Search results for "9/11 museum"

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Catching Up
The East River Waterfront Esplanade as seen from Pier 11.
Peter Mauss/Esto

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.”

   
Left to right: The view from Wall Street; the seatwall with Riverside chair groupings; Ductile concrete seatwall with skateboard proof steel trim. (AN/Stoelker)
 

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.

   
Left to right: Barstools' lunchtime perch; the veiw from the Ferry; The Dog Run's "Tree".
 

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.

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On View> 194X–9/11: American Architects and the City
194X–9/11: American Architects and the City The Museum of Modern Art 11 West 53rd St. Through January 2 Prompted by the United States’ entrance into World War II in 1942, Architectural Forum magazine commissioned pioneering architects to imagine and plan a postwar American city. At the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 194X-9/11: American Architects and the City features the plans, renderings, and sculpture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Kahn, Paul Rudolph, and Rem Koolhaas and their ideas for cities of the future. Rarely displayed works, such as Mies van der Rohe’s collage Museum for a Small City Project (1942), above, reveal plans for cultural centers and urban life in uncertain times.
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Access Denied
Gertler & Wente's design for a temporary security screening room at the WTC site.
Courtesy Gertler & Wente, 9/11 Memorial and Museum

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.)

Map of temporary wayfinding system now under construction at the WTC site.
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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.

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A Memorial Emerges
Main stairs into the museum beside the Survivor's Stairway (covered in wood planks).
Tom Stoelker / The Architect's Newspaper

Descending a monumental staircase, visitors will reach the bedrock level that houses permanent, rotating, and age-appropriate exhibits. This space, originally the twin towers’ six-story parking garage, is “a room about the size of Grand Central,” said Steven Davis, a partner at Davis Brody Bond Aedas (DBBA)—bigger than the Whitney or the Guggenheim. It took a single morning for the World Trade Center towers and superblock to become Ground Zero. A decade after the attack, the site has morphed from a projection screen for national dreads, factional controversies, and civic aspirations into a real, tangible place. When completed, it will be part public park, part private sanctuary, part cultural touchstone, part archaeological site, part tourist magnet, and part reinvented commercial center on a restored street grid. Still recognizable, through all its evolutionary stages, is Daniel Libeskind’s original master plan, or at least an iteration of it.

It is not a single vision, but “what survives, through a rather excoriating process,” said Memorial designer Michael Arad of Handel Architects. In interactions with Libeskind, Peter Walker, DBBA, Snøhetta, and others involved on or near the plaza, Arad reports, “the ball bounces back and forth from one to the other, and you pass it, and it changes...in the process it gets enriched with meaning and complexity.”

The first component emerges this fall, when the National September 11 Memorial opens on 9/11/11 for bereaved families, then on 9/12 for the general public. It will be followed a year later by the 9/11 Museum, occupying a seven-story, 98,000-square-foot underground space beneath the waterfalls flowing into the twin towers’ footprints. While the below-grade museum is designed by DBBA, its entry pavilion is by Snøhetta on the plaza. SOM’s Tower One is reaching its 60th floor at this writing, with completion estimated for 2013, followed by Fumihiko Maki’s Tower Four (2013), and the transportation hub (2014); Towers Two by Norman Foster and Three by Richard Rogers are on an indeterminate, market-dependent timetable.

World Trade Center   World Trade Center Memorial
Rendering of the underground Slurry Wall and the final column removed from the site, now wrapped and installed in the museum (left). Rendering showing aerial view of void pool, Snøhetta's museum building, and two vent structures (right).
Courtesy Squared Design Lab [+]
 

The original twin towers went from groundbreaking to completion in seven years (1966–1973). The Burj Khalifa arose in six years; the Empire State Building, in 410 days. According to data from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, over the past ten years (including partial data for 2011), China has completed 133 buildings over 200 meters tall.

Do apples-and-oranges comparisons put Lower Manhattan’s pace in context or muddy the waters further? Disputes delaying construction recur in local debates and headlines, but complaints about the timetable have it backward, says Snøhetta principal Craig Dykers. “I always feel that it went too quickly,” he said. “Very few people you’ll find saying that, but I strongly believe this. I think there was too much emphasis on speed,” Dykers said adding, “You cannot compare [the World Trade Center site to] the Empire State Building”—a single-owner project on clearly defined property. To Dykers and others who have come to understand the site’s complexity, the gravity of its demands, and the quality of the work done to date, what’s striking about the Museum/Memorial component is not that it’s taken so long, but that it is achieving so much so fast.

