Rebuilding Lower Manhattan

No one seems very impressed by the six

plans which have been put forward for the redevelopment of theWorld

Trade Center site. The pretty much unanimous view seems to be that they’ve

been hamstrung by the requirements to include 11 million square feet

of office space, as well as 600,000 square feet of retail space. Even

the man who unveiled them, John Whitehead, said almost apologetically

when he did so that he would change his plans if none of these ones


My initial reaction was pretty much along the same lines. All of the

plans of necessity include five or six huge new skyscrapers, which are

represented only in the most schematic way, and read visually as opaque

blocks turning the site into an office park. Certainly, at first glance,

the plans’ similarities far exceed their differences, and none of them

comes close to the bold and imaginative (yet, of course, completely

impractical) plans which we’ve all seen in art galleries or the New


But look more closely, and I think the Memorial

Square plan has a lot to be said for it. Why?

  • It preserves the "sacred footprints". Personally, I don’t

    think this a necessary part of an effective memorial, but a lot of

    people, including George Pataki, do. If we can come up with a good

    plan which keeps them inviolate, then so much the better.

  • The area south of Liberty Street is much more successfully integrated

    into the rest of the plan than it is in the other proposals. Because

    of this, the plan effectively manages to enlarge the 16-acre site

    to include Liberty Square Park, which is untouched and unrelated in

    the other five plans. In Memorial Square, there’s a green space running

    from 1 World Financial Center all the way to Broadway, which opens

    up the total perceived area of the memorial plan impressively.

  • I really like the promenade which enables people to look down on

    the memorial space without having to make quite the emotional commitment

    involved in actually going into it. A large part of the rebuilding

    plan is involved in revitalising Lower Manhattan: this is going to

    be an area where hundreds of thousands of people live, work and shop

    every day. They’re going to want to be able to go about their daily

    lives without feeling the need to stop and reflect every time they

    approach the memorial.

  • It’s the only plan with an opera house: something new for downtown

    which will bring high culture to what used to be little more than

    a downmarket shopping mall with office blocks on top.

  • The entrance gates to the memorial, built into the wall which surrounds

    the memorial site and which supports the promenade, will be visible

    from a lot of places, most importantly from all the way up Greenwich

    Street. There’s an approach to the memorial here: you don’t

    just stumble across it on your way to the "transit hub".

  • The plan doesn’t rely on raising lots of office buildings for its

    impact. The office towers could come along a lot later; indeed, they

    could never come along at all, and the sightlines etc would only be

    improved. This is true of most of the plans, of course, but I think

    the Memorial Park is the most versatile in that respect.

I certainly hope that something more imaginative than Memorial Square

will eventually be built on the site. We have here an opportunity for

amazing new memorial architecture, and nothing we’ve seen so far really

seems to open up that possibility. But even if all these plans are ultimately

discarded, I think it will still be worth remembering some of the lessons

learned from what the Memorial Square proposal has brought to the table.

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