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Grand openings come and go, and the buildings that once occasioned so much hoopla soon enough slide into the rank and file of the working city. Whether they become landmarks of achievement or emblems of unrealized potential cannot easily be known at first. The editors of AN talk to owners and architects of four celebrated efforts to see what stands out at least five years on.
David Sundberg / ESTO
7 World Trade Center
Just one month after the 9/11 attacks, and while New Yorkers were still reeling, developer Larry Silverstein and SOM began planning the rebuilding of 7 World Trade Center. With a Con-Ed substation that supplied much of Lower Manhattan including the Stock Exchange located in the base, rebuilding Seven was never really in question.
How to rebuild was. In their earliest discussions, SOM helped convince Silverstein to keep Greenwich Street open, which laid the groundwork for the site’s reintegration into the grid of Lower Manhattan. “It was the first chess piece move in what would eventually become the masterplan,” said T.J. Gottesdiener, a managing partner at SOM. By opting to reopen Greenwich Street, Silverstein gave up over 200,000 square feet of leasable space, according to Gottesdiener. “It was a moment for Larry to prove himself,” he said. “When you think about the building, the Jenny Holzer installation in the lobby, the Ken Smith park, the Jeff Koons outside, people were really surprised. It was a sign that things were going to be done well,” he said. “We were hoping it would be an instant classic.”
The architects also argue that the project was instrumental in the formation of LEED standards for speculative office buildings. “There were standards for owner occupied buildings, but we wanted to certify for core and shell,” he said. SOM worked with the United States Green Building Council to develop standards for core and shell certification, with Silverstein to write a guidebook for the interior build out of the tower.
Five years ago, the building’s highly energy efficient curtain wall was, and still is, one of its most distinctive architectural elements. The result of design ambitions, the surface is as clear and crystalline as SOM could get it given the limitations of glass manufacturing at the time, while also accommodating the 13.5-foot floor-to-ceiling height prized in class-A office space. At the time, glass could only be fabricated at 12.5-foot lengths. Thus the resulting façade is highly articulated thanks to a 1.5-foot tall black micro corrugated steel spandrel between floors used together with single sheets of low-e glass, which the architects accented with a two inch horizontal gap between each pane.
The curtain wall of One World Trade Center looks comparatively conventional next to Seven, with more mirrored glass and a less articulated surface. Gottesdeiner insists the curtain wall builds upon the technology and the thinking employed at the earlier tower. Glass can be made in larger sheets now and thus the more planar surface of One World Trade. The architects admit that the curtain wall of Seven was more expensive than a conventional building envelope. That may explain why it has not been imitated at a similar scale.
Seven World Trade Center set a high bar for rebuilding efforts downtown. It may prove too singular to ever be a classic. Ironically, it may remain the more outstanding building even as One World Trade will always be the one that stands out.
Alan G. Brake
Hall of Justice
The City of New York
Rafael Viñoly began designing the Bronx County Hall of Justice, a huge glass-fronted courthouse on 161st Street, nearly 18 years ago. The project broke ground in the summer of 2001. By that fall, the world was a very different place and when the 800,000-square-foot building opened in 2007, concerns for security and problems with construction undermined the building’s original promise of openness and transparency.
Viñoly’s accordion-like glass facade faces onto 161st Street in a stately manner, while the L-shaped plan creates a generous plaza opening onto a residential area rather than the commercial thoroughfare. “We really wanted to render a building that was open, unlike the building next door which was a fortress,” Viñoly said of the Brutalist former Criminal Court building. “This building is exactly the opposite with openness and access.”
Even before 9/11, designs were evolving out of concern for security, with one substantial change made after the U.S. Embassy bombing in Tanzania along with other makeshift adaptations that eventually found their way into the interior. Initially as well, the plan had Grant Avenue running through an archway in the courthouse, but that idea too was abandoned. The light-filled atrium lobby, which features the two-story cylindrical form of the jury assembly room, feels like a cathedral to an open society. But like courthouses throughout the country, the atrium is now filled with ungainly security equipment and a massive police presence.
