Speed, integration pose concerns for World Trade Center site

October 01, 2002 |

Though the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC) has pushed back its date for the presentation of a final land-use plan for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center (WTC) site from early 2003 until next spring, the task ahead for the six architecture teams selected last month to develop a second set of schemes may seem to be a mission impossible (see BD&C, 9/02, page 52).

Political agendas surrounding the New York gubernatorial race and pressure from families drove the LMDC, which was formed to plan the site redevelopment, to fast track the design process. Public reaction to the initial six designs unveiled in July, however, prompted the LMDC to seek alternative plans from other designers, and to relax its rigid design program. As much as the plans were criticized, the program also was criticized for too heavily emphasizing replacement of commercial space and lacking vision for the establishment of a memorial.

"[LMDC] has modified the schedule when reality or political pressures required them to do so," says Fredric Bell, executive director of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. "They should be commended for opening up the process and for doing it in a way that seems less politically driven."

Teams on a fast track

But Bell and others remain concerned about the haste with which the project is proceeding and, to an even greater extent, the disjointed manner in which it is being integrated into the revitalization of all of Lower Manhattan.

At a meeting with the six design teams on Oct. 11, the LMDC was to issue new, more flexible program guidelines on which the teams are to base their design proposals. The teams will have four to six weeks to complete their plans, says Bell. "It's a lot to do," he adds. The LMDC plans to present at least three new "bold" site plan proposals for public review by the end of the year.

"The whole thing is very fast," says Lisetta Koe, director of communications for Richard Meier & Partners, which together with fellow New York City architects Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, and Steven Holl comprises one of the six design teams (see related story, page 12). "It's a little disarming, to say the least, for such an important project," says Koe, who is the coordinator for the Meier design team.

"Yes, it is fast paced," says Alexander Garvin, LMDC's vice president of planning, design, and development. "We want our city back as quickly as we can get it."

Many questions that may affect the ultimate plan for the site remain unanswered — such as whether the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will retain ownership of the site or swap it for airport land owned by the city. Mark Ginsberg, chairman of New York New Visions (NYNV), a coalition of 21 architecture, engineering and planning organizations advising LMDC on the design study, urges caution in the corporation's efforts to speed the process, noting that economic and land-use studies will be important. "We have concerns about the pace of the process," he says. "I wouldn't be surprised if the schedule got pushed back further," Ginsberg says.

Last month, the Civic Alliance, which is headed by the tri-state Regional Plan Association (RPA) and includes more than 85 business, community, and environmental groups, released a report detailing a planning framework for the rebuilding of downtown New York City. "We and other civic groups are calling for the LMDC and the Port Authority to issue a critical path chart that would show the activities taking place and how they all relate to each other," says Robert Lane, director of RPA's regional design program. "I think the LMDC is making a good-faith effort to reach out, but it's just not clear who is responsible for what, or how it's all going to come together."

"We are all very concerned about how the processes are being conducted in a divergent manner," says Bell. "They should be better coordinated."

"It's only possible to understand the World Trade Center site in the context of Lower Manhattan and in the context of the region," says Lane. "You can't talk about what the site should be without talking about how you're going to address the problems of Lower Manhattan. Its potential futures have impacts on the kind of transportation investments and development throughout the region."

Memorial design debated

Of primary concern to the civic groups is how the memorial will fit into the WTC design process. According to Bell, the LMDC will conduct a memorial design competition in January. "The memorial process should start immediately," says Lane. "We don't think it's desirable to separate the memorial from the rest of the development plan. The memorial experience needs to be something that is somehow pervasive on the entire site."

"The issue is how is all of this effort going to relate to the memorial process," says Bell. NYNV is conducting a series of workshops to discuss how program issues such as open space relate to a memorial.

Separating the memorial issues from the planning process "would be mediocre and disappointing," says Bell. "It may be politically necessary, but we can do better."

The most exciting part of the process, says Bell, will be learning how the six design teams integrate notions of the memorial into their plans.

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