On September 9, Governor David Paterson vowed that a memorial to the events of September 11, 2001 must open before other planned commercial development at the World Trade Center complex. Which left architect Craig Dykers of Snøhetta with a delicate task: create a beacon, located between three proposed towers and the memorial itself, that commemorates a tragedy while tying together an obstacle course of a site—all in a 47,500-square-foot, three-story building.
In that context, Dykers presented a brave face at a press conference later that day to unveil the most recent designs for a Ground Zero museum pavilion. His $80 million building, a gem-like, glass-and-steel volume composed of tilted planes, is to open in 2012 as the only above-grade portion of the memorial museum. And his remarks subtly referred to the jousting that made the pavilion so modest. “As important as any event in the past may be, people of the present and the future will connect with this place,” Dykers said. “Our design should speak to what this place will be. So the design tries to balance the initial Libeskind scheme and recent commercial planning.”
The original scheme for the site included a 220,000-square-foot cultural center fronting the sunken footprints of the World Trade Center towers. Former governor George Pataki rejected one of the site’s designated tenants, the International Freedom Center, and subsequent negotiations reworked the zone as part of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, honoring victims of all terrorist acts. It’s that museum, which one will enter underground, to which Dykers’ angled building opens through a stand of 50-foot-tall trees. The pavilion will also face three proposed office towers, each with double-height retail at street level, designed by international stars Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Fumihiko Maki. (The Freedom Tower, to the north, is still due to open in 2011.)
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Searching for a connective language, Dykers and his team looked to the street-facing pediments of the lost World Trade Center. Since some had called the famous Y-shaped columns of the center’s lobby “tree trunks,” Snøhetta borrowed the metaphor to make a gesture with its roof. “We wanted the atrium to be a web structure, so that as much light as possible comes in,” Dykers said at the presentation. The roof, a trapezoid with carats on top, follows the vein-like pattern of a leaf. This motif relates the building to Santiago Calatrava’s birdlike PATH station, planned for Fulton Street on the east, and the trellises of Battery Park City on the west.
But as site leaseholder Larry Silverstein reiterated after Dykers’ talk, other projects are on hold until the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey “delivers infrastructure” to the entire, 16-acre site. And that process won’t begin in earnest until the agency releases a report on September 30 that presents a defensible construction schedule. Even after construction begins, it’s not clear that Silverstein can get financing or tenants for the other proposed towers.
Perhaps to preempt the Port Authority’s report, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on September 10 for the city to take over site management. And if that were to happen, Dykers and his client could get fast-tracked. Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber emphasized after Dykers’ talk that the city’s chief priority remains opening the memorial by September 11, 2011. The memorial should be completed before infrastructure and office development, Lieber told AN, “because of what it is.”
Lieber’s view reflects sound economic logic. Unlike the office towers, the memorial has a committed occupant, and can draw tourists while making good on a civic promise to victims’ families. And while that logic places a heavy burden on a small building, Dykers welcomed the challenge.
“Being small in a place like this sets you apart,” he told AN. “In New York, smaller spaces, like pocket parks in the Village or a small club, can be more memorable.” Of course, other Ground Zero elements have been getting scaled back, notably among them Calatrava’s station. In that spirit, Dykers’ closing words to the press corps had a poignant ring. “Your memory of this place will be not a physical object,” he said, “but an experience.”
All images: Squared Design Lab