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02.01.2007
Progress at Ground Zero

Five and a half years after 9/11, the WTC site and its surrounding streets are rumbling nonstop, with armies of workers laboring to finish site preparation and complex below-grade work. It will be more than a year before most of the key projects begin rising above grade. While the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, MTA, NYC Department ofTransportation, and private interests such as Silverstein Properties and Brookfield Properties coordinate underground work involving tunneling, linking pedestrian passageways, and threading utilities through the catacombs beneath the site and the cityys streets, the architects behind the iconic projects continue to refine their designs.

The process of design development and establishing construction schedules seems much clearer now that the LMDC is essentially out of the picture and the Port Authority has assumed control of the major WTC construction projectssa role it announced it would take last June and that was finalized on December 14. The Port Authority is overseeing the construction of the Memorial and Memorial Museum, the Freedom Tower, and the Transportation Hub. The agency is also producing Commercial Design Guidelines for private developments around the site, which should be released in the next few months. These guidelinesswhich are being produced with the help of Studio Daniel Libeskind and can be seen as a continuation of his work on the WTC Master Plannwill address issues such as massing, building heights, and street interface for commercial developments. The Port Authority is also in the process of contracting a consultant for streetscape design, following an RFP issued in December. The timing for these initiatives seems belated, given that the designs of the areaas most notable projectssincluding Silversteinns towers by Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Fumihiko Makii are well underway. With most of the projects looking at completion dates well beyond 2009, however, hopefully latee will prove better than never..

CATHY LANG HO




WTC Memorial




Courtesy WTC Memorial Foundation

The WTC Memorialls beleaguered design process is close to clearing another obstacle: resolving the treatment of victimss names. In Michael Aradds original design, the victimss names were randomly arranged in a ribbon surrounding the twin pools, viewed from contemplative below-ground galleries that encircled the pools. Following Frank Sciamees June 2006 cost-saving recommendations that eliminated underground components of the memorial, designers were asked to propose ways of integrating the names with the above-ground pools. Another new design requirement, which was ratified by the WTC Memorial Foundation in early December, is the grouping of victimss names according to where and with whom they might have been during the attack.

The designers are now exploring ways of integrating the names with the parapet surrounding the twin pools. Weere concerned with how to treat [the parapet] as not just a utilitarian object but as a contemplative one,,said Arad. Weere thinking about how a visitor approaches the edge of an enormous void, and how we can create an area of quiet reflection around it.. While he couldnnt offer specifics, Arad pointed out his desire for a parapet height that induces visitors to bow their heads, and a treatment of the inscriptions that allows visitors direct contact with names while discouraging behavior that might undermine the sacredness of the space.

With the memorial raised to the plaza level, consulting landscape architect Peter Walker has been called upon to revise his park design..Now therees pressure on the areas around the pool to have a more spiritual quality,, he said. Hees reexamining the space behind the parapets, considering densifying the canopy of trees or other measures that will give people a greater sense of a private space,, he said.

Walker is also studying the northeast corner of the plaza. The original design of the cultural center [by Snnhetta] provided an archway, which acted as a natural gateway into the park,, said Walker. Now the plaza itself must serve as a gateway, and our dilemma is how to create a meaningful sequence into a space thatts hallowed and quiet..

The Port Authority and Memorial Foundation expect to have design options for these memorial elements in the first quarter of this year. Also expected to be unveiled in the coming months is a revised design of the much smaller Snnhetta facility, which will now function only as the Memorial Museum and visitors center.



WTC Transportation Hub


Courtesy Port Authority

When Santiago Calatrava unveiled his design of the birdlike Transportation Hub in January 2004, the $2.2 billion project was heralded as an optimistic symbol for the rebirth of the WTC site. Located kitty-corner to the memorial plaza, the sculptural building has taken on new importance since the Snnhetta project was reprogrammed and no longer spans the northeast corner of the memorial plaza, anticipated to be the memorialls busiest entrance point.

This change in plans opens the station to more space and sky, but has also presented a new dilemma: The northeast corner of the plaza will now serve as the prime gateway to the memorial, and must be designed to convey a dignified approach. The problem is, the plaza is also the roof of the underground stationns mezzanine area, which Calatrava designed to be lit with skylights. At present, he and landscape architect Peter Walker are working intently on a solution that will preserve the capacity for light to descend into the mezzanine while also ensuring that the space shapes an appropriate procession to the memorial itself. The Port Authority anticipates that design options will be presented in the next few months.

Meanwhile, this month construction crews began work on a pedestrian concourse that will link the hub to the Winter Garden across West Street.



