Fumihiko Maki’s recently completed 4 World Trade is the shortest, quietest, and most deferential of the four planned towers on the original trade center site. It may also prove to be the best. Its volumes—a trapezoidal shaft rising 57 floors, and a square tower pivoting above to 72 stories—reinterpret Daniel Libeskind’s masterplan, which called for spiraling towers ringing the site.
Mr. Maki addresses the street even more deftly than the sky. Facing busy Church Street, he wrapped the building in a three-story retail base, which is articulated with steel fins giving it a human scaled presence at ground level. The retail base also connects to the transit center and retail below grade—all of which are currently under construction. (Adamson Associates are the project’s architect of record and Leslie E. Robertson Associates provided structural engineering.)
The retail base wraps around to the north, facing the pedestrian extension of Cortlandt Street where it terminates in a notched entrance into the building’s serene lobby, which faces the new extension of Greenwich Street. Maki marks the transition from Cortlandt to Greenwich with a Japanese-inflected circular fountain lined with smooth river rocks. Facing Greenwich Street, the double height lobby overlooks the Memorial park, mingling commerce and commemoration with surprising subtly. (This smart urbanism is threatened by a the overly militarized security plan for the area, the subject of a pending lawsuit by nearby residents.)
Inside the lobby, restraint reigns. The wall facing the Memorial is faced in polished dark grey granite, creating a reflective surface that brings some of the experience of the park inside the building. The floors are pale grey and the ceiling and columns—engineered to be as few and far between as possible—are wrapped in white, as are the two reception desks. A curving kinetic sculpture by Nishino Kozo, called Sky Memory, emphasizes the openness of the lobby. Two 45-foot-long curving arcs cantilever from the granite wall, nearly touching to make a half circle. The two arcs move gently in the wind, emphasizing the strength of the cantilever, but also the tension and fragility of the space, an apt metaphor for this emotionally loaded site. Maki indulges in a bit more material richness as visitors pass through the security gates. Three hallways leading to the elevator banks are wrapped in warm anigre wood panels all cut from one tree for perfect book-matching. Each corridor terminates in a wall planned for digital art, currently displaying semi-abstract pieces that evoke the wind, earth, and trees.
The floor spaces are still raw and will be finished by in-coming tenants, which currently includes two city agencies. Still, Maki and his firm made a few decisions that will help set the building apart for perspective occupants. The building’s notched corners will allow twice the number of corner offices or corner conference rooms. The 57th floor set back allows for a large sky terrace, which will undoubtedly be one of the city’s premiere outdoor spaces. Aligning roughly with the crown of the Woolworth Building, the terrace is both high above and embedded in the city. It offers dramatic yet intimate views of the harbor and the surrounding buildings of Lower Manhattan and New Jersey.
As a private office building, most New Yorkers will only experience 4 World Trade from the exterior. While it is doubtful that this extremely restrained building will ever be one of the city’s most beloved, Mr. Maki and his team have demonstrated that excellent craftsmanship and precise specification can be applied at a large scale to create an elegant addition to the cityscape.
Working with Israel Berger Associates, Benson Global, and R.A Heintges & Associates, Maki’s team selected a thicker than usual 3/8-inch PPG Starfire low-iron outer lite for the Viracon insulated glazing units (IGUs). The glass in each floor-to-floor IGU extends beyond the spandrel for minimal visual interruption. The shadow box spandrel is painted grey to further diminish its visibility behind the reflective glass. Two layers of laminated ¼-inch Viracon glass create a strengthened interior layer, protecting occupants.
The resulting curtain wall is extremely flat, with minimal pillowing, and subtly reflective. Viewed from the Harbor, or from Brooklyn or New Jersey, the building is remarkably changeable in the light, with whole elevations sometimes appearing to merge into the sky. While the now destroyed World Trade Center was a blunt and emphatic statement at the tip of the island, Maki’s more ambiguous building encapsulates the feeling of our awakened, anxious times, and allows for both a return to business on the site with a deference for remembering what was lost.