Bold ideas sought for new World Trade Center design

September 11, 2002 |

Life is beginning anew at Ground Zero, but its rebirth is by no means a smooth or easy process. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) is heading back to the drawing tables and enlisting new designers in its effort to rebuild and rejuvenate the World Trade Center site.

In the face of heavy criticism heaped upon its six initial proposals for the redevelopment of the site, the LMDC will announce at the end of this month the names of five firms it hopes will inject "an innovative and broader range of ideas and designs" into the process.

"In response to public reaction, we decided that we wanted to work with some more exciting designers to see if we could come up with other ideas and schemes," says Alexander Garvin, vice president of planning, design and development for LMDC, the city-state organization formed to plan the redevelopment of the site.

LMDC’s decision to expand the design process is endorsed by New York New Visions, a coalition of 21 architecture, engineering and planning organizations to whom LMDC has reached out for advice in the selection process. "It’s a step in the right direction," says architect Mark Ginsberg, New York New Visions’ co-chair. However, Ginsberg is cautious in his endorsement, saying the coalition is "still concerned about how all the pieces of the puzzle come together."

The design process has broadened into an international search for firms to create a second set of proposals following negative reviews by New Yorkers, including Mayor Michael Blomberg (R), as well as Gov. George Pataki (R), of the initial proposals put forth in July by the New York design team of Beyer Blinder Belle and Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Criticism, however, was aimed as much at the program the architects were required to follow, as it was at the resulting designs. Objections focused on the use of the footprint of the Twin Towers for commercial space rather than as a memorial to the victims, and at the mandate given to designers to replace the entire 11 million square feet of office space, 600,000 square feet of retail space and 600,000 square feet of hotel space that was lost.

"Many of the ideas that were in two of the original design proposals — the memorial promenade and the memorial park schemes — were what the public told us they wanted going forward," says Garvin. "They wanted a skyline element, a street grid, different-sized open spaces and a grand promenade on West Street. Those things are embodied in those two schemes."

Beyer Blinder Belle and Parsons Brinckerhoff will continue to work on the project in their capacities as consultants to LMDC and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site (BD&C, 8/02, p. 10).

"There is an awareness by LMDC and the Port Authority of the need to look at different programs for development," says an optimistic John Belle, a principal with Beyer Blinder Belle. "One of things that came out very clearly in phase one was that the program was too oriented to office space. And there is a consensus among the two organizations to expand the uses that might be developed on the site: cultural activities, public uses and certainly residential uses."

Architects and planners have until Sept. 16 to submit their qualifications. On Sept. 30, a committee will select the five firms from the field of applicants responding to LMDC’s request for qualifications issued on Aug. 19. The design study’s original timetable called for narrowing the original six proposals down to three by the end of September with a final plan selected by year’s end.

The study now is to conclude by mid-November. By the end of November, the five teams must submit final content and presentation materials, including hard-line drawings, free-hand sketches, renderings, computer generated images, and site models. The proposals will be made available for public viewing by the end of the year.

The criteria for selection of the five firms includes quality of work on past projects, innovative and outstanding work demonstrating unique qualifications, and additional criteria to be developed in conjunction with New York New Visions. Ginsberg says he hopes that one or two of the five selected firms will be from New York and that a small firm and a landscape architecture also will be selected.

The selection committee may be more diverse than the applicants. "We’ve recommended the committee be made up of a range of people and professions, but of people with some sense of design," Ginsberg says.

The firms chosen will receive a $40,000 stipend and be asked to create proposals guided by new, more "flexible" program alternatives being developed in conjunction with the Port Authority.

Though still under development at press time, the new program alternatives will incorporate the following ideas:

Distinctive skyline: A tall symbol or structure that would be recognized around the world.

Preference for recognition of the tower footprints: Based on public input there is a preference for preserving the footprints of the Twin Towers for memorial space and precluding commercial development on those locations.

Commercial and retail space: Various options will be developed for a mixture of commercial and retail space on and/or off the site. Minimum and maximum square footage for mixed-used development will be established to direct planners. The ranges of space will be developed prior to selection of the five teams.

Grand promenade on West Street: The future World Trade Center memorial will be connected with the ferries in Battery Park to Liberty and Ellis Islands. The promenade could reinvent the street as a wide public boulevard and living memorial and might include depressing the street south of Vesey Street partially or entirely.

New street grid: The redevelopment will partially restore the street grid within the former World Trade Center site, which integrates walking and/or driving routes on and to the site.

Central transit center: An integrated transit center serving Lower Manhattan for PATH and subway passengers will be created. A grand and visible station will orient travelers and provide a spectacular point of arrival for riders.

Residential housing: Planners will explore the possibility of residential housing, for which there is significant need in Lower Manhattan, on and off the site.

Cultural elements: Sites for a museum, performing arts center, or other spaces are expected to be part of the plan.

Sequence of public open spaces of different sizes: Parks and plazas of different sizes and configurations, in addition to the main memorial space, should be included.

Many questions that may affect the ultimate plan for the site remain unanswered — such as whether the Port Authority will retain ownership of the site or swap it for airport land owned by the city. Ginsberg urges caution in LMDC’s efforts to speed the design study process, noting that economic and land-use studies will be important. "We have concerns about the pace of the process and will be releasing some things in relation to those concerns in the near future," he says.

"There is an awareness of the need to spend more time at these studies, so [the new design] will evolve over a number of months as a much more thorough and wide-ranging investigation of the possibilities for the site," says Belle.

Regardless of the pace, given the magnitude of what took place on September 11, 2001, it will be tremendously difficult for any one design to receive the universal approval of the public, the design community, the site’s developer, and the victim’s families.

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