The WTC panel

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

the sky.

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

Central Terminal.)

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.

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5 Responses to The WTC panel

  1. I got there late, and thus didn’t hear the admonotion regarding the ‘off the record’, though, yes, it was prominently on the site. But since we can name names, I found it interesting that Libeskind was next to his champion Rampe, and Cracciola was at the very opposite end. Cracciola is the closest thing to a Silverstein rep (presenting ‘owner’s interests’), and I would characterize his comments as being opaquely promissory.

    And that little speech how we need all 10MM square feet to prove to our kids that we responded with the appropriate gravitas to the event was rather abhorrent, given the context of the question. Wouldn’t 9MM do the trick? 8MM? I’m wondering what precedents the speaker had in mind when exhorting us to strive for the creation of spec office space as a way to honor the dead.

  2. David Sucher says:

    I didn’t realize, Felix, that you were so impressed by big-names. You write that you are:

    “…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.”

    Have any of them ever on any site anywhere actually demionstrated any skill in urban deesign i.e. creating real streetscapes? And I do mean that as a factual question.

    My impression however is that — for Libeskind at least — the answer is a strident and cutting-edge “No!” Am I wrong?

  3. Is there hope for the WTC site?

    I didn’t realize that Felix Salmon was impressed by big-names. He attaneded a meeting on the WTC site and writes that he was “…impressed by the quality of the professionals in charge of this project, and reasonably confident that if

  4. JRoth says:

    Looking at Felix’s post, I’m not sure I read his comments as being starchitect-struck – he’s talking about them as professionals, not designers or talents. On another note, my impression was that David Childs was the lead architect for the actual construction docs – has he been booted, or was he just not at this meeting?

    FWIW, the Midtown skyscraper near Times Square designed by SOM’s Childs (it’s the subject of the excellent book Skyscraper) has a pretty good street-level presence. I don’t think that retail was part of the program – maybe a newsstand? – but having walked by it a few times, both aware of it and unaware (ie, paying attention to it and not)), it works on the sidewalk, with well-proportioned arcades and no deep setbacks.

    [cross-posted at city comforts]

  5. I posted a comment, but it’s not here. Did it not go through?

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