The outdoor plaza should have opened immediately after the building was completed. But inspectors found a defect in the floors beneath the plaza which hold a two-story parking garage. An investigation revealed that the rebar was not in the correct location causing the floors to dip. “No one understands why it was consistently in the wrong place,” said project director Fred Wilmers. “It took a long time for the contractor to fess up and to make sure that they fixed it. This was an excuse for not having the plaza open.”
Wilmers said that all the repairs have been made and after the Department of Buildings completes inspections, the plaza should finally open. But judging from the intense security, one has to wonder whether the court police and the NYPD will be willing to ever open it. Access to a rooftop garden over the assembly room has already been vetoed. “I’m a little hopeful that [the plaza] will eventually be opened, but it remains a question. It’s very easy for people to rally behind safety,” said Wilmers. So as the plaza continues to gesture openness to the neighborhood, real transparency remains hard to access.
The Morgan Library Expansion
Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Beyer Blinder Belle
The Morgan Library & Museum
By its very nature as a climate-controlled environment, the 2006 Renzo Piano-designed Morgan Library & Museum runs around the clock, so maintenance is an ongoing process. And the same design and engineering team remains on call. “For such a sophisticated building, it is actually performing pretty well,” said Richard Southwick of Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB), architect of record for the project. His respect for its success focuses on the automatic solar control that programs rolling shades in the atrium, which respond to and control the natural daylight. “The introduction and mitigation of light isn't unusual for projects by Renzo Piano, but for a museum it is,” said Southwick. “Most museums are white boxes, with very little natural light.”
In the beginning, the software controlling the shades had to be re-programmed to maintain the appropriate temperature for the building's sensitive holdings. “There was a shaking off period,” said Southwick of the tweaks and adjustments necessary during the first few months. He also mentions the large skylights that suffered water leakage and had to be refitted. “On such a large project, things that weren't constructed per spec are prone to problems,” he said. Indeed, complex systems that underpin the Morgan have been a model of precision design, but the more prosaic, low-tech aspects have proved less stable over the years. “We imported many components from all around the world,” said Southwick, referring to the counterbalance doors at the front of the Madison Avenue building. “For something as simple as a hinge door, it might have been better produced locally.” Meanwhile, the bronze doors on Madison Avenue have a tendency to jar. “It's been a chronic issue,” said Southwick.
Lord Doug Mass of Cosentini, the project engineers, echoes Southwick's satisfaction with the functioning of these details as well as with the design's ability to hide features that are working the hardest. Mass cites, specifically, the displacement ventilation system, which is secreted into the structure. The specially designed mechanism filters cool air into the atrium at floor level depending on how many people are populating it, and has worked almost flawlessly. The limitations of the site—essentially a glass-box connector between the two early 20th-century buildings—have informed the level of scrutiny in design. “Everything is knitted together because we had no other choice,” said Mass, noting that 80,000 of the Morgan’s 136,000 square feet are nestled below grade in a bathtub underground that is the first of its kind at that scale in New York. “It had to be failsafe,” said Southwick.
The Solaire, Verdesian, and Visionaire
Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects
Manicured waterfront parks and quiet cul-de-sacs may lend Battery Park City a retro-suburban gloss, but in terms of environmental design it has long been a model of forward planning. The residential towers, Solaire (2003), Verdesian (2006), and Visionaire (2008) are the products of the same team of developer, architect, contractor, and an army of enlightened consultants making the set of three built over six years an effective testing ground for what does and doesn’t work in sustainable residential construction.
In 2000 the Battery Park City Authority developed the basic green guidelines that made the 27-story Solaire rental the nation’s first green residential high-rise. It has photovoltaics recycled from computer disks armoring the bulkhead and decorating the facade producing a fairly modest amount of electricity for common areas, a basement black-water system, gas-absorption chillers, micro turbine heat recovery and fresh air duct systems, sensor lighting, extensive green roofs, and public areas decked in bamboo, cork, wheat grass rugs and a full array of recyclable materials. The building was pre-LEED in 2003, but it achieved an impressive LEED Platinum rating as an existing building in 2009.