Having worked on Cairo’s Alexandria Library, another emotionally and culturally laden project (lasting 13 years), Dykers finds that Ground Zero’s difficult collaborations have harmonized aspects of the mission that might easily have been discordant. As a memorial, he says, the site looks back toward the Earth, history, the traumas of September 11, and the dead, as it reconnects with the living city. Its “skyscrapers are incised into the sky...pointing upward to the place that we often associate with the future,” he said, and embodying the inherent optimism of commerce. Snøhetta’s three-story Museum Pavilion, the only building on the 8-acre memorial block, draws light deep into the connected Museum atrium by DBBA and creates a transition zone between the city’s energy and the Museum’s solemnity. The low-slung pavilion, whose angled steel panels and mullions introduce a Libeskindian theme of purposeful dissonance, contrasting with what project manager Anne Lewison calls the “corporate signature” of the four towers, includes a private area reserved for the families and a public auditorium. Snøhetta’s original commission—the cultural building housing the Drawing Center and the politically sensitive Freedom Center—fell out of the planning in 2005, but Dykers insists that “there is still a cultural center on the Memorial... an edifice that responds both to the lives of those lost and to the future through culture.”

World Trade Center   World Trade Center Memorial
World Trade Center Memorial
Clockwise from left: Construction of the interior wall of the south void pool; a rendering of the "ribbon ramp" and its observation platforms; the ramp under construction.
Rendering courtesy Davis Brody Bond Aedas
 

On its upper floors and roof, Snøhetta’s building also includes 13,559 square feet of mechanical space, cores, and shafts, out of a total of 59,136 gross interior square feet. Throughout a site that is tightly interwoven in three dimensions—Dykers and Lewison comment that it typifies New York’s tendency to delineate spaces both in plan and in section—such multi-functionality is to be expected. Lewison points out that bearing beams and steel webs both within and beneath the Pavilion strike non-orthogonal angles that are as functional amid the site’s tricky alignments and transfers as its panels and mullion grid are expressive. The Port Authority’s October 2008 report to Governor David Patterson identified a deck-over construction strategy—building the roof of the PATH mezzanine (which doubles as the floor of the Memorial Plaza) before the remainder of the hub—as an operational solution allowing completion of the Plaza in time for the first-decade anniversary. Structural engineer WSP Cantor Seinuk has provided a system of four-foot-thick concrete shear walls, blast walls, and steel-supported concrete slabs below this plaza roof, providing lateral seismic resistance and allowing construction vehicles to serve multiple projects while maintaining uninterrupted PATH service. “The structural gymnastics that went into making this situation work were beyond daunting,” said Davis pointing out a mere wall separating his firm’s space from the PATH mezzanine during a site tour.

The subterranean museum, Davis reports, developed in part through changes in Arad’s initial design, which called for an underground memorial gallery, four ramps per pool, and views through the waterfalls. He is succinct about this change, the subject of a much-publicized clash with Arad: “Because of security concerns, that became untenable.” Another factor, says museum director Alice Greenwald, was Libeskind’s recognition of the metaphoric power of the slurry wall holding back the Hudson, leading to its designation as an historic asset. “We are obligated by federal landmark preservation law to make the slurry wall available to the public to see, which is actually the reason the museum is located below ground,” Greenwald said. The 2006 decision to bring all memorial functions to grade, she says, was a critical milestone, not only halting cost escalation but also consolidating the components and articulating the Memorial/ Museum complex as “its own precinct.”

World Trade Center Memorial   World Trade Center Memorial   World Trade Center Memorial
Left to right: Photographs of the victims will line this room in the memorial, where the floor of the original structure will be exposed; Rendering of the space beneath the pool with the stairway and "ribbon ramp" in the background; and a rendering of the memorial showing an original column in front of an observation platform (right).
Rendering Courtesy Squared Design Lab [+]
 

Visitors will follow a coherent path, a Dantesque sequence of descent, contemplation, and ascent (Greenwald calls it “a light-touch experience, not a forced march”). Descending from the Pavilion by stairs or escalator past an iconic pair of the original towers’ 70-foot trident columns, one follows the gently sloping “ribbon” ramp, which doubles back twice to offer broad views of the vast space at west and east overlook points before a break point at the Vesey Street Survivors’ Stairway (relocated and preserved under glass). “We made a very conscious decision for people to arrive at bedrock between the two towers, with no bias for one or another,” says Davis.

Descending the monumental staircase, they reach the bedrock level and the space as large as GrandCentral and bigger than the Whitney and Gugg, Davis said. The exhibition level, where the void pools hover above the original towers’ sheared-off box columns—precisely above them, Davis notes, not a few feet off as in early plans—are aligned with the illuminated square patterns of column stubs to create columns of light in airborne dust. “Everything about this experience,” he notes, “is scale and authenticity.”

The undersides of the pools, Davis adds, will be clad with a unique material, Cymat Alusion foamed aluminum, formed under high pressure with superheated gas and used for strong, light structural bracing in airplane wings. With a surface of myriad reflective facets, the aluminum will resemble a fog when under-lit, becoming “essentially buoyant,” Davis said. “It will dematerialize. It ceases being a solid material...and takes on an eerie, almost apparition-like glow.” Large artifacts already delivered to the Museum include the final column removed at the end of the nine-month recovery period, now preserved against construction-phase dust, debris, and other atmospheric conditions inside an air-conditioned chamber near the west overlook.

