By Carter B. Horsley
When the New York City Police Department publicly
found fault a few weeks ago with the design of the Freedom Tower
at the World Trade Center site for being too close to West Street
for security precautions, David Childs was told to go back to
the drawing board. The problem arose because the state and the
city decided against creating a vehicular tunnel alongside the
site, a tunnel that had been objected to by Goldman Sachs, the
investment banking firm that had been considering building a new
The decision not to built a tunnel was not
a good one as it would have permitted much easier access to Battery
Park City and more open space in the area, two very worthy goals.
Just shifting the Freedom Tower to the east
to meet the objections of the city's security forces would require
an enormous reworking of the all the plans for the entire World
Trade Center site and state and city officials were eager to come
up with a solution quickly, partly in response to considerable
recent criticism of plans for the site from a variety of critics
including Paul Goldberger of The New Yorker Magazine and
Ron Rosenbaum of The New York Observer.
The unveiling of Mr. Childs's new design June
29, 2005 was a dramatic surprise for it bears little relation
to Daniel Libeskind's original winning entry for the tower and
the master plan, nor to any of the many previously submitted designs.
Virtually the only Libeskind element of the design that remains
is the height of the antenna - 1,776 feet.
Childs's new tapering design is not bad and
is in fact a more attractive tower than the previous design that
had a canted roof line topped by a tall cage with wind turbines
beneath an antenna.
His solution to the new security concerns is
to raise the tower on a 200-foot-high base clad in patterned metal,
in essence a security bunker. While the previous tower was somewhat
"twisted," the new one has angular inclines and a pin-strip-like
curtain wall that is somewhat reminiscent of the facade design
of the former twin towers at the World Trade Center.
Childs's design has elongated isosceles triangular
facades rising from the square base and narrower ones descending
from the square top of the office tower that is 1,362 feet high,
above which there is a circular platform eight feet higher, both
heights demarking the heights of the twin towers of the World
Trade Center that were demolished in the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001. The antenna, which is supported by cables
that rise from the rim of the circular platform, rises up to a
height of 1,776 feet.
The new design has moved the
base of the tower 40 feet to the east. The former design had a
trapezoidal base. The changes will require the relocation of the
20-ton granite cornerstone that was laid last July 4 by Gov. George
Pataki. Construction is anticipated to begin next year with completion
scheduled for 2010. The tower is in the northeast corner of the
16-acre former World Trade Center site and it will overlook the
memorial and a cultural center. The tower will contain 2.6 million
square feet of office space on 69 floors, two observation decks
and the Manhattan Television Alliance broadcast and antennae facilities.
The 200-ft.-high base, which
is 200-ft. square in plan, will be clad in patterned metal and
three-foot-thick walls. It will contain a 80-ft.-high public lobby
and mechanical equipment.
The architecture critic of
The New York Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff, was not enthused
by the new design. "The temptation is to dismiss it as a
joke," he wrote on June 30, adding that "The effort
fails on almost every level." The lead editorial in the same
edition, however, maintained that "In almost every respect,
the new design for the so-called Freedom Tower....is better than
the one it replaces." "New Yorkers had reason to watch
the public presentation of this new design with some skepticism,"
it continued, adding that "We have seen so many designs,
so many models. We know now, unhappily, that the final plans,
whatever they are, will likely be hammered out in private."
The plans for the rebuilding
of the World Trade Center site have been mired in controversy
and in recent weeks attacks on the plans mounted. On May 30, Paul
Goldberger wrote in The New Yorker magazine that the Freedom
Tower was "an unnecessary building," and urged more
small-scale housing in Lower Manhattan. The day before, Frank
Rich, a columnist for The New York Times, asked "What
sane person would want to work in a skyscraper destined to be
the most tempting target for aerial assault in the Western World?"
In the June 27-July 4 edition of The New York Observer,
columnist Ron Rosenbaum suggested it was "dreadfully apparent
now that the entire project - and the lives of its potential inhabitants
- is in the hands of a group of egotists, idiots, political opportunists
Meanwhile, controversy continues
to swirl around the recently announced cultural center nearby
on the site, not because of its very intriguing and fine design,
but because of concerns that its organizations - the International
Freedom Center and the Drawing Center - may present exhibitions
that might be objectionable to some. The organizations involved
are worthy and censorship is not appropriate, but one might argue
that its large presence is perhaps too close to the memorial and
might be better located on the deck created by a tunnel under
West Street, a tunnel that should be resurrected.
The new design of Freedom Tower
is extremely elegant if the cladding of the base is well done
and sparkling and if the curtain wall is jewelly and silverish.
It is an appropriate height and scale and certainly would not
be the only possible target of terrorists in the future. Gov.
George Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg and Larry Silverstein, the developer
of the site, are right in their proud defiance and lofty ambitions.
If you don't want to go into the building, don't, but you'll miss
a hell of a view.
The new design is not as grandiose
and flamboyant as many of the designs that the public has been
offered in numerous rounds of competitions and presentations.
It is, however, refined and sophisticated. In his critique, Mr.
Ouroussoff said that "the new obelisk-shaped tower...evokes
a gigantic glass paperweight with a toothpick stuck on top."
Perhaps he would have been happier if the toothpick skewered a
maraschino cherry, or, more appropriately, a candied apple. It's
true that the designs offered for the tower have had more flavors
than Baskin-Robbins or Coldstone Creamery. For decades, until
very recently, the city has suffered from a lack of architectural
excitement while the rest of the world has exhuberantly enjoyed
a golden age of architectural innovation and widespread brilliance.
The design climate in the city, however, has shifted much for
the better by and large and there are now many interesting and
fine projects of all sizes sprouting all over. The new design
may not be cutting-edge in terms of form, but in terms of technology
and security it will be just fine.