On a recent tour Michael Gubbins, building manager for all three towers developed by the Albanese Organization, noted some of the lessons learned and design changes across the three towers. To meet on-site electric supply requirements, the Solaire deployed photovoltaics and so does the Verdesian, where they were combined with a micro turbine, while the Visionaire tops that with integrated PV’s, a micro turbine, and regenerator elevators. In addition, the Visionaire was able to take advantage of a large-panel curtain wall system (with 4,500 square feet of integrated PV-paneling) that didn’t exist for residential buildings five years ago.
Gubbins noted that PV’s “take longer than anything else to justify the cost.” They are most valuable as a high-visibility “signifier to the public that the builder is thinking differently.” Indeed, some 7,000 people have toured the Solaire. While both the Solaire and Verdesian generate about the same 5% from their PV panels, Gubbins said that easy-to-install micro turbines deliver the same with the added advantage that the resultant heat can be recycled—always a big plus in the green scheme of things. Also of limited advantage are the heliostats on the roof of the 25-story Verdesian that are intended to bounce daylight into the sun-deprived courtyard between buildings. Their focused light beams look like they might be better at frying ants.
Rafael Pelli of Pelli Clarke Pelli noted that for him one of the more intensive learning experiences concerned fresh air delivery. Before the Solaire, he said, fresh air ventilation basically was non-existent in high-rise residential buildings. The issue was to find an efficient way to induct fresh air—for which there are no codes or standards—and not have it automatically carried off by constant-running exhaust mechanisms that have long been mandatory. The Solaire brings a steady fresh air flow in to a single source vent, but the team was able to make adjustments so that at the Visionaire it is possible to flow fresh air efficiently into every room and all public spaces. “It took a lot of research and analysis to figure that one out,” said Pelli. “In the process, we leaned how to be aggressive at testing performance. The secret is working it out at the front end through intense collaborations with the specialized consultants. It made real change happen.” One thing didn’t change at all: the water tanks on the roof are still as efficient as ever, using laws of gravity to deliver water to the apartments below.
Julie V. Iovine
Obama’s jobs speech was music to the ears, but for architects the music is still playing in another room.
Perhaps you sat up at the president’s call for a “world class transportation system” competitive with China’s, and salivated at the prospect of “modernizing” 35,000 schools (although Obama quickly established the modest scale of renovation at fixing roofs and caulking windows and “installing science labs”.) Rebuilding schools still comes closer to design work than filling potholes. It was slightly dispiriting to hear Obama quickly—in the next breathe, actually—go from talk of re-establishing our status as an “economic superpower” through rebuilding to citing a trucking bridge in Ohio in need of a fix. (Sounds like the powerful U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lobby is still calling the shots.)
Obama did not once utter the word “infrastructure” in his speech although some tealeaf readers found implied support for the Infrastructure Bank that architects once thought was going to be the ticket to the kind of ambitious capital investments in which they long to participate—housing, courthouses, libraries, and multi-modal transportation hubs. Many more architects seemed resigned to the fact that the second stimulus, like the first, is going to pass architects by, because the work of making architecture—that’s vertical construction in job-friendly speak—with all the advance prep work from site analysis to public review, takes too long at a time when the economy needs immediate help.
But could it also be that the president believes the American public is wary of Grand Projects, and therefore of capital-A architecture? Two New York projects could easily fuel that impression: One is “New York by Gehry.”
The problem is not that Frank Gehry’s shimmery supertower doesn’t add some glamorous swag to the skyline: it most certainly does. The sorry part is the awful brick box that Gehry designed for the public school at the base. For the rental tower, he was working with $875 million. Surely he could have insisted on spreading some of the joy to the public school. He had the chance to show the world that superstar though he be, he can still do the amazing with a small budget. As it happened, Swanke Hayden Connell did their best with $65 million to fit out more than decent interiors for which they are getting zero credit. At the first day of school, it was Bloomberg and Gehry welcoming the kids. In other words, it was the usual architecture as marketing.
