By Carter B. Horsley
In September, 2006, Silverstein
Properties unveiled the designs for the three skyscapers he is
going to build at Ground Zero to the east of the Freedom Tower
, and city and state officials and the Port Authority of New York
& New Jersey at long last "finalized" their agreement
on the redevelopment of the site.
The flurry of announcements
were spurred by the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks
of September 11, 2001 (see The
City Review article on the attack) that demolished
the World Trade Center and 7 World Trade Center and severely damaged
several other nearby buildings, including the Deutsche Bank tower
on the south side of the site which is be demolished and replaced
by another tower that will be erected by the Port Authority, which
is also now the developer of the Freedom Tower. No design for
the south tower has been released yet.
The agreement that was "finalized"
would seem to bring to an end a very contentious and controversial
phase of the rebuilding of Ground Zero. The only element of the
overall plans for Ground Zero that sailed through the city's turbulent
process of civic review was a transportation center designed by
Santiago Calatrava (see The
City Review article on an recent exhibition of his work) that is intended to conjure a bird in flight.
The design of the Freedom Tower
has been very tortuous (see The
City Review article on the first official round of designs, The
City Review article on a competition sponsored by The New York
Times, The City Review article on New
York Magazine's competition for the site, The
City Review article on the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's
selection of six finalists in the second official competition, The
City Review article on the second official competition, The
City Review article on the unveiling of the winning design for
rebuilding Ground Zero,
and The City Review
article on David Child's design for the Freedom Tower.
A major part of the rebuilding
was to be a memorial in the center of the site and that has been
one of the most controversial (see The City
At this point, the design community
and the public have been exasperated and exhausted and, with the
exception of the many of the victims' families, prepared to see
almost anything go into construction. Many of the victims' families
have continued to argue that the grounds are sacred and nothing
should be built except a memorial and they did not have a consensus
on the memorial.
of the agreements, which also came as the state and city and the
Port Authority agreed to substantial office space leases in the
project, would seem to mean that we finally have a specific, officially
approved design that is not likely to be changed substantially.
The agreements require that the Port Authority turn over "ready-to-go"
sites to Silverstein Properties within a couple of years of face
$300,000-a-day penalties and that Silverstein Properties complete
all of its three towers with a few years, or lose control of them.
Apart from the Port Authority's
design of the tower to replace the Deutsche Bank building, which
is likely to be the last office tower erected, the only missing
ingredient not yet published is Frank O. Gehry's design for the
planned cultural center at the site. Frank O. Gehry (see The City Review article on a
Gehry exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and The
City Review article on Gehry's design of a major mixed-use tower
for Forest City Rattner a few blocks to the east of Ground Zero). This cultural facility, which generated
its own controversy over which institutions would be included,
will be located just to the east of the Freedom Tower and in front
of 7 World Center, the sleek tower designed by David Childs of
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for Silverstein Properties to replace
the former skyscraper it owned that was destroyed in the terrorist
(Silverstein Properties had
acquired the World Trade Center shortly before the terrorist attacks
and Larry Silverstein maintained that he had the right to rebuild
it entirely as well as arguing, unsuccessfully eventually, that
the attacks were two separate incidents and not just one as the
involved insurance companies maintained. While debate raged over
the design of the redevelopment at Ground Zero, Mr. Silverstein
went ahead and quickly erected his own tower.)
The entire redevelopment has
involved the clash of many egos: Governor Pataki chose Daniel
Libeskind as the site's master planner over the choice of the
Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; Mayor Bloomberg at one
point argued that the site should only be developed residentially;
various interests sought to replace Mr. Silverstein, whose steadfast
commitment to the site has been admirable. (It should be noted
that Silverstein's new 7 World Trade Center skyscraper, designed
by David Childs, is extremely attractive and quite graceful despite
its size and one of Mr. Childs's best designs. Mr. Childs has
been widely criticized for his redesign of the Freedom Tower,
which is elegant, but sits rather awkwardly on its cubical and
very security-conscious base.)
Mr. Silverstein picked Lord
Norman Foster (see The
City Review article on the architect's new Hearst Tower), Lord Richard Rogers and Fumihiko
Maki to design his three towers.
The tallest and northernmost
of Silverstein's three towers, which has been known as "Tower
2," has been designed by Foster and generally has been the
best received. It will be 1,254 feet high and is distinguished
by its sloping roof, the only one of the four tower designs now
published that has such a feature, which was part of Daniel Libeskind's
master plan design. Foster's roof slants sharply downward towards
the Ground Zero memorial space.
Foster's tower is visually
bundled into four sections with deep indentations in the middle
of each of its four principal facades and each blue-tinted-glass
facade is vertically divided with six light-colored stringcourses.
The overall effect is clean, neat, and handsome and conservative,
especially given the fact that Foster had submitted a twisting
and "kissing" plan for the rebuilding of the World Trade
Center that was very high-tech and quite popular with many critics.
The slant of Foster's tower
recalls a similar slant on a highly visible but much shorter skyscraper
in Chicago. Foster's design is much better than the Chicago tower
because it breaks down into four diamond shapes that comprise
the overall slanted top. The tallest diamond, however, has an
open top at its northeastern pinnacle and this unfortunately mars
the design considerably and hopefully can be correctly by filling
it in with a continuation of the glass facades. As it is, it jars
and is not whimsical. The tower has a low-rise bustle on its eastern
side, presumably to accommodate large trading floors. It has a
flat roof that would probably have been enhanced somewhat if it
had a slanted roof also.
It should be remembered that
Libeskind's winning master plan indicated that low-rise structures
at Ground Zero would have sharply raked angles somewhat reminiscent
of his fabulous design of windows for a museum in Berlin.
