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The World Trade Center Redevelopment


By Carter B. Horsley

In the best of all cities, if not worlds, the design for a redeveloped World Trade Center site would include a memorial for the almost three thousand people lost in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that demolished the center's twin towers, a decked-over West Street to reunite Battery Park City with the rest of Lower Manhattan, an expanded transportation terminal that would better unite Downtown with Midtown and the rest of the Metropolitan region, and a stunning new architectural project that would reassert Manhattan's international architectural prominence.

The redevelopment should also afford the city the opportunity to significantly bolster the downtown community's cultural assets with the inclusion of some important institutions such as new homes for the Museum of the City of New York and the New York City Opera.

Fortunately, the site is large enough to accommodate all of these components as well as meeting the contractual needs of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to replace the 11 million square feet of commercial and retail space that had existed on the site.

A suggestion by Gov. Pataki that the "footprints" of the twin towers not be built upon is too restrictive, however, and should be ignored, especially if the Port Authority's insistence on replacing all the previously built space cannot be altered.

A major problem with the original twin tower design was that their placement at the western edge of the site tilted the rather symmetrical skyline of Lower Manhattan and the tallest buildings in any new proposal should be placed at the eastern edge of the site.

Proposals to restore the traditional street pattern that had been disrupted by the World Trade Center should be ignored as Lower Manhattan does not have, nor require, a traditional grid pattern and that is one of its charms and is far too restrictive for the site's redevelopment. Context is one thing but one cannot roll back history and ignore the existence of Battery Park City and, in particular, the World Financial Center.

For decades, the city's summer cultural center was Lewisohn Stadium at the City College of New York in upper Manhattan, which unfortunately was demolished to make way a generation ago for an academic megastructure. The stadium was an athletic field for City College that was also a 25,000-person, colonnaded amphitheater. It should be recreated, in principle, at the World Trade Center Site facing the great Wintergarden of the World Financial Center, the city's most glorious interior space. It can serve as part of the memorial for those lost in the calamity and its benches can be engraved with the names of those who were lost and the colonnade can be created in the style of the bent great steel façade of the World Trade Center. The city needs such a performing arts open-air venue and it would ease the environmental pressures on concerts in Central Park as well as attracting more people downtown and also provide continual celebratory memorials for those lost.

Several of the proposed redevelopment schemes try to squeeze the great amount of developed space onto the site with a cluster of 50 to 60 story office towers, each of which, if bulky enough, could have about 1.5- to 2-million square feet of space, whereas each of the twin towers contained about 4 million square feet of space. Such a cluster of office towers would occupy a very large portion of the site, seriously constraining design potential for something special, something magnificent, something significant and something stunning and something that would recognizable on the skyline.

The skyline of Lower Manhattan prior to the erection of the very bulky, albeit sleek, One Chase Manhattan Plaza in 1961 was the most romantic and inspirational in the world. The World Trade Center overpowered that skyline completely and rather contemptuously, but its gleaming facades and its twin towers were undeniably forceful and often beautiful from afar.

What is needed, therefore, is a new major tower, the world's tallest, containing perhaps 6 million square feet, and a two smaller but also major towers of about 2.5 million square feet each, one of which could conceivably house new quarters for the New York Stock Exchange, which has been contemplating expansion. New facilities for the New York City Opera and the Museum of the City of New York could be also be accommodated in the bases of these two smaller towers.

Highest design priority should be given to the impact of the plan on the skyline, secondly to the memorial, thirdly to the interface with Battery Park City/World Financial Center, fourthly to the transportation and retail issues, and fifthly to the cultural facilities.