More worrisome still is the World Trade Center transit hub by Santiago Calatrava. If Obama never said infrastructure, he did say transportation, several times. Now under construction, most would agree that Calatrava’s hub will be world class, some ten long years after breaking ground. But as far as stimulus, this winged white elephant is an egregious overproduction. And as soon as the political group hug—also known as the tenth anniversary of 9/11—is a few weeks behind us, someone is going to start wondering why this station serving 80,000 PATH commuters—originally budgeted for $1.9 billion with expected completion by 2006—is now costing $3.44 billion (the memorial and museum cost $925 million). Charles Bagli of The New York Times—the first canary in the coal mine?—notes that Penn Station serves seven times as many people. There is a real danger of this project becoming a Red Letter A for architectural extravagance, and precisely the kind of fancy work that the country cannot afford. And that’s a real pity because the disappointing Spruce Street School cereal box and the bloated transit-osaur do not represent the highly engaged and smart long-term planning that most architects we write about today are working towards. I wish Obama had had some words of encouragement for the important work they are already doing, stimulus or not.
The Architect’s Newspaper published its first issue two years and two months after the tragedy of 9/11/01. By that November 2003, the process of envisioning plans for the site—still called Ground Zero—had reached one of several nadirs: the architects of One World Trade Center—at that time, the Freedom Tower—were not on speaking terms; Governor Pataki was ignoring the recommendations of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the agency officially charged with sorting out what best to do; and the finalists for the memorial competition had just been announced to tepid response.
It was a rich time for a news organization to wade into the details of how things get done in the city. Now as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, it seems that every pundit on the planet is weighing in on the emerging results of those tumultuous years, recalling sometimes inaccurately what happened, when, and why. We decided to dig up all of our own coverage from printed pages and on the web, filling in as needed from the Port Authority and LMDC’s archived press releases and such sharply detailed accounts as Philip Nobel’s intellectually knuckle-whitening 16 Acres, to make a contemporaneous timeline.
It proved to be a chastening, even stomach churning, exercise to relive even from a distance the sordid disagreements, the political posturing, and wrenching disillusions as they revealed all too clearly a complete collapse of confidence that anything inspiring, appropriate, or up to world-class standards was going to be rebuilt at the site.
But that time seems past. After several visits from our offices—now just three blocks away from the World Trade Center site, thanks to the Empire State Development Action Plan assisting small businesses in the area—the feeling is very different. In the rank upon rank of nearly grown trees, the measured pacing and pattern of granite pavers that draw all-comers from every direction inexorably toward the vast footprints, the names carved deep into the parapet stone that will be kept cool to the touch in summer and warm and ice-free in winter, there is both dignity and poetry.
Whether this is the result of design or the extreme care so obviously taken in construction and installation—special cranes had to be invented for installing the trees in their customized ground holes—it is hard to say. Certainly, the architecture built so far is compromised. One World Trade Center has been repeatedly assaulted with demands to make the base more bomb resistant—in spite of a growing awareness that prevention and deterrence before contact is the more effective security measure—and less expensive. The Snøhetta building is little more than a shed for the massive vents, mechanical equipment, and staircase serving the 98,000 square foot museum designed by Aedes (formerly Davis Brody Bond) beneath ground. Not the ambitious memorial structure as envisioned, it is still a much-needed focal point for the flat expanse between the plunging footprints. In fact, across the site, still bathed in sunlight for now, the impression is that the designs may not be spectacular visions of 21st century architecture, but they are strong enough to carry the weight all the city, not to mention tourists, will bring to bear on it over time. And sheer durability may be the best that any architecture can offer in the long run.
With all eyes fixed on everything coming up roses on the West Side’s High Line, City Planning has been concentrating on the East. The long-term goal of connecting the lushly-landscaped promenades and bike paths of the West Side to the heavily trafficked spaghetti of the East Side moved a step closer with the opening on July 14 of the section from Pier 11 at Wall Street to Pier 15 at South Street Seaport. “After 9/11 we said that the most important thing for lower Manhattan is rebuilding and the transformation of the East River,” said City Planning commissioner Amanda Burden. The plans for the park are being developed with the New York City Economic Development Corporation and will ultimately extend up to Pier 35 just north of Manhattan Bridge.
