News
02.01.2007
Fragmentation and Absence at WTC

To date, the most realistic view of the future streetscape and urban environment of the WTC site is a drawing that Silverstein Properties released in late September (below) for the unveiling of the designs of Towers 2, 3, and 4 by Foster and Partners, Richard Rogers Partnership, and Maki and Associates, respectively. The site plan, credited to Fosterrs office, offers a dimensionality and level of detail that previous site plans offered by the LMDC do not. The irony of this situation becomes clear when you realize that the Foster-generated coordinating plan was not made by a public authority but by a private developer who is shaping one third of the original WTC sitees 16 acres. No such excellent, professional plan has been offered to the public by the public authorities that own and administer the land, and there has been no public discussion of urban design on or around the WTC site to date.

The Silverstein plan maps various vital open spaces and streetscapes, including the vast memorial (conceived by its designers as encompassing everything to the blockks curbline); the plaza areas around the Freedom Tower and 7WTC, the enigmatic Performing Arts Center, and WTC Transportation Hub; and the multi-level, glass-fronted commercial realms along Church and Greenwich streets, defined by the Silverstein towers.

Formal urban design guidelines, which until recently were expected to be released by the LMDC, would have formed these streetscapes. (Even as late as August 2006, LMDC board president Kevin Rampe was quoted in a New York Times article as saying that the agency would release guidelines in September.) Now the Port Authority is charged with the task of considering the voids between its real estate developments, voids that contain the civic life of the city. With so many of the sitees designs now in refinement phase, even the imminent release of commercial and urban design guideliness which the Port Authority promises to release in the coming monthss seems moot.

This sad situation might be contrasted with the more open process that accompanied the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, wherein vociferous critics challenged the developer, Forest City Ratner, leading to the projectts downsizing and improvements to Frank Gehryys design. No such democratic process has been applied to the WTC site since its inception nearly 40 years ago, when David Rockefeller, then the chair of Chase Manhattan Bank, influenced his brother Nelson, then state governor, to influence the Port Authority to create the corporate WTC complex. (David had something to gain: Chase had just built an expensive tower nearby and had a vested interest in the revitalization of the area.) The resulting WTC complex was recognized as an urban disaster long before it was destroyed on 9/11 with its vast, windswept podium and unremarkable, dull design.

Now we face a design disaster of a different order, with yet another dull tower looming over yet another roof-garden plaza. The title of Aradds memorial design, Reflecting Absence, states the current problem exactly: Absence of coordination now dominates all. There is no sense of a whole among the fragments, each of which will assert itself around the memorial. Each project stands on its own block, dealing with the landds slope toward the river with its own podium, stairs, and blank sidewalls.

Everything is subservient to the Twin Towerss absenceefrom the memorial design, with its landscaped terrace divided into small secure areas by the original towerss footprints, entry buildings, ramps, steps, benches, and side walls; to the surrounding towers that rise high from their sites, matching in volume the absent towers. The result is a disjointed streetscape that is only now being addressed as an afterthought by the Port Authority. We can only imagine what would have come from the site had it not been for the appealing distraction of Daniel Libeskindds original masterplan, with its sad central void and towering (though pointless) symbols.

D. GRAHAME SHANE IS AN URBAN HISTORIAN WHO TEACHES AT THE COOPER UNION AND CITY COLLEGE. HIS MOST RECENT BOOK IS RECOMBINANT URBANISM: CONCEPTUAL MODELING IN ARCHITECTURE, URBAN DESIGN AND CITY THEORY (JOHN WILEY & SONS, 2005).




The Silverstein-issued site plan, rendered
by Foster, shows the
WTC Memorial (H) surrounded by steps along West Street, Liberty Street, and
the southern part of Greenwich Street (I), with level access only
at the junction of Fulton and Greenwich (J), opposite the PATH Station/Transportation Hub by Santiago Calatrava

 



SOMMs drawings of the Freedom Tower (A) show its Fulton Street side as level with the street. Facing West Street, however, the site slopes gently upwards, with sets of stairs and terrace landings forming a triangular plaza (B). One drawing of the plaza also indicates a 6-foot-high wind break,, extending partially toward the plaza and raising the height of a retaining wallla
dead sheer walllthat appears to continue down Vesey Street (C). The tower neighbors Frank Gehryys Performing Arts Center (D), which the city has assumed responsibility for, but whose fate remains undetermined.

 




Though the entrance of Silversteinns 7WTC (E) by David Childs is transparent, art-enriched, and faces
a friendly plaza on Greenwich Street (F),
its Vesey, Barclay, and Washington elevations are featurelesss windowless and doorless facades that convey the deadly effect of fear on urban street life. The towerrs fortified base, housing several floors of Con Ed generators, is also a monument to our failure to learn from past mistakes, i.e., creating
a single transformer center (and easy target) instead of a system
of geographically dispersed transformer stations.

