By Carter B. Horsley
In perhaps the greatest example
of architectural jouralism in history, today's edition (September
8, 2002) of The New York Times Magazine contained its own
"Masters' Plan" for the redevelopment of the World Trade
Center site that was coordinated by the newspaper's architecture
critic Herbert Muschamps.
The proposal involved designs
prepared for The New York Times by many famous architects
and designers such as Henry N. Cobb, Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey,
Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl, Rem Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan
Architecture, Maya Lin, Richard Meier, and Rafael Viñoly
- all architects long associated with New York City.
While one might muster an equally
imposing list of New York architects not on this "team"
such as Kohn Pedersen Fox, Cesar Pelli, Philip Johnson, and Kevin
Roche John Dinkeloo & Associates, and an even more intriguing
list of national architects such as Eric Owen Moss, Antoine Predock,
and Arquitectonica, and an very intriguing list of foreign architects
such as Shin Takematsu, Arato Isozaki, Richard Rogers, Norman
Foster, Renzo Piano and others, the talent assembled by The New
York Times well served its intent of offering a meaningful alternative
to the "official" six plans presented recently by the
Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation (see The City Review article). Those plans were widely criticized as unexciting
and too beholden to the "legal" requirements advanced
by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey based on its
lease with Larry Silverstein, the developer, that the authority
maintained mandated the recreation of the same amount of commercial
and retail space on the site as existed prior to the terrorist
attacks of September 9, 2001 (see The
City Review article).
In its "Thinking Big"
preface, the Times article states that "The plan builds
on some ideas that are already in circulation and is meant only
as an offering to the public conversation," adding that "Much
of it is based on very real ideas of whatis required and how it
can be financed. Some of it is daringly fanciful. Many features
remain hotly contested....But if there is one issue on which there
is broad and passionate consensus, it is that in a city like New
York, just getting back to normal is not good enough. The plan
that follows is an incement to the city to think big."
The subhead for Mr. Muschamp's
article correctly proclaims: "Now is the time for New York
to express its ambition through architecture and reclaim its place
as a visionary city."
Mr. Muschamp explained that
a group including architects Meier, Holl, Eisenman, and Gwathmey
and Guy Nordenson, a structural engineer began to discuss their
dissatisfaction with plans for the site and with the city's planning
process and the Times asked them to pursue their study, noting
that "almost immediately, they decided to look beyond ground
zero and reimagine a scheme for the entirety of Lower Manhattan."
"The team began by adopting
a strategy developed by Frederick Schwartz, architect of the Staten
Island Ferry Terminal at the southern tip of Manhattan,"
Mr. Muschamp wrote, adding that "Schwartz, who worked on
the Westway highway project in the 1970's and 80's, had long recommended
burying a segment of West Street, a six-lane highway that divides
Battery Park City from the rest of Lower Manhattan."
By tunneling this segment,
Schwartz argued that the new "land" would amount to
about 16 acres of developable property and a new West Street "development
corridor" could accommodate much of the former space demolished
in the terrorist attack and "heal" a "gash in the
cityscape that had long obstructed the integration of Battery
Park City with the financial district."
The proposal envisions that
most of the World Trade Center's commercial space could be rebuilt
in tall buildings "on or adjacent to ground zero, closer
to transportation" and that most of the West Street "corridor"
could be devoted to new housing and that the new "land"
might be worth at least $2 billion and could be sold to developers
to help pay for the cost of building the new "platform"
over West Street.
The "proposal" printed
in The New York Times Magazine shows two "torqued"
twin towers at the southwest corner of ground zero. The article
provided the following commentary:
"The architects who came
together to reimagine Lower Manhattan reached a consensus on many
aspects of this plan. The question of replacing the two towers,
however, was more difficult. Some recoiled at the idea; others
were enchanted by the prospect of crowning Manhattan's skyline
wiht bold new skyscrapers. What is presented here is one idea
that emerged for new towers. Resembling candlesticks, the buildings
would be location at the intesection of Liberty Street and Church
Street, straddling the southeast corner of ground zero. One tower
would be located inside the site, while the other would sit just
outside it. Such a placement would not only allow the twin-tower
footprints to remain; it would also let ground zero become more
than a memorial site. These towers would be roughly the height
of their predecessors, though thinner and torqued to suggest resilience
- as if they were made of a material that, if bumped, would simply
absorb the shock. Would these towers be a new World Trade Center?