Freedom Tower




Couretsy Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

The Freedom Tower has been a magnet for skepticism, since its first vague envisioning by masterplanner Daniel Libeskind as a soaring symbol for freedom, through its bumpy process, which included a complete design overhaul in 2005 due to 11th-hour security concerns raised by the New York Police Department. Many still question whether or not the project, by David Childs of SOM, will really materialize, with detractors persistently vocalizing alternative plans for the site. (As recently as January 18, at a Downtown Alliance event, Rafael Viioly issued a call to scrap the tower and divert its funding subsidies to the WTC Memorial, which is still shy of its fundraising goals, and cultural facilities, which have all but disappeared from the site.)

Itts time for skeptics to put away their doubts. The 82- story, 2.6-million-squarefoot tower is indeed rising: Foundation work is essentially complete and on December 19, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg showed up to watch the first three 25-ton steel columns installed on the site. Theyyre the first of 27 extra-large steel columns that will line the perimeter of the tower base, to be in place by May. By the end of the year, more columns will brace the lower level and a second tier will bring steelwork to grade.

Of course, design goes on until the last day because field conditions change,, said Childs, but basically the building will look like how we showed it in June.. At that time, the designers revealed that the 186-foot-tall, 200-by- 200-foot base would be clad in 13-foot-tall glass prisms. I wanted to make sure the facade would be as lively as possible,, he explained. At present, the designers are working with three different glass manufacturers to test a range of options. The glass might be cast, or rolled, or milled,, he said. We want an interesting texture and a reflectivity that will cast a multicolored spectrum of light..

Childs has brought on top collaborators, including Washington, D.C..based lighting designer Claude Engel, who worked with Norman Foster on the Reichstag project, and New Yorkkbased sculptor Kenneth Snelson, an innovator in tensegrity structures, who will advise on the design of the towerrs broadcast antenna. (The Port Authority is in the midst of negotiations with the Metropolitan Television Alliance over the antenna.) Childs is also working closely with landscape architect PeterWalker on the design of the towerrs surrounding grounds (terraced plaza at Vesey and West streets, pictured). The choice of Walker, who is also working on the memorial, was especially sensitive given that itts been left to individual designers to addresshoweach project relates to one another.



Fulton Street Transit Center


Courtesy Grimshaw Architects

As recently reported by William Neuman and David Dunlap in The New York Times ((Planners Clash Over Transit Hub, and Riders Win,, January 8, 2007), the Fulton Street Transit Center has overcome its latest hurdle, with theMTAagreeing to fund the difference between the $847 million in federal funds committed to the project and the current estimated cost of $888million.The funds secure the future of a passageway beneath Dey Street, leading to the WTC Transportation Hub one block west.

The project, which will serve as a headhouse for a multitude of linessthe A, C, E, J,M,Z, R,W, 2, 3, 4, and 55 has had its share of hairy moments since it was commissioned to Grimshaw Architects in 2003. The initial design, a bulbous, glasssheathed steel cone, unveiled in May 2004 and budgeted at $750 million, had to be modified one year later due to budget problems: To build the center, the MTA had to acquire all the real estate on Broadway between Fulton and John streets, and no one anticipated real estate prices would skyrocket as they did.


Courtesy Grimshaw Architects


Courtesy Grimshaw Architects

In spring 2006, the architects offered a scaled-back design that included the elimination of a sub-basement, the relocation of MTA offices to a ring around the domed atriummoccupying what principal Vincent Chang described as found spacee?and a reconceived dome. It was a different program, so we had to design a different building,, said Chang. Importantly, the new design preserves the architectss essential concepts: providing a strong civic icon as a response to the previously hidden, building-embedded subway entrances scattered in the area; bringing natural light and some of New Yorkks vibrant street quality to the stationns subterranean depths; and clarifying views within the station to aid in wayfinding. Performance and light were the conceptual drivers,, said Chang, explaining how their terms of analysis applied equally well to the new design. For the dome, which is not only slightly shorter but has lost its outward bulge, designers have decided on an elegant diamond cable-net (left, below) suspended from a steel ring that will form an oculus, outfitted with glass blades that will filter incoming light (left, above). From the projectts outset, the firm, in collaboration with James Carpenter, has been conducting extensive studies to predict the angle and nature of lightts reflection inside the cone and how it is redirected to the spaces below.

The team is still finalizing the design of the facade of the rectangular glass pavilion, following requests last August from the NYPD for a more beefed-up perimeter to withstand blasts. (Chang assured that the amount of glass and transparency would remain the same.) Construction drawings will be finished in March, and a completion date is set for 2009.


Courtesy Grimshaw Architects
CATHY LANG HO