With much of the park sitting beneath the FDR Drive, the Esplanade will likely draw comparisons to the High Line for its embrace of infrastructure, though it’s literally the flipside. Here, it’s about being beneath, not above. “Embracing the FDR seems so obvious now, but it wasn’t so obvious then,” said Burden. “It provides important shade and it’s an organizing principle for all of the programming.”
While the overall look —a collaboration between SHoP Architects and landscape architect Ken Smith—is quite different from the High Line, it establishes its own signature designs. So-called Get-Downs, bleacher-like stairways that drop down to water level and give visitors a chance to get their feet wet and feel the river spray, occur at several key spots, one directly across Wall Street, and allow uninterrupted sightlines. “We thought an important way to connect was that you could see the water all the way back into the city,” said SHoP’s Gregg Pasquarelli. “The railing drops so that the view corridors from the city are unobstructed.”
A line of barstools sit up against ipe wooden rails providing another unimpeded perch. The rail is wide enough to support lunch or a book. The designers also used ipe for slats in two patterns for bench seating, inspired by shipping crates and pallets. At Burden’s insistence, seating is arranged in multiple groups of two or four, around chess tables, and, for the more harried New Yorker, alone.
Landscape architect Ken Smith sporadically arranged multi-hued grey hexagon pavers riffing on a highly pixilated photo of the water. He also designed a series of planting beds or “dunes” rising from six inches to about two feet high. The effect creates several berms at various angles that morph on one side into “seat walls” made of ductile concrete, edged in skateboard-proof stainless steel. “There’s an emphasis on native plants, while the modulated seating and dunes create a meandering walkway,” said Smith. In the dog run, Smith got to break out his pop art with a giant bone, towering tree stump, and bear-sized squirrel all made of concrete.
This fall, the bi-level Pier 15 also by SHoP will be finished. The 517-foot-long upper pier features an extended lawn and small “forest,”while a maritime museum and café sit below. Next summer, at Maiden Lane a pavilion café, run by the same operator as the Pier 15 café, will open. The final phases of the project from Broad Street to Old Slip and from Pike and Allen Streets up to Pier 35 are expected to be completed in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
On September 11 all eyes will be on the World Trade Center site, where the 9/11 Memorial and Museum will open with ceremonies commemorating the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City. In addition to a subterranean museum and memorial space, the much-anticipated complex includes an aboveground museum pavilion and a landscaped plaza with reflecting pools in the footprints of the Twin Towers. However, due to extensive crowd control and security concerns, visitors who make a spontaneous trip to the site may find themselves not standing in these new public spaces but stuck at the site’s perimeter looking at photographs of them stretched across a chain-link construction fence instead.
Eventually, the memorial plaza will be open on all sides, but for now as construction continues at the site over the next two to three years (the Snøhetta-designed museum pavilion won’t be completed until September 2012) a temporary wayfinding system will restrict public access. Not only will standard construction fences stay in place around the greater sixteen-acre site, but the plaza itself will also be ringed by a fence of 2-foot-8-inch concrete barriers topped by 8 feet of chain-link. To enter the site, which officially opens on September 12, visitors must have a ticket and be processed through a gauntlet of intermediary spaces. (Tickets are free, and starting in July visitors may register for a day and time on the 9/11 Memorial and Museum’s website.)
Ticketed visitors will enter at Greenwich and Albany streets at the southeast corner of the site, be funneled along a 900-foot path to a security screening room inside 90 West Street, and finally enter the memorial site at the plaza’s southwest corner, explained Jeff Gertler of Gertler & Wente Architects, designers of the holding pens and pathway barriers (graphics are by Graham Hanson) of the wayfinding plan. Gertler said screening would consist of airport-style x-ray machines and metal detectors. A separate entrance and reception area on West Street will be available for family members of 9/11 victims. Outside of the secure zone, a retail space at 90 West Street will be open to non-ticketed visitors and offer memorabilia currently available at the 9/11 preview site at 20 Vesey Street, which will transition into an exhibition about the new museum.