 




Silverstein and mall developer Westfield are locating two thirds of
the Foster towerrs (G) retail at or above grade, and one third below.
The tower is complex
in section because it contains trading floors on lower levels, with a hotel and offices above. The design takes into consideration the slope of the site, incorporating cascading steps into a multi-level lobby. With its prime location and more urban engagement, this building could easily upstage the Freedom Tower, making Patakiis tower entirely redundant.

 



The landscaped terrace of the WTC Memorial (H) is split into small secure areas by
the towerss old footprints/reflecting pools, entry building, ramps, steps, benches, and side walls that address the sitees slope. Itts plausible, too, that the memorial will have perimeter barriers for public safetyy (or to prevent spontaneous demonstrations). Animations on Silverstein Propertiess site (viewed in December 2006) pan across West Street to the base of the Freedom Tower and appear to show 10-foot-high security mesh fences in the park across from the base of the tower. It is difficult to read from Fosterrs site plan (at right), but lines appear to show fences parallel to West and Liberty as well, creating a penned-in area within the park. Meanwhile, the severely downsized Memorial entry pavilion and visitor center by Snnhetta (L) will no doubt be dwarfed by the surrounding towers and serves merely as a light cover and security gate to the underground realm of the memorial.

 



Grimshawws Fulton Street Transit Hub at Fulton and Broadway (not shown on the map) won a recent victory when the MTA agreed
to go ahead with the construction of a passage beneath
Dey Street, linking
to the Calatrava Transportation Hub (J), just one block west.

 


Calatravaas Transportation Hub (K) is a monument to
the power of the Port Authority, costing $2 billion to accommodate 33,000 commuters daily. Its vast scale is out
of proportion to its passenger flow (compare with the 500,000 commuters
who pass through Grand Central daily). The station also contains a part of the underground Westfield shopping mall, which will link to the adjacent Foster (G) and Rogers (M) towers, and an underground tourist bus parking garage. Tourists will pass through the underground mall to reach street level and then cross Greenwich Street to enter the memorial plaza.

 



Of the three tower designs Silverstein unveiled in late September, Richard Rogerss tower (M) was the least detailed. (All three teams are working to meet a March 1 deadline for schematic designs.) Rogerss crude, giant exterior trussessa signature that also appears in his design of the Silver Cup Studios in Long Island Cityywill loom above Calatravaas delicate and costly wings..

 



Makiis tower (N) has an enormous entry on its east side, facing Cooper Robertsonns Zuccotti Park (V).
The majority of the commuters who arrive at Calatravaas station and work in Wall Street will pass through the underground mall (which continues through the Rogers tower) and exit through Makiis portal. Inside, the retail space climbs 85 feet up on
the Church Street side
from the underground concourse and then crosses through the building to Greenwich Street, terminating in a restaurant overlooking the memorial.



Cooper Robertson, designers of Zuccotti Park (V), acknowledged the sitees natural downward slope and allowed the park to
drop diagonally from its Church Street corner toward Wall Street. If
the same idea had been applied to the memorial site, we might look forward to an incredible new civic space, wherein the natural slope creates a kind of open theater, allowing for performances or other free expressions.

 


The Department of Transportation (DOT) website shows that the PA will build a plenum under the recently reconstructed West Street to serve the PATH tunnels below, disrupting the street for the next three years. When completed, vent stacks will protrude from the sidewalk in front of the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center (O) and the traffic median (P). The DOT drawings also show a Proposed Pedestrian Concoursee connecting the underground shopping mall under Fulton Street via a bank of escalators (Q) that ascend to the Winter Garden.
 



Though the block below Liberty Street, between West and Greenwich, was originally designated to be Liberty Park, the park has been relegated to the northwest corner of the site (R). The rest of site is destined to be occupied by a sloping entry/exit ramp (S) leading to the belowground Port Authority Vehicular Security Center, which will house service areas for the memorial and route trucks and buses beneath the Greenwich Street towers to a parking lot beneath the Calatrava station. The site will be punctuated by 40-foot-high vents (T) for the underground security center. The site will also house Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church (U), which was on the southwestern portion of the WTC site but was destroyed on 9/11. The new church (whose design has not yet been approved by the Port Authority) will be wrapped in diesel exhaust as it is placed between the ramp and another 40-foot-tall exhaust vent at Liberty and Greenwich.



The DOT Environmental Impact Study (EIS) by Eng-Wong, Taub & Associates (posted on the Port Authorityys website) reveals that, in 2015, 100 percent of the tourist buses heading toward the Vehicular Security Center on Liberty Street (entrance ramp, S) will go down Greenwich Street, past the memorial. The study also reveals that 100 percent of the buses exiting the center will go up Church Street and 90 percent will turn left at Fulton Street, spewing their exhaust and noise beside the memorial on their way to West Street.