The sheer verticality of Foster's
rather slender tower is likely to be awesome. It will have 2.3
million square feet of office space on 50 floors, four trading
floors, a 65-foot-high lobby and 143,000 square feet of retail
Tower 4, the middle of the three Silverstein
towers on the east side of the Ground Zero site, has been designed
by Lord Richard Rogers. It is separated from Foster's Tower 2
by Santiago Calatrava's transportation center building, which
is dwarfed by the two towers. Tower 4 will be 1,155 feet high
and have four spires at its corners rising above the tower's screened
roof. The asymmetrical tower will be distinguished by the diagonal
bracing on much of its facades and the overall design is somewhat
similar, but fussier, than the architect's design for the new
New York Times Tower on the east side of Eighth Avenue between
40th and 41st Streets that is being built by Forest City Rattner
and is nearing completion now. This tower will have 2.1 million
square feet of offices on 54 floors, five trading floors and 133,000
square feet of retail space.
Tower 3 sets its tower on the east side of
its base, which opens up to an extent views from the south of
Foster's Tower 2 as well as views from the north of Maki's Tower
Much of Rogers's Tower 4 's
facades have diagonal steel bracing on the exterior, one of his
Fumihiko Maki's Tower 4 is the simplest of
the three new towers and bears a strong resemblance to Edward
Larrabee Barnes 599 Lexington Avenue tower at 53rd Street that
was built by Boston Properties in its shearing away of one of
its top's corners.
The silvery glass facades of Maki's Tower 4
will complement David Child's 7 World Trade Center tower for Silverstein
Properties that was recently completed, but has little in common
with the other two new towers. It will be 947 feet high and have
1.8 million square feet of offices on 53 floors and fives floors
of retail. The building's plan at the base is trapezoidal and
its top is a parallelogram. It will have a restaurant at its base
overlooking the plaza and its sunken fountain memorials.
In his review of the new towers in the September
8, 2006 edition of The New York Sun, James Gardner correctly notes
that none of the new designs are "outstanding," adding
that "This is understandable, given that their job is to
play second, third and fourth fiddle to the Freedom Tower, which
will eventually cow them into subservience."
While the Freedom Tower will be the tallest
at Ground Zero, especially when including its spire, it does not
really soar that much above the other towers, all of which are
very tall by any standards. When completed, Ground Zero is going
to be a very vertiginous venue. The three new designs are not
going to get lost in the Lower Manhattan orchestral oeuvre of
Minoru Yamasaki's Twin Towers were virtually
identical, except for the large antenna on the north tower. As
such they had a remarkable resonance, especially because of their
gleaming, stainless steel facades. While many people pointed out
that they seriously impacted the downtown office space market
when they were erected, they created greater visual havoc with
the city's skyline as they were not centered but way off to the
Hudson River site, a problem somewhat corrected by the subsequent
development by Olympia & York of the World Financial Center,
four major towers all designed by Cesar Pelli with very similar
facades but different crowns. The World Financial Center and the
many residential buildings at Battery Park City widened Lower
Manhattan and therefore readjusted the "tilt" caused
by the World Trade Center.
The fact that the three new towers have nothing
in common with one another is unfortunate and wrong and is likely
to make Ground Zero a little like Third Avenue, which has no cohesive
style. Chaos and odd juxtapositions are New York City characteristics.
The initial plans by Philip Johnson and John Burgee for several
new towers at the base of Times Square at 42nd Street called for
a unified design, a plan that was subsequently changed. Times
Square now is a cacophonous environmental visually but that has
more to do with its mandated signage than its architectural legacy.
Libeskind envisioned that the towers at Ground
Zero would be unequal and recently was quoted as stating that
he likes the fact that they are very different. An argument can
be made that individuality is very much in keeping with the New
York temperament, but that does overlook the refinement of the
Rockefeller Center ensemble and the original Terminal City built
around Grand Central Terminal, both exemplars of urban design
and planning and very good architecture. The problem with attempting
a unified stylistic approach to all the towers at Ground Zero,
which the lead editorial in the September 9, 2006 edition of The
New York Post, termed "the pitiful pit," is that
while it may be more meaningful given the special nature of the
site it runs the risk of less than great architecture on a very
large scale as opposed to accommodating a disappointment, or two.
At this point, given the design fiasco so far,
it is too late in the game, from the viewpoint of the city's pscyhe,
to start all over again, even though that is not a bad idea. "The
party's on," as one general to remark in the Allies's disastrous
decision in World War II to break through German lines to capture
a lot of bridges.
It still would make sense to try to tie the
buildings together stylistically, perhaps at their bases.
In his September 8, 2006 article in The New
York Times, David W. Dunlap observed that "Courtlandt Street
will be kept open between Towers 3 and 4," adding that "The
Port Authority had proposed building a shopping arcade that would
have lined the buldings' bases, but city officials objected to
the loss of an open,public corridor between the memorial and the
rest of Lower Manhattan."
None of the three new buildings are exceptional.
Foster's probably has the nicest curtain wall, but its cut-off
slanted roof and very thin proportions are not graceful. Rogers's
tower is a bit like his new tower for The New York Times
on Eighth Avenue at 40th Street but much fussier. Maki's tower
might be well at home in Dallas, or Miami, but is very, very bland
Describing the three new designs as "conservative
and coolly corporate, they could be imagined in just about any
Western capital," Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote in the September
11,2006 edition of The New York Times," adding that
"for those who cling to the idea that the site’s haunting
history demands a leap of imagination, the towers illustrate how
low our expectations have sunk since the city first resolved to
rebuild there in a surge of determination just weeks after 9/11."
A missed opportunity? Yes.