“Depending on how construction is going, up to 1,500 people will be allowed on the plaza at one time,” said Lynn Rasic, a spokesperson for the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, noting that visitors will be allowed to bring in cameras and backpacks. Some of the temporary security measures will be invisible to visitors. For example, the individual concrete barriers of the plaza fence will be linked internally by a massive steel cable for extra protection.
The fences will eventually vanish and the x-ray machines will move into the new museum. But for the moment, at the twice-attacked WTC site safety trumps all. “There’s no overdoing the security here,” said Gertler.
From high atop Greenwich Street where it cuts through the World Trade Center, the drilling rig didn’t look like much. But to see the size of the men, who scrambled across it like ants on a corncob, it must have been a serious machine, capable of punching a grid of melon-sized shafts in the exposed bedrock. Even the sound, which must have been a racket, was lost in the general hubbub of the massive construction site—the clanking of steel, the shouts of men, the whining of crane hoists.
“They’re drilling the footing for Tower 2,” said Dara McQuillan, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Silverstein Properties. “Once the drilling is done, they’ll blast out the hole with dynamite. It’s a delicate process, because they can’t displace the active subway lines below us here on Greenwich by even a quarter of an inch.”
Delicacy is not the first thing that comes to mind when visiting Ground Zero, where the memories of fire and horror nearly nine years old are still plainly legible by the vast scar left in Lower Manhattan’s fabric. The sight is deceiving, though. The World Trade Center today is no longer a scene of destruction, but one of bustling rebirth. Every construction site is also a ruin, its disarray disguising the fact that it is an object of progress until the finishing touches are laid, and this is a construction site par excellence. Summoning 1,500 workers every day, a number that will expand threefold over the next year, and comprising more than six major projects interlaced and pressed cheek-to-jowl, the scale is as monumental as the engineering marvels of antiquity—the pyramids of Giza, the Roman Forum, Machu Picchu.
As if to illustrate this point, McQuillan turned his attention 20 degrees to the right, indicating a red crawler crane far below on the rocky floor, looking like the discarded toy of a brutish child. “That is the largest crane to operate ever in New York City,” he said. “It has to lift 70-ton steel columns for Calatrava’s transit center.”
For most of its history, the site has been known more for its delays. Today, however, even a casual observer passing along Church Street can see that work is moving ahead. Steel erection on Tower 1—formerly the Freedom Tower—has now reached the 28th floor above grade, and Tower 4 is now up to the sixth. Though invisible from the street, the memorial and museum are the closest to completion, with both of the original towers’ footprints now being clad in granite; tree planting and plaza construction are slated to begin in August. But the future of the masterplan is far from secure. As workers race to complete the memorial for the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Silverstein Properties remain faced with a number of uncertainties that will determine their legacy on the site.
In March, the two parties signed an agreement to proceed with enough construction to ensure that all of the interconnective aspects of the masterplan will be completed in the next few years. Silverstein is only responsible for Towers 2, 3, and 4. Tower 4 is the only bright spot in this chain, due to be completed in 2013 thanks to the fact that the Port Authority and the City of New York have pre-leased approximately 60 percent of the building.
Towers 2 and 3, however, remain mired in financing woes. Under the March agreement, Silverstein agreed to spend all of its Liberty Bonds and remaining insurance proceeds on completing Tower 4 by 2013, finishing off the transit hub and retail podium aspects of Tower 3, and bringing Tower 2 at least to street level. The remainder of Tower 3 will be completed if the developer can raise $300 million of private unsupported equity, pre-lease 400,000 square feet of the office tower, and obtain private financing for the remaining cost of the tower—a tall order in these times of recession and real estate pessimism. The Port Authority, along with the city and New York State, are stepping in to help, promising Silverstein a capped public backstop of $390 million and $210 million of equity. The future of Tower 2, however, is being left to market demand, so only time will tell its fate.
