It’s been two months since David Childs unveiled
the Freedom Tower in a blaze of publicity. Since then, of course, most of the
WTC attention has been focussed on the memorial, with a little left over for
Santiago Calatrava’s magnificent new PATH station. But work on the Freedom Tower
continues, and I took the opportunity last week, when Childs presented the model
for it at the Center for Architecture, to ask him how things were coming along.
Then, last week, I travelled to Washington on the train, and, purely by coincidence,
ended up sitting opposite architects in both directions. It turns out that the
WTC is proceeding apace, and that there’s quite a lot of information I haven’t
seen reported. So, to keep you up to date, here’s a bit of what I’ve learned.
¶It looks increasingly as though Daniel Libeskind has given up on his
initial dreams of controlling the design of the entire site. He fought long
and hard with David Childs over the Freedom Tower, to little effect, and has
since waged almost no battles at all over the memorial or the PATH station,
despite the fact that both of them essentially tore up his plan and started
over from scratch. In return for keeping quiet and not kicking up a fuss, there
seems to be a gentlemen’s understanding that the LMDC is going to commission
Libeskind to design the interpretive museum and cultural facilities on the site.
¶In terms of the tower, what you see when you look at the model is only
vaguely related to what’s actually going to be built. Childs told me that the
model was "a diagram of an idea of a basic concept". Specifically:
- The heights as announced in December are far from set, and the tower might
yet end up being significantly taller than the 1,500 feet plus a 276-foot
spire that we were told would be there. There will be some kind of significant
architectural inflection point at 1,776 feet, but the antennae could well
go higher. That’s certainly what the broadcasters want – and will pay
for – while the FAA is happy with buildings as tall as 2,000 feet in
total. So expect Libeskind’s symbolic height to go out the window, as it were.
- The spire, as seen in the model and plans, is basically just a place-holder.
Childs and his team thought of a number of different ways of doing it, couldn’t
agree on any of them, and just kind of plonked the thing you see now on top.
Childs is very keen that the spire as finally designed will be (a) much more
integrated with the rest of the the building, while (b) remaining fundamentally
asymmetrical. He also said that he’s very much working on integrating the
antennae into the spire.
- At the moment, the spire is on the southern edge of the tower, while and
the peak of the sloping roof is on the northern edge – which looks horrible,
especially when the building is viewed from the west. It probably won’t stay
that way, partly because the spire hasn’t been designed yet, but mainly because
even the sloping roof is far from certain.
The only reason for having a sloping roof in the first place is the Libeskind
plan of a spiral of skyscrapers all genuflecting down to the memorial below.
As we have seen, however, Libeskind is losing a lot of influence here, and
it’s increasinly unlikely that the architects for the other towers on the
site – Silverstein has already named Normal Foster, Fumihiko Maki and
Jean Nouvel – will sign on to the sloping-roof condition.
Clearly, if they don’t have sloping roofs, then Childs doesn’t need to have
one. And Childs doesn’t want one: he told me that often the streets around
the Citicorp tower need to be closed off, because snow and ice and water can
shear off the sloping roof and come plummeting down onto the sidewalk below.
So if he can unslope the roof, I think he will.
- There will be a second observation deck: Silverstein has signed off on this.
It will be right at the top of the trellis, open to the elements, and therefore
accessible only in good weather. It will be reached by a glass elevator, which
would pause at the heights of the old WTC towers on its way up.
¶In terms of the rest of the site, the LMDC yesterday announced
that they have finally reached an agreement with Deutsche Bank to buy up the
former Bankers Trust building for $90 million and then spend $45 million demolishing
it. This has long been crucial to the site plan, and it’s very good news. That
said, however, it’s still far from clear what exactly is going to happen in
that neck of the woods – generally, the southern boundary of the site.
With the cultural buildings now clustered north-east of the memorial, the south-west
corner generally is little more than a blank space – and south of it,
Liberty Street, at the moment, dominated by a large truck ramp, looks like it’s
going to be far from beautiful. Apparently Michael Arad, the winner of the memorial
competition, is pushing for entry to the memorial from the south-west, but that’s
just weird when the PATH station, most public transport, and nearly all the
rest of the island of Manhattan is to the north-east.
¶The PATH station, while beautiful, is basically little more than an oculus
at street level: most of the really grand stuff happens below grade. So, now
that Dey Street has been reconstituted, what is going to actually go on there?
One group, apparently, is pushing for a greenmarket, which sounds like a great
idea to me. It can happen south of the PATH station, so that it doesn’t interfere
with whatever symbolism is going on to the north.
¶It’s looking increasingly unlikely that New York City Opera is going
to make it downtown. The hope was that an opera house could be attached to the
eastern side of the Freedom Tower, maybe overlapping a little below grade. But
now, I’m told, even that wouldn’t create a large enough space for what the opera
Overall, the site plan is moving from grand visions to something rather more
realistic, which is inevitable and not to be mourned overmuch. While many of
us would have preferred something which cleaved much more closely to the original
Libeskind vision, that was never very likely, and I do still have faith in the
LMDC to do its best to create a vibrant new neighborhood.