Not necessarily. In addition to office space, they could house
a mixture of cultural, retail and housing units. Another conception
would accommodate today's heightened safety concerns; the towers
could stand simply as monuments, empty for for a museum on the
Neither of the above two renderings indicate
the redevelopment of 7 World Trade Center, the office building
erected just to the north of the World Trade Center by Larry Silverstein,
which was also demolished in the terrorist attack. The article
does not focus on Mr. Silverstein's building although its plan
does not appear to rule out its rebuilding or to be substantially
impacted by any such plan by Mr. Silverstein who, of course, leased
the World Trade Center site from the Port Authority of New York
& New Jersey and is certain to be a major player in any redevelopment
While the article's specifically notes that
the presented new "twin towers" is only "one idea,"
their forms appear in four illustrations. Another illustration
in the article showed "another notion for a tower comes from
Guy Nordenson, a structural engineer" and its caption maintains
that "His is not a formal design but an idea for how a skyscraped
could be torqued to make it structurally sound, even at very great
heights." None of the other renderings with the tall towers
have credit lines to indicate the creator of the designs, although
presumably the architects of the other components illustrated
supplied their own renderings.
"Rejecting the classical
Grand Central Terminal notion of the 'big room,' Rafael Viñoly
designed a transportation hub that distributes the circulation
space in a series of switchbacks and visually celebrates the industrial
grandeur of converging rail systems," wrote Mr. Muschamps.
The article stated that "connecting subways, trains and buses
to Lower Manhattan, the Mass Transit Interchange would feature
curved pedestrian paths that undulate between the surface and
the underground, seamlessly united two separate realms of the
city. Wavelike ramps lined with shops and cafes would intersect
at different elevations throughout the complex; moving walkways
and escalators would connect pedestrians to various subway lines.
The canopied terminal, which at its peak could rise 10 stories,
would have a glass facade, allowing views from a neighboring plaza
into New York's underworld. The basic mechanics of urban movement
would become a spectacle in their own right."
In his article, Mr. Muschamps
wrote that Peter Eisenman's three office towers, shown above,
"can be viewed by as a formalist exercise..., but they are
also a critique of the Cartesian grid. The history of ideas is
the context for architecture today."
For about generation, Mr. Eisenman
has been America's most intellectual, and often obstruse, albeit
most brilliant, architect. He has been recently superceded, of
course, by Frank Gehry, whose sinuous design for the Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, shot him to the top of the
world's most influential architects. Mr. Gehry is noticeably absent
in this "group, perhaps because his design for a new midtown
office for The New York Times was passed over in favor
of a design by Renzo Piano and the firm of Fox & Fowle (see
The City Review
While Mr. Eisenman's office
tower designs may be "a critique of the Cartesian grid,"
the caption for the illustration offers a more illuminating and
incisive commentary on them:
"The crunched profiles
of these three office towers suggest partly collapsed structures.
In so doing, the buildings would echo the devastation wrought
on 9/11 and offer a striking memorial to the fallen towers; at
the same time, they would provide three million square feet of
new office space. 'This memorial,' Eisenman says, 'could be appreciated
from anywhere in the city.' Although the buildings' rippled facades
would flow into the concrete as if they were melting, the interiors
would resemble those of any normal office building."
This "drunken" or
at least "staggering" trio of towers is an extremely
attractive rendering and one wonders if it is a bit deceptive
for the middle portions appear clad in light-blue glass white
the rest of the towers are silver or gray, so one is a bit unclear
about the reference to flowing into concrete. One also suspects
that if built they would not, unfortunately, be appreciated from
anywhere in the city," is "appreciated" means "visible."
These remarks, however, are not meant to be flippant for Eisenman's
concept and design is very, very brilliant - so much so that one
wishes they had been applied to the twin "torqued" towers
represented in the article.