These design issues, of course, must be delicately interwoven with economic considerations and realities. The World Trade Center had a tremendous impact on the local real estate market when it was built and it was not entirely benign at the start. The downtown office market at the moment is weak and there is not demand now to fill up an additional 11 million square feet if it were immediately available, but real estate markets historically run in cycles and projects of this scale take years to complete and eventually demand will rise again. The July 15, 2002 issue of Crain's New York said that Lower Manhattan had a vacancy rate of about 19 percent. There likely are some tenants who would prefer not to be in very famous and exposed skyscrapers in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. (In July, 2002, The New York Post reported that the owners of Citicorp Center, one of midtown's tallest and most distinctive skyscrapers, had decided to turn off the nighttime illumination of that tower.) Clearly, however, the general consensus after the attacks was that the city's and the nation's resolve was to be uncowed by the attacks.

While there is undeniably less financial risk in putting up several smaller towers than one or a few very big ones, such considerations are short-sighted: New York City without the Empire State Building, or Rockefeller Center, or the Woolworth Building would just be another Sao Paolo. The quality of architecture always makes a difference and great projects make a difference. A city cannot be designed by insurance adjusters, or accountants, or lawyers. Similarly, short-term gains may not always be the best or most profitable long-term solution. A cluttered, uninspired redevelopment of the site is not in the best interests of the city, nor is it an appropriate memorial. Those who perished in this disaster and the city and the world at large deserve better.

The twin towers of light that briefly on the site were memorable and that concept should be incorporated into any new scheme. One of the greatest visual images in the aftermath of the tragedy was the bent remains of the base of one of the towers and one of the more imaginative ideas that was advanced was that a tower on the site should have a very tall and empty superstructure and these two ideas could well be incorporated into the design and beacons of light could emanate from two of the new towers.

Proposals to deck over West Street and to create an L.I. R.R. express train from Jamaica, Queens to the site have met with some opposition, and are each estimated to cost more than $1 billion. Crain's NY reported on July 15, 2002 that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the L.I.R.R., is opposed to the new train link and "would rather spend the federal funds promised for downtown to improve the South Ferry subway station and create a new downtown transit hub." Crain's NY also indicated that "transit advocates are afraid that either project would take money away from the major proposals that were on the MTA agenda before Sept. 11: connecting the L.I.R.R. to Grand Central Terminal, known as the East Side Access, and building a Second Avenue subway."

The New Plans

 

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation released six "concept plans" for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center terrorist attack site on July 16, 2002. The development corporation has an excellent website at http://www.renewnyc.com that includes detailed information on the plans with descriptions, site plans, scale models, 3D renderings, skyline elevations and animations that permit viewing the models from any angle. The following pictures are from its website. Each plan is briefly described below above scale model pictures and skyline views, followed by a critique, in italics, of each plan.

About a week after the plans were formally released, a public meeting was held at the Javits Convention Center and attended by about 4,500 persons, most of whom were reported to be dissatisfied with most of the proposals, but in favor of decking over West Street to create a grand promenade. On July 26, Gov. George E. Pataki told The New York Times that the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey should perhaps look beyond the World Trade Center site downtown for more flexibility in planning the redevelopment and dealing with its legal issues to rebuild the same amount of space. (7/28/02)

Memorial Plaza (1)

This scheme calls for an 8-acre plaza with a memorial/cultural building on the western edge with a 79-story tower, two 67-story towers and two 62-story towers. It would also reclaim 100 feet of West Street reclaimed at grade for open space and a museum facility. It would also tunnel west Street from Battery Park to Vesey Street creating five acres of new property on a grand promenade over the submerged roadway. The tallest tower would have a 1,500-ft.-high "skyline element." Greenwich Street would be extended through the site and Fulton and Cortlandt Streets would be extended partially into the site. This scheme was designed by Cooper Robertson & Partners for Brookfield Properites, the owners of the World Financial Center at Battery Park City.

Model of Memorial Plaza scheme viewed from southwest

Model of Memorial Plaza scheme viewed from the south

Skuline elevation of model of Memorial Plaza scheme viewed from New Jersey

This scheme would not build upon the footprint of the twin towers. It would also place the tallest tower in the northwest corner of the site close to Battery Park City, a plan that continues the skewer the symmetry of Lower Manhattan as did the Twin Towers. The four other major towers would be aligned along the eastern edge of the site and would have slightly angled plans to broaden tenant vistas. The phalanx of these four towers would be somewhat similar to the cluster of tall towers on the west side of the Avenue of the Americas known as Rockefeller Center West. The model indicates that the facades of the tallest building are slightly slanted and topped with a very high spire.