On the Port Authority’s side of the site, the situation is a bit more stable. The Authority recently signed $100 million in contracts to bring Calatrava’s transit hall and oculus to street level and above. And Tower 1, scheduled to be complete in 2013, has received its own good news. In July, the agency signed an agreement with the Durst Organization. Under the agreement, Durst will invest $100 million in the project, assist with ongoing construction, and take on primary responsibility for tenant fit-out, leasing, and property management in return for an equity interest in the building. Currently, the Port Authority has leased about half of the 2.6 million-square-foot tower, 190,810 square feet to the Chinese company Vantone Industry and 1.1 million square feet to the U.S. General Services Administration and the New York State Office of General Services.
Standing in the footprints of the original towers, a space that will soon be filled with running water while workers affix black granite panels to the walls, these questions of millions of dollars and square feet seem far away and muted. The workers have hung an American flag on one section of completed wall, a symbol of the pride they take in their jobs as well as the national importance of the site. “The other day, Larry Silverstein was taking a tour of the site and all of the workers stopped what they were doing when he walked through and applauded him,” said McQuillan, his face turning toward the jutting podium of Tower 4, just visible over the edge of the memorial. “They like that he’s fighting to get this project finished. They understand the importance of it.”
When the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11, among the victims was the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. The group was founded around the time of the World Trade Center’s completion in 1972, with the intent to “humanize” the Financial District, in the words of its founder, Flory Barnett. There were performances in the sprawling plaza, installations in nearby bank storefronts, and, after a 1997 donation of raw space on the 91st and 92nd floors of the North Tower, the first of the council’s artists’ studios downtown.
The council lost nearly everything on that fateful day, including the life of one of its artists, Michael Richards. But like much of downtown after 9/11, it has made a rebound. There were some years of struggle and nomadism, with time spent at the World Financial Center and in DUMBO, but the group was also flooded with an outpouring of resources and goodwill that led to art happenings and new grant programs, bringing life and vibrancy to the occasionally dull and stuffy quarters downtown. The rise in residential development in the area made the need for cultural projects even greater.
Then another collapse hit, that of the financial sector, taking down the economy, philanthropy, and public funding with it. Now, with the downtown artistic community most in need, the council is struggling once again, though also finding opportunities where few existed in the headier days of years past.
It has fallen to Sam Miller to find a way forward for the council and the Lower Manhattan arts scene it has fostered over the years. Miller became executive director of the organization on June 30, having spent years running similar artists’ support organizations in New York and Massachusetts. He said that despite the challenges of the past and current climates, Lower Manhattan presents a rare opportunity.
“There are so many assets here,” Miller said. “Architectural assets, cultural organizations, public amenities.” The goal is figuring out how to get them all working together, whether it’s a relatively specialized concern like the Museum of Finance or a vacant storefront, with as little financial outlay as possible. “We need to build up the capacity for others to do this work,” Miller said. “It’s not only about working with partners, but building up partners to work with.”
While the council has had its operating budget reduced by 12.5 percent and staff reduced to 19, Miller said this has had a clarifying effect on the organization. “To me, the key thing over the next few years is strategic thinking about protecting and sustaining your work,” Miller said. The emphasis will be on bolstering current programming such as Lentspace, residencies that create site-specific installations, and Sitelines, a similar program at the River to River Festival for performance.
The council is in hot pursuit of roughly $28.6 million of unspent culture funding held by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Miller is also keeping his focus decidedly street-level, letting downtown’s competing bureaucracies figure out big-picture issues like where to put, or even whether to build, Frank Gehry’s Performing Arts Center.
The upside of the recession has meant the abatement of real estate pressures, which has created more opportunities for finding studio space, though such gains must also be carefully guarded. “I think it is critical, how the recovery can be managed in a way that’s beneficial to all the key stakeholders and does not become unbalanced again,” Miller said. “The value of embedding the arts and culture throughout the neighborhood, that value should be multiplied, not minimized.”
Gehry said that he had done the initial drawing on his iPhone, which an assistant then produced: a violet scribble with a black-and-blue iris at the center. “Since I’ve never designed a hat before, I was afraid she wouldn’t be able to walk,” he said. “I did have an idea that involved people with sticks holding it up, walking behind her. I didn’t know how far I could go with this thing.”Starchitecture indeed.