Sometimes the wall between the news and opinion pages at US newspapers is
mildly exasperating. Last Sunday, the opinion page of the City section of the
New York Times ran an interesting
editorial about the Ground Zero Freedom Tower, saying that it "is apparently
being sent back to the drawing boards, after word came from security experts
at the New York Police Department that they have problems with the building
That news didn’t come from the Times, however, and it wasn’t until today that
the New York Post, and others, picked
up the story. Still nothing from the news pages of the paper of record:
maybe they feel they’ve been scooped by their own opinion pages, and therefore
don’t need to run the story. It’s a pity, because the Times’s WTC coverage,
led by David Dunlap, is streets ahead of its bizarre editorialising.
The editorial board simply doesn’t seem to understand the issues involved,
which is why it’s peculiar that they seem to have got their hands on the news
before anybdy else. The editorial starts off by talking about "George Pataki’s
Freedom Tower", which is just weird. If any individual deserves the possessive
here, it’s Larry Silverstein; David Childs would be the obvious runner-up. George
Pataki had the opportunity to take ownership of the building and its design,
but abrogated it in favour of letting the duelling architects (Childs and Libeskind)
squabble amongst themselves and eventually come up with a compromise design
that both of them hate. Is it a "stunning creation", as the editorial
board puts it? Not at all.
Of course, the design for the tower has changed substantially since I blogged
it back in December 2003. The problem is that no one has a clue what the revised
design looks like: the cobbled-together plan of 16 months ago remains the only
thing that the developers and the LMDC have allowed the public to see.
It’s well over a year, now, since I said
that basic elements such as the 1,776-foot height and the toothpick-like spire
were almost certainly going to be jettisoned; nothing has been confirmed in
the interim, although I’m sure that Silverstein and Childs will make full use
of the NYPD’s safety worries to get rid of any lingering traces of Libeskind.
The New York Times editorialist, however, doesn’t even seem to have looked
at the design from 2003. The editorial describes it as "a massive building,
with too much extra office space – added to suit the developer", which
is simply wrong. The too much extra office space, added to suit Silverstein,
is not in the Freedom Tower so much as it is in all the undeveloped parcels
of land dotted around the rest of the WTC site – parcels which are going
to have to remain empty for the foreseeable future until Silverstein gets around
to building his allotted 10 million square feet of space. The Freedom Tower
itself has about 2.6 million square feet of office space, which is not unheard-of
for New York skyscrapers, and which seems pretty reasonable considering that
this is designed to be the tallest building in the world.
The design is also not "massive" in the hulking sense implied by
the editorial. Yes, the footprint is reasonably large, as you’d expect from
a very tall building. But it curves and tapers pretty gracefully, and I very
much doubt that the NYPD’s proposed changes are going to make it look "like
a vertical bunker", in the words of the editorial. The Goldman Sachs building,
at 85 Broad Street, looks like a vertical bunker; the Freedom Tower will not.
It’s also worth asking where this story came from. Here’s the New York Post:
One source cited frustration with the NYPD bringing up the security issue
so late in the rebuilding process but said every effort would be made to ensure
that the tower will be as safe and secure as possible.
And here’s the New York Times:
Since the details about the Freedom Tower were first unveiled to the public
in December 2003, that delay by the department is unreasonable.
Hm, do you suppose the same source – someone at SOM, perhaps –
has been talking to the New York Post, and to the New York Times editorialist,
but not to David Dunlap, ‘cos Dunlap might know enough to call bullshit on him?
My guess is that the delay has very little to do with NYPD foot-dragging, and
much more to do with the fact that SOM has only recently seen fit to present
detailed plans to the police. After all, the NYPD could hardly have judged security
in the building simply on the basis of a large model unveiled in 2003 which
didn’t even show where the entrances and exits would be.
My guess is that SOM spent a very long time before finally providing their
plans to the police, in the hope that the police would then feel forced by Pataki-imposed
deadline to sign off on anything the architects wanted to do. When the police
proved not quite as compliant as expected, SOM went to the (more compliant)
The one thing this story does tell us, however, is that there are,
now, detailed Freedom Tower plans out there somewhere. We would probably be
expecting to see them pretty soon, were it not for the fact that Childs &
Co have been sent back to their proverbial drawing board. My guess is that we’re
only going to get a realistic idea of what the Freedom Tower is actually going
to look like in 2006. And that when the final plans are released, the tower
will bear about as much relation to Libeskind’s original vision as the Time
Warner Center does to the Jewish Museum in Berlin.