Memorial Square (2)

This scheme creates a 10-acre square framed by 10-story buildings with rooftop gardens and continuous skywalks. It would also acquire four city blocks on the south side of the site to create a "new cultural district." It would also extend Greenwich Street through the site and have a Liberty Street "green corridor" from Broadway to the waterfront. It would have a 80-story tower, two 70-story towers and one 56-story tower and the tallest tower would have a 1,500-ft.-high "skyline element" similar to the Memorial Plaza scheme. The tallest tower is placed on the eastern edge of the city, closer to the center of Lower Manhattan and the other tall buildings have more spacing between them than in the Memorial Plaza scheme. The tallest tower is shown as cylindrical in the presentation although it is not clear that this scheme mandates such a plan. This scheme creates and/or acquires 13 acres of "new property" for the redevelopment for a total of 24.1 acres of public space (including streets and promenades). It would also tunnel West Street from Battery Park to Chambers Street. This scheme does not build over the footprint of the Twin Towers and the model seems to indicate that the footprint might be pools. This scheme was designed by Beyer Blinder Belle.

Model of Memorial Square scheme viewed from southwest

Model of Memorial Square scheme viewed from the south

Skyline elevation of model of Madison Square scheme viewed from New Jersey

This scheme's placement of the tallest tower closer to the center of Lower Manhattan helps restore some symmetry to the downtown skyline and the spacing of the other towers is more open but the heights of the towers are not varied enough to make the tallest tower prominent enough and the tallest tower should probably be higher and the two-72-story buildings should be of slightly different heights to add more visual interest. This scheme suffers from two serious flaws: the 10-story structures surrounding the main public space are too constrictive and "castle-like," although the notion of roof gardens and skywalks is excellent. More serious, however, is the extension of Greenwich Street through the site. Lower Manhattan has no street grid tradition like Midtown and this notion of continuing streets was adopted in the design guidelines for Battery Park City by Cooper-Eckstut & Associates and was a reaction against previous "megastructure" plans and misguided, although Battery Park City is very successful urbanistically. By continuing Greenwich Street through the site, this scheme breaks up the formality of such a large, "walled" space and is unnecessary.

Memorial Triangle (3)

 

This scheme creates a 5-acre, triangular open space with an 85-story tower with a 1500-ft.-high "skyline element," a 61-story tower and four 59-story towers. This plan also extends Greenwich Street through the site and would have an elevated pedestrian deck over West Street to the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center in Battery Park City. It also calls for potential residential development south of Liberty Street. This scheme was designed by Beyer Blinder Belle.

Model of Memorial Triangle scheme viewed from the southwest

Model of Memorial Triangle scheme viewed from the south

Skyline elevation of model of Memorial Triangle scheme viewed from New Jersey

This scheme places the tallest tower at the eastern edge of the site but its towers are close to one another and one is directly in front of the planned redevelopment by Larry Silverstein of 7 World Trade Center. This plan appears to have a pavilion on part of the Twin Towers' footprint and does not fully cover over the automobile traffic on West Street. A cultural pavilion is squeezed close to the narrow part of the "triangle" and the overall plan here has less open space than the other schemes. The two "small" structures in the large open space presumably were conceived to give independent identity to potential "cultural" institutions that might move to the site, but that makes their design even more important than the towers for they would be under intense focus and if not up to the quality of brilliant architecture such as Daniel Liekeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin or Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, could result in a design disaster. Such facilities could be incorporated into major mixed-use towers as demonstrated by the AOL-Time Warner Center at One Columbus Center now under construction at Columbus Circle. The question of whether there should be free-standing buildings in the center of the major public open space at this site is important as they detract from whatever "formal" memorial eventually is chosen. Moreover, how much of the site should be open is not an easy or obvious decision. There is no need for parks on Madison Avenue because Central Park is one block away at Fifth Avenue. The point here is that Battery Park City has a splendid esplanade and a great North Cove marina at the great Winter Garden at the World Financial Center. Decking over West Street can create a great deal of important new park/public space and could ease pressures for a huge plaza in the center of the World Trade Center site. Clearly, a major public space is needed in the center of the site, which leaves the question about the footprints of the Twin Towers. The footprints are very large and could suffice approximately for the memorial and open space freeing up more space for towers.

