I wasn’t the only person to get up early in order to go to a "professional
forum" at the Center for Architecture in Greenwich Village on the subject
of the World Trade Center site. The auditorium was packed, mostly with men in
suits, who looked remarkably alert for 8 o’clock in the morning. The meeting
was off the record, which means I won’t tell you who said what. I can tell you,
though, because the details are on the AIA website,
that the panel discussion included most of the important stakeholders, including
Daniel Libeskind, Michael Arad (the memorial designer), and Jeffrey Holmes,
from SOM, who’s working on the Freedom Tower. Kevin Rampe from the LMDC was
also there, along with Tony Cracciola from the Port Authority and Vishaan Chakrabarty
from the New York City department of planning. The whole thing was run by New
York New Visions.
The only major stakeholder who wasn’t there was Larry Silverstein, who yesterday
got served with a lawsuit
from Libeskind demanding $843,750 in architectural fees. We were told at the
very beginning of the two-hour session that there wasn’t "enough time"
to talk about the Freedom Tower – the only thing on the site which is
actually being built at the moment – so we’re none the wiser about what
this landmark building is actually going to look like, how tall it’s going to
be, or anything along those lines. I, for one, have learned nothing new since
I wrote my WTC update in
February, beyond the fact that the complicated site-wide ramping system for
truck deliveries probably won’t be finished in time for the Freedom Tower’s
completion. In the interim, it looks as though the tower will be serviced from
an entrance on the Vesey Street side of where the new performing arts center
is going to be, with a possible elevator system maximising the number of trucks
and cars that can be dealt with in a very small footprint.
In fact, there are still some questions about whether the ramping system will
go ahead as planned, with the entrance to it, on Liberty Street, being described
as "universally disliked". One suggestion was that a building of some
description could be built on top of the ramp entrance, framing the new Liberty
Park and making the cut look a bit less ugly.
And in general, it was hard to see why this panel was so ostentatiously off-the-record,
given that no one said anything particularly newsworthy. A couple of pointed
questions were asked, but in general it was something of a love-fest, with everybody
making extremely nice noises about Libeskind, and – more surprisingly
– everybody also standing up for the absent Silverstein’s right to build
10 million square feet of office space on the site. Lip service was paid to
having "vibrant street life" and all the rest of it, but it was very
clear that Silverstein’s need for commercially viable floor plates will ultimately
drive decisions as to, for instance, whether Cortlandt Street will be open to
Dey Street, however, will
certainly be open – the only question is whether it will be pedestrian
or open to cars. There will therefore be a new public space to the south-west
of the PATH terminal, north of Dey and east of Greenwich, and there was a fair
amount of speculation as to what might go there – people seemed quite
keen on "kiosks", although I wasn’t entirely clear on what they meant
by that. The Greenmarket could go there, too.
On the other side of Greenwich from the new public space will be the International
Freedom Center – apparently a museum dedicated to human rights and the
memory of September 11 – and the Drawing Center. But everybody seems keen
that this development not get in the way of people going to the memorial proper
from the PATH station or the north-east more generally. The memorial will be
approachable from every direction, including the west – apparently it’s
only going to be a few steps up from West Street to the flat memorial space.
The issue of burying West Street was raised, dropped, raised again, and not
really ever addressed: Pataki likes the idea, although it would be very expensive,
and the residents of Battery Park City hate it. My guess is that the cost is
too high and the benefit too low for the plan to go ahead, although at the margin
it would make the WTC site cohere a lot more effectively with the World Financial
Center and the Hudson River ferries.
Interestingly, in the midst of the fight over whether there’s anywhere in New
York suitable for a mass demonstration during the Republican National Convention,
there seemed to be general agreement that the huge memorial space could be used
for such gatherings if they were of a suitable nature: the Martin Luther King
march on Washington was cited as a precedent.
As for the general feel of the public spaces in the site, we were told that
fully half of all the retail would be above ground, which is great news. And
below ground, especially in the huge retail concourses of the PATH station,
will often be full of natural light thanks to the Calatrava oculus design. (Those
concourses, we were told, will be as big or bigger than the grand room at Grand
We can also expect an announcement as to who will design the cultural buildings,
both north and south of Fulton Street, in about six months. My guess is that
Libeskind will end up getting at least the southern one, and possibly the northern
one as well.
As for who’s in charge of the site, it’s still something of an alphabet soup.
That said, however, a certain division of labor does seem to have emerged. Libeskind’s
still got a finger in every pie, as the master site planner. The LMDC is concentrating
on the memorial (with Arad) and the cultural buildings, while the Port Authority
is concentrating on the offices (with Silverstein), the retail shops, and the
transportation hub. New York City is mostly interested in the street life of
the neighborhood, recognising that it’s more of a New York state site.
But the street design is important, with crucial decisions yet to be finalised.
Will Fulton Street be a major two-way thoroughfare, exiting both north and south
onto West Street? Will Greenwich Street be open to taxis and limousines between
Vesey and Fulton? Will Greenwich Street between Fulton and Liberty be permanently
clogged with both MTA and tourist buses? Will Cortlandt Street even exist?
In general, I think people left the meeting buzzing with more questions than
answers. But I remain impressed by the quality of the professionals in charge
of this project, and reasonably confident that if anybody can come up with a
workable solution to the myriad of problems that the site throws up, they can.
Even if some of them are suing each other in court.