Libeskind and the Freedom Tower

We can officially assume now, I think, that Daniel Libeskind and the Freedom

Tower are barely connected any more, let alone in any kind of one-designed-the-other

relationship. My guess is that when all is said and done, the name and the location

– at the north-west corner of the World Trade Center site – will

be Libeskind; the rest will be David Childs.

In the time since my last WTC

update, a number of crucial court decisions have gone against Larry Silverstein,

the leasholder of the original towers. They were insured for about $3.5 billion,

but Silverstein spent untold millions of dollars in a desperate attempt to get

double the amount that the towers were insured for, saying that he should be

paid out in full for each of the two attacks. In the end, he failed, and now

he simply doesn’t have the money to start building the spiral of skyscrapers

that Libeskind imagined in his site plan. I’m sure that Normal Foster, Fumihiko

Maki and Jean Nouvel – the architects slated to design the other office

towers – still have some kind of contract going, but if I were them, I

wouldn’t be holding my breath.

What that means is that the Freedom Tower is going to be a self-standing landmark

for the foreseeable future, much more than a single element in a much larger

scheme. There will be lots of interesting stuff going on at ground level, of

course, but as far as the skyline is concerned, the Freedom Tower is pretty

much the beginning and the end of what’s going to rise at the WTC site.

As a consequence, it makes little sense for Childs to compromise his own vision

overmuch in the service of a greater unity which might well never happen. (Even

if the other office towers do get built, there’s no guarantee that their architects

will pay any more obeisance to the Libeskind master plan than Childs has done.)

So the sloping roof is likely to go, the height of the tower is likely to increase

from Libeskind’s symbolic 1,776 feet to the CAA’s maximum allowable 2,000 feet,

and the spire could well be jettisoned entirely.

I haven’t seen any new designs which make me say this. But I have seen the


reports, and it’s clear that Libeskind and Silverstein are barely on speaking

terms any more. Libeskind wants $800,000 for his work on the Freedom Tower;

Silverstein has offered $125,000 and clearly has no interest maintaining a good

working relationship with the avant-garde architect.

The difference seems to come down, at heart, to the question of whether the

Freedom Tower is an integral part of the site plan, on which, there is no doubt,

Libeskind has done a lot of work. Silverstein says that it’s his building, he’s

got his own architect, and that insofar as Libeskind did work on the tower as

part of the master plan, he was compensated for it out of his $2.25 million

fee from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

Both the New York

Post and Miss

Representation are pretty dismissive of Libeskind’s claims, which are backed

up with no time sheets or other documentation. But I can kind of see where Libeskind

is coming from: any officially-designated "collaborating architect"

would feel he was owed something substantial from the building he was collaborating

on, especially when that building was probably the single most important skyscraper

to be built in many decades. Ultimately, however, I imagine that history will

treat Libeskind’s contributions to the Freedom Tower as even less important

than Philip Johnson’s contributions to the Seagram Building: Johnson is much

more famous for designing the Four Seasons restaurant on the inside than he

is for designing the building itself. Maybe Libeskind should angle for the gig

as lead architect on the new Windows on the World.

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4 Responses to Libeskind and the Freedom Tower

  1. Felix: too bad you didn’t make an analogy about how Libeskind might be trying to get paid twice just as Silverstein did (I missed the opporunity as well). I actually don’t have any problem with value pricing architectural or other design work (but it’s a hard model to sustain due to the mallebility of the product, among other things). I just think Libeskind poorly managed his contracts, working out of scope repeatly, which is basically a marketing risk. He designed the Freedom Tower when he was supposed to be only doing a site plan (though it was to some degree necessary). He demanded to be involved in meetings when he was told he wasn’t part of the design team. At $200/hr (a generous diluted rate for any studio in New York at his size), he billed 11,000 hours for the first phase. Since he can’t produce evidence of additional work (some 4,000 hours), is he retroactively renegotiating his hourly rate? This has to be a massive stick-up, since, challenged with the ‘oh, bring the timesheets’ just about anyone would have gone back and ‘found’ them, but the numbers were so ridiculous that no one would one would find the claim even close to reasonable (someone running at full-tilt with several other high profile projects piling up thousands of unbilled hours?). Given that Silverstein spent $100 million on lawyers, not being willing to throw a bone to the tune of 1% of that does seem somewhat miserly, especially considering he probably spent $50K on lawyers figuring out how little he could get away with offering.

    What’s far more interesting is the question you pose about what remnants of his plan are still in force. Who is paying for site improvements (including the ancillary buildings he proposed that right now don’t even have a programmatic function), and there still hasn’t been an announced contingency since the funds disappeared. Westfield has been bought out, there aren’t any tenants, and Libeskind clearly doesn’t have a contract for any of the low-lying buildings that formed the core of the public space in his plan. Given how much of that is also usurped by the Memorial, and that I haven’t seen a Childs rendering that includes what the base of the Tower looks like, will any of Libeskind’s structures be realized? He may end up getting credit only for the site plan, if even that.

  2. acdouglas says:

    Anyone who, *immediately* after Libeskind won the competition for the Ground Zero site, didn’t see this coming is as blind as the proverbial bat. Once the politicians and pimps got seriously involved in the process (i.e., money was now actually going to be spent), that design — the second best of the finalist designs (the twin “ghost towers” of THINK was, I, er, think, the best of the lot) — had *no* chance of coming to completion as Libeskind envisioned it.

    What else is new.


  3. Blame Ayn Rand for the construction of the towering architectural Ego. Great piece, Felix.

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