Another design for office structures
along the new West Street "corridor" in the plan was
by Rem Koolhaas, Dan Wood and Joshua Ramus of the Office of Metropolitan
Architecture, shown above. The caption for the design of this
60-story office tower in the article said it would:
"offer an inversion of
the typical skyscaper form: the building would grow wider at the
top, giving extra space to the more desirable and expensive upper
floors. Struts between each 'leg' of the building and its neighbors
would serve the dual purpose of connecting them and supporting
the lower, thinner and less sturdy floors. designed for 24-hour
use, the building would also contain housing, apartments, hotel
rooms and retail and cultural space; the roof would be a green
In his article, Mr. Muschamps
wrote that "Rem Koolhaas's project satirizes New York's nostalgic
obsession with the Art Deco skyscraper by turning three of them
on their heads."
Mr. Koolhaas is most famous
for his book, "Delirious New York," in which he depicts
the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings in bed together"
His design here, however, does
not seem to have any Art Deco flourishes and is a quite modern,
strong and interesting plan that if anything conjures the bulging
top of Ernest Flagg's great Singer Building that was near this
site but sadly demolished many years ago and also the stilts of
The "Times" proposal
notes that a "memorial should rise out of extended public
debate" and that therefore its "team" decided not
to offer a formal proposal for a memorial. The Times Magazine,
however, asked for a sketchbook from Maya Lin, who designed the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. She submitted
three proposals, one of which was illustrated in the article and
is reproduced above.
Mr. Muschamps notes in his
article that "though the team did not fully endorse this
idea, we present David Rockwell's rendering of a giant cybertheater
over the New York Stock Exchange, which he calls the Hall of Risk."
"It is designed to educate the public abut the social trade-offs
caused by modernization," he continued. A caption in the
article for two illustrations of the Hall of Risk said that the
concept was developed by Paul Ryan, a video artist and teacher,
and Jean Gardner, a professor at the Parsons School of Design,
and that it would be located on "what is now the New York
Stock Exchange trading floor....[and] Giant pillars, cantilevered
ever so slightly to suggest precariousness, would support a giant
The illustrations of this "hall"
are hard to decipher and the article does not mention the status
of the exchange's planned expansion and move, plans that have
"Adjacent to it,"
Mr. Muchamps continued in his article, "Guy Nordenson and
Henry Cobb have designed an elegant broadcast tower that they
fancifully imagine as the tallest structure in the world."
"Rather than shying away from ambition, this project embraces
it with all its might," he wrote. Mr. Cobb is a founding
partner in the architectural firm of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.
The article provides the following
commentary about the proposed broadcast tower:
"Seven Stems, a telecommunications
and broadcast tower, would rise just south of the New York Stock
Exchange Building and act as a replacement for the antennas that
used to sit atop the north tower of the World Trade Center. Seven
cylindrical steel columns, each 14 feet in diameter and set at
different angles, wold converge as they rose to 2,100 feet, becoming
the tallest man-made structure inthe world. Visitors could take
steps to observation decks of varying heights."
Not only did the main rendering
for this proposal cut off the top of the proposed broadcast tower,
but the caption is even more telescoped and seems to suggest that
visitors would not have elevators to get to the observatories,
a luxury that Parisians had in the original Eiffel Tower more
than a century ago. Even more perplexing is why should such a
tower be squeezed onto such a small, midblock site and while one
of the "torqued" twin towers across town at ground zero
could not have the antenna and no mention is made of competing
plans to build a similar tower in New Jersey.
If built at all, why shouldn't
the world's tallest new structure be built part of the ground
zero site? New York should have the world's tallest building,
or two, or three, but part of the glory of the Eiffel Tower or
the Space Needle in Seattle is that there is space at the bottom
where one can gaze upward to appreciate the "achievement"
especially if one is somewhat dizzy with heights. The Twin Towers
had a very large plaza.
The "Times" master
plan proposal is extremely laudable in making the case that something
significant, ambitious and exciting should arise out of the tragedy
of the terrorist attacks.
It is correct in strongly promoting
twin towers at the southeast corner of ground zero, the creation
of the West Street platform, and Maya Lin's memorial island. The
office tower plans of Peter Eisenman and Rem Koolhaas are very
intriguing as are many of the other components, although the Broadcast
Tower and Hall of Risk do not seem to have been well thought out
The same issue of The New
York Times Magazine has a very lenghty and fine article by
James Glanz and Eric Lipon, "The Height of Ambition - In
the epic story of how the World Trade Towers arose, their fall
was foretold." In addition, more information is available
on the Internet at http://www.nytimes.com/magzine.