Memorial Garden (4)

This scheme creates a 4-acre open space with an 80-story tower with a 1,500-ft.-high "skyline element, two 66-story towers and two 50-story towers. Greenwich Street would be extended through the site and Fulton Street extended through it partially. The tallest tower would be placed at the eastern edge and two of the smaller towers would have angled plans and be very close to Larry Silverstein's 7 World Trade Center redevelopment on the north side of the site. The tallest building has slanted facades in this model. This scheme was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for Larry Silverstein.

Model of Memorial Garden scheme viewed from the southwest

Model of Memorial Garden scheme viewed from the south

Skyline elevation of Memorial Triangle scheme viewed from New Jersey

The tallest tower in this scheme has a tall empty superstructure, an idea that was suggested by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The notion of a sculptural top conjures the compelling image of the fractured, broken and bent facade of the collapsed Twin Towers, but the slanted facades, reminscent of the Transamerica Tower in San Francisco are not in keeping with the gleaming rectilinearity of the Twin Towers.

Memorial Park (5)

This scheme creates a memorial site within a 6-acre park partially situated on a deck over West Street with two 72-story towers and three 45-story towers. One of the towers would have a 1,500-ft.-high "skyline element." It also calls for extending Greenwich Street through the site and extending Fulton and Cortlandt Streets to the World Financial Center. A bypass tunnel would run on West Street from Albany to Vesey Streets with local traffic at the surface. The plan requires the acquisition of par tof the plaza of the Deutsche Bank Building and the parking lot at Cedar and West Streets. The model shows a very slender, obelisk-like tower in the center of the major open space, presumably a memorial, and the tallest tower is isolated on the eastern edge of the site. This scheme was designed by Peterson/Littenberg Architecture & Urban Design for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

Model of Memorial Park scheme viewed from the southwest

Model of Memorial Park scheme viewed from the south

 

Skyline elevation of Memorial Park scheme viewed from New Jersey

This scheme moves the tallest tower close to center of Lower Manhattan and has appropriately placed the major open space on a deck over West Street closest to the World Financial Center. The tallest tower is a slab that runs perpendicularly to the next two two tallest towers but it is also to the south of them. The large open space over West Street is well planned, although the "obelisk" tower in it is not particularly impressive or meaningful, at least from the model.

Memorial Promenade (6)

This scheme creates a large oval park on a deck over West Street as well as a smaller memorial site to the east with two 63-story towers and four 32-story towers and cultural and memorial uses on the western portion of the site. It also calls for 19.4 acres of new property and a grand promenade over the submerged lanes of West Street. This model also indicates a very tall obelisk in the center of the "oval" park and its two tallest towers would have 1,500-ft.-high skyline elements. This scheme was designed by Peterson/Littenberg Architecture & Urban Design for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

Model of Memorial Promenade scheme viewed from the southwest

Model of Memorial Promenade scheme viewed from the south

Skyline elevation of Memorial Promenade scheme viewed from New Jersey

Only one of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers had a very tall antenna, but both of the tallest towers here would have one. The notion of having twin towers is sensible and the siting of the major towers has a nice symmetry, although once again Larry Silverstein's 7 World Trade Center gets severely slightly as in virtually all these proposals. This proposal is the most elegant of the group although the two tallest towers are bulky and not very graceful. The oval park really does not relate to the context, but that is not necessarily bad and the emphasis on making a Grand Promenade down West Street as well as opening up the site to the impressive World Financial Center and Winter Garden at Battery Park City is the right approach. Probably only one of the 1,500-ft.-high "skyline elements" are necessary, which would permit one of the towers to be taller, which would be important.

