WTC update

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

company wants.

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.

This entry was posted in Culture. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to WTC update

  1. Stefan Geens says:

    1/ With the Bankers Trust building gone there is now an obvious spot to put an opera, no? I even remember several of the original designs had one exactly there.

    2/ Bizarre to see so much information remain below the radar screen of mainstream media. Because these things need to be sourced properly? Because the quality of the info amounts to gossip? Makes an interesting point on where blogs should be on the spectrum of available “ethics”.

    3/ How does it happen that somebody gets commissioned to do a site and then subsequently gets to lose influence. Don’t these people sign contracts or something? Wasn’t there supposed to be a competition that somebody gets to win, or was all that, in the end, PR?

  2. Felix says:

    Good questions all, Stefan.

    1. No. There’s going to be a station for x-raying trucks underground there, which means you can’t build foundations for a building of any size. It’s mostly going to be a city park type thing, along with a reconstructed St Nicholas’s church. And then on the other side of a rebuilt Cedar Street is going to be a big office building. Theoretically you could put an opera house there, I suppose, but Larry Silverstein still wants his 10 million square feet back.

    2. I think most journalists following this story (David Dunlap, say, of the New York Times) are well aware of everything I’m writing here. The problem is that it leaks out in drips, none of which is particularly newsworthy on its own, so there’s never any particular occasion to devote a news article to it.

    3. The competition was for someone to design a site plan, not buildings. But all the competitors ended up showing what the site would look like, in terms of buildings, so we all got very excited about the buildings, and forgot that they weren’t what we were really meant to be looking at. Either good PR or bad PR, depending on how you look at it.

  3. Symphony X says:


    Felix Salmon keeps us up to date on the WTC redevelopment. Looks like a significant redesign is in the cards, sort of a conference committee to carve the turkey now that who is at the table is known….

  4. Kerry McElwain says:

    I’m glad to see that the tower has been wrangled from control by the leftists and once again may potentially impact the American skyline. I hope and pray it stays in that direction. God Bless America

Comments are closed.