NYNV urges public to think first before judging latest WTC site designs

December 22, 2002 |

New York New Visions (NYNV), a coalition of twenty-one architecture, engineering and planning organizations, applauds the quality and thought behind the nine designs for the World Trade Center site released Wednesday, December 18, 2002.

Unlike the results of instant press polls, the lessons of the design proposals can be understood only by comprehensive analysis of underlying function and feasibility, rather than a superficial focus on façade and form. The public must ask serious questions about the schemes that have been presented by these talented architects: questions about the nature of the types and densities of uses, quality of streets and public spaces, and kinds of memorial experiences in Lower Manhattan.

“This is not a competition in which someone chooses a plan that will automatically be built as proposed,” cautioned Mark Ginsberg AIA, co-chair of NYNV. “However, these bold designs each contain innovative ideas — as a group, they educate us about site development opportunities and constraints. We need to take the proper time to examine these opportunities in terms of feasibility, impact, and benefits to the wide variety of stakeholders.”

Referring to the schemes as a whole, Hugh Hardy FAIA, Chair of the NYNV Plan Review Task Force, remarked, “The proposals succeed in highlighting for public discussion a series of thoughtful responses to critical design issues — different methods of balancing memorialization with commercial development, approaches to the site as a stand-alone icon or as a careful fit with the surrounding community, how to achieve innovative open space with maximum accessibility to the public, how to integrate transit, auto and pedestrian flow into a constrained site, and how to plan for feasible phasing in a project without a defined program.”

“However, crucial questions still remain as to how the proposals relate to the larger downtown, city, and regional planning context and public-private development process,” added Marcie Kesner AICP. “We and the public need to be able to review the proposals in the context of other pertinent plans for the site — by the Port Authority, the City, private developers, and civic groups such as the Civic Alliance.”

NYNV’s Plan Review Task Force, which is providing an independent evaluation of the World Trade Center site plans, undertook an initial look at crucial questions in a series of meetings over the last two days.

As its first response (to be followed in three weeks by more detailed analysis), the Task Force defined critical design issues raised by the proposals:


- The schemes as a whole prove that in the hands of a thoughtful designer, a powerful and moving memorial can be created that is buffered from the bustle of adjacent commercial life — that in fact the memorial can gain strength from that contrast.

- Some schemes gave specific memorial plans as the core of the project, while others left site areas open-ended for future memorial designers.

- Some treated the memorial as a boldly exposed open wound; others partially sutured the wound with landscaping and symbolic structures.

- Public accessibility varied from below-grade circulation patterns to ground-level linkages to integration with ground-level activity to above-grade memorials in the sky.

Uses and Phasing, and Feasible Program:

- Some schemes posit massive single-structure buildings or multi-building complexes that read as one building, while other schemes propose smaller buildings on more varied development parcels. There are serious urban design, structural, financing, and marketing issues raised by such large structures. The program and developmental phasing of such approaches must be compared.

- This evaluation must also consider an open-ended market situation — we are now in a recession but won’t be forever, and unpredictable new uses and demands will come to the fore that must be accommodated in a flexible, phased, and open-ended development approach.

- In turn, the impact of large buildings on the ongoing regional, citywide, and downtown real estate market must also be considered.

Transportation and Connections:

- How do various schemes feature or accommodate the potential for a large Grand Central-like space? How does such space relate to movement through and around the site and to street-level entry and presence?

- West Street is alternatively tunneled, covered, or exposed. How does this affect both internal and external site circulation for pedestrians and vehicles?

- How does internal site circulation work — pedestrian and vehicular through movement?

Open Space:

- Open space — green, active, or passive park space — takes many forms in different schemes. Which spaces offer the best experience for a variety of users? Which create or solve problems of sunlight, wind, and relationship to adjacent buildings? Will walls or structures impede or encourage use?

- Public space can be defined as open or enclosed plazas or spaces and even streets, and occurs at a variety of levels in a variety of schemes. How accessible is the space? How functional is it for its intended use? How symbolic is it as a focus for site activity?

Relationship to Context:

- A number of schemes treat the site as a superblock somewhat divorced from the surrounding area, while others let the surrounding street grid extend from the neighborhood into the site. The use of superblocks must be handled with extraordinary skill to avoid the mistakes of the past. Each has advantages and disadvantages in terms of street life and the functions of the larger Lower Manhattan community.

- Similarly, impact of shadows, traffic, and building bulk must be carefully examined on adjacent blocks, and balanced with the impact of dramatic new structures on the city-side and regional skyline.

Overall Plan Quality:

- Finally, what is the overriding concept of each scheme — what does it symbolize to the world of our values and attitudes? How does the plan reflect the vision for not just the site, but for the larger Lower Manhattan context? How does the plan provide a blueprint for future development rather than a static artistic concept? Some schemes consciously take a more contextual, placemaking approach, while others stress the heroic gesture. Which is more appropriate for this time, place and situation?

The NYNV Task Force will over the next three weeks individually and collectively evaluate the nine schemes with respect to the above questions and issues, with results to be presented to the LMDC and the public in mid-January.

It is important that this and other public evaluations be seen in the context of multiple parallel planning activities — those of governmental agencies, such as the Mayor’s Plan for Lower Manhattan and ongoing Department of City Planning and Economic Development Corporation plans; and the transportation analyses of the Port Authority, MTA, New York State and City; and those of civic groups such as the Civic Alliance, whose Regional Scenarios were defined in an intensive five-day workshop that concluded December 18.

“These thoughtful plans, if properly analyzed and refined in the crucible of public analysis and debate, can become catalysts for action-- or they can become visionary but unrealistic illustrations in history books fifty years hence,” cautioned Hugh Hardy. “We must seize this short window of opportunity to influence the future of our city through rational planning, inspirational design, and the power of public consensus.”

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