Schemes 5 and 6 are on the right track in the siting of the major towers and the main open space on a deck over West Street. An argument can be made for having "twin towers" as part of the plan, but these plans basically are limited to big but not very tall, as in "world's tallest," structures. Why shouldn't New York have the world's tallest building? The immediate answer is that it is expensive and that the downtown office market doesn't need it now. Well, one will not get this size site, which is appropriate for such a project, again.

In its lead editorial July 17, 2002, The New York Times described these six plans as "dreary, leaden proposals that fall far short of what New York City - and the world - expect to see rise at ground zero." The editorial went on to maintain that "The public will never be satisfied with any redevelopment that contains as much commercial space as the site did before Sept. 11," adding that "Despite all the talk about a downtown that would be alive 24 hours a day with cultural institutions, entertainment and residential developments, these features, which make an urban area live and breathe, are missing." That same edition of The New York Times carried an appraisal of the plans by the newspaper's architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp, who argued that "the plans have little to recommend them." "Thus far, ...[the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation] has demonstrated little besides a breathtaking determination to think small. Don't come looking for ideas that reflect the historic magnitude of last year's catastrophe."

The notion that the site cannot have as much development as previously existed is preposterous, at least in theory. The economic reality is that the opportunity to significantly improve Lower Manhattan with greatly improved transit hubs and a decking over of West Street can most likely only be afforded by a maximum redevelopment. The problem with maximum redevelopment, especially by the private sector, is timing. It is true that the scale of what is proposed would overwhelm and severely impact the downtown real estate market now and for a few years at least, but the benefits of decking over West Street and really important transit improvements would be worth it.

Anyone who has walked through Lower Manhattan knows that it is glorious but also knows that it needs more attractions. The Museum of the City of New York has a great building on Museum Mile on Upper Fifth Avenue and while it would be a fine addition to downtown it is an unnecessary move. What Lower Manhattan and the city really need is the gargantuan proposed Frank Gehry-designed museum on the East River south of the South Street Seaport that the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum wants to build (see The City Review article). Why not have a new museum of capitalism and another of trade and another of technology?

As the lead editorial in The New York Post July 17, 2002, stated, "It's a start." The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's website is awesome, especially the panoramic movies of each "plan," and its "resources" section (http://www.renewnyc.com/resources.htm) that contains many links to civic groups that have done a lot of work already in thinking about what should be done at the site, such as Rebuild Downtown Our Town (R.Dot) at http://www.architect.org/lower_manhattan/white_paper/whitepaper.html, New York New Visions A Coalition for the Rebuilding of Lower Manhattan at http://nynv.aiga.org and Civic Alliance To Rebuild Downtown New York at http://www.civic-alliance.org.

The Municipal Art Society of New York has gathered ideas from many workshops and is holding an exhibition of some of them at the Urban Center at 451 Madison Avenue from July 17 to October 10, 2002. Its website is http://www.mas.org and it has information on about 18,000 ideas that were collected in 230 public workshops between March and May, 2002, of what to do at the site.

What really matters is the quality of the architecture of whatever is built and these massing and site plans must not be looked at in a design vacuum (see The City Review article on a call for an international design competition).

In early August, 2002, city officials proposed that the city sell the Port Authority the land under JFK and LaGuardia airports in exchange for the World Trade Center site as a means of getting around the authority's insistence on building the same amount of built space as existed before the terrorist attacks on the site. Another proposal being considered was to expand possible redevelopment sites near the World Trade Center location. (8/06/02)

In mid-August, 2002, in reaction to widespread negative criticism, planning officials for the site indicated that they would invite more architects to submit designs. (8/17/02)

 

 

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