposals for West Street (the “at grade” and the “short bypass” options), and that he takes no position as to which alternative is the better one. Has he told you something different?

  7. Felix says:

    Just have a look which option he used when he was building the model I took a photo of. At the press conference, there was no doubt at all that the bypass alternative was better, largely because I have yet to meet anybody who could even think of asserting with a straight face that the at-grade plan was in any way superior. Of course, you could look at it and say that the money it would cost to bury West Street would be better used somewhere else: that might well be true. But when Libeskind was talking to you, my guess is that he was simply positioning himself for the day that it’s announced that West Street will not be buried: he hates to admit defeat, and this way he doesn’t need to.

  8. cj says:

    Im confused if they are taking down the Deutsche/Bankers Trust Building why I see them putting in what looks to be a fix for the hole in the side?

  9. zheljka posavac says:

    well who cares what I think?

  10. Peter Karousos says:

    I want to thanks Governor Pataki and Lower Manhattan Development Corporation for gating the opportunity to build again the WTC.

    The idea of a spire, evoking the raised torch of the Statue of Liberty, tops out at the symbolic height of 1,776 feet is good but for one of the two main towers. As for

    Libeskind’s “Freedom Tower” let it for the broadcasting antenna on “a single mast above the spire extended to 2,792 [feet] as the number of the missing people of 9/11 tragedy.

    This amazing towers will be the doors of USA for ever.


    Peter Karousos

  11. vioxx says:

    collabourative, holistic bent), Lou

    After many years as a thriving tackled e-tailing without business

  12. kelly williamson says:

    Manhattan Island will, within our lifetime,grow beyond what we see today.The infantcy stage of skyscrapers is over as far as im concerned, have you seen Hong Kong lately? Manhattan will take back it’s rightful place as the greatest skyscraper showcase on earth.Expect to see several 150 floor buildings pop up all at once,the time for stagnation will end.Relax New York.Heal. Then build, build, build.its your destiny.

  13. Doran Norman says:

    I think the new WTC should look just like the old ones, only taller.

  14. Sheila A Manis says:

    The WTC should be rebuilt as before. Anything different admits to defeat. When you think of the WTC, you remember two shining towers and the brilliant blue sky surrounding them.

    The Pentagon was rebuilt as before. The same should hold true for WTC.

  15. Libby says:

    Although I don’t see anything wrong with the idea that the WTC should simply be rebuilt to what it was before, I believe that since we have the opportuntiy to make the buildings even better than what they were before we should go for it. Eventually we would have out grown the previous building, and would have needed to expand or purchase more space. Now we can build a WTC that will last well into the future. I also believe that as a tribute to the two thousand plus that died we need to rebuild it as something patriotic and symbolic. I like the idea of building it to the height that equals the year of independence. I also liked the sugestion to extend the rod to the same number that equals the number of people who died. I am interested in hearing about the memorial that will be built.

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