The ascent back to plaza level returns the visitor not immediately into urban clamor but to a meditative space defined by Arad’s now-familiar fountains and a grove of some 400 swamp white oak trees in an “abacus bead” alignment: orderly rows when viewed along an east-west axis but naturally randomized when seen from north to south. “There are some unbelievably advanced things going on in this landscape,” Davis says, saluting Walker for the system of pavers, cobblestones, precast concrete tables, soil troughs, and rainwater-capture irrigation. Like so many of the memorial’s abstract elements, the fountain technology is more complex than it looks: fluted weirs by Dan Euser Waterarchitecture guide water flow, and the voids’ massive scale (nearly an acre each, 192 feet on each side, with 176-foot-long waterfalls) makes precise leveling imperative. “If that weir were up an inch anywhere,” says Walker, “the water would run around that inch, and you wouldn’t have the continuous [flow].” Tested last November, it worked on the first try, Davis reports, and it will continue working thanks to a threaded adjustment system to allow for differential settlement over time.

World Trade Center Memorial
Clockwise from left: View underneath the north void pool whose surfaces will be covered in aluminum foam; exposed detail from the original World Trade Center; a row of shaved bases of columns that supported one of the towers; the slurry wall which was designated an historic asset; a detail of one of the original column bases in the subterranean museum and memorial.
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  World Trade Center Memorial Detail
World Trade Center Memorial
World Trade Center Memorial
World Trade Center Memorial Detail
 

Walker credits forester Paul Cowie and transplant/transport specialist Tom Cox for helping resolve the “huge technical issues of trying to grow trees on top of a seven-story building of this size.” New York street trees are stressed enough by particulates, noise, radiation, and disease to live an average of only seven years, he says, but these oaks are expected to live for 80 to 100. After a year of forestry research, the species quercus bicolor was chosen, one of only six or seven deemed hardy enough for these conditions. The trees represent the five states where most 9/11 victims resided and have spent the past several years in a New Jersey nursery with a climate similar to Manhattan’s, fed and tended with a precision that makes them, in Walker’s words, “virtually identical, all straight leaders, all virtually the same tree.” He adds, “I’ve never had a chance to do this over time” in the U.S. This is his first American project as sophisticated as those of Swiss and German nurseries.

One component that may surprise visitors is a pair of concrete monoliths along the site’s West Street border, where original plans called for a one- or two-story museum entrance pavilion (removed in 2006 when public functions were brought up to grade and the museum and plaza entrances were consolidated on the east). Currently, the two structures are an unavoidable utilitarian eruption into the plan: vents. Among feasible airflow options for the site’s subgrade spaces—the museum, train stations, chiller plants, extensions of commercial spaces, and others—the West Street structures are far less intrusive, Walker explains, than what engineers initially saw as necessary: numerous smaller vents scattered around the memorial plaza. “I think there were 17 or 18 of them... frankly, I couldn’t see how you could build a memorial with all these vents. Because of the security, these vents had to be pretty tall, as much as 20 feet off the ground. So they were formidable. Our task in the Memorial was to produce this flat plane from which the voids fall down 30 feet....You just can’t do that with all this other stuff around. You have to produce a plane with which you can cut these voids if they’re going to be powerful. So we did a model, which we later called the Awful Model, where we had all the vents and colored them bright orange, and we took them to the Governor.” The reaction by Pataki’s chief of staff John Cahill was, “That looks awful.” He ordered the engineers to remove them all. The two West Street volumes and a few flat grates “essentially have collected all the vents that absolutely have to come up,” Walker notes. “It solved the security problems and also grouped all the vents together, which took a lot of engineering.”

World Trade Center Memorial

World Trade Center Memorial   World Trade Center Memorial
Clockwise from top: Two vent buildings flank the grove of oak trees above the underground museum; the southern pool under construction; the granite-paved plaza with museum entrance in the background.
[+ Click to enlarge.]
 

Few preliminary renderings emphasize the vents, and tree growth will make them less conspicuous over time, but they suggest how the site has evolved to keep its aesthetics and its emotional weight in counterpoise with its practicalities. It is developing within an atmosphere of relentless scrutiny, likely to re-intensify as each component opens, no matter how “Ground Zeroed out” some New Yorkers have grown over the long decade. “Part of the obligation of memory as human beings,” said Greenwald, “is that this is not somebody else’s tragedy; this is our tragedy. It belongs to all of us”—even someday to those who will have no personal memory of Sept. 11, those who may visit once in a lifetime in search of a history lesson, and those who drop by daily from a nearby office seeking a shady place to eat lunch.

If the site’s mission inspires awe, its execution evokes humility. “The awe wears off,” admitted Arad, and control is impossible on any level, from building placement on the site to the fine details of translating the two-dimensional Optima Nova font into the three-dimensional lettering of names on the fountain parapets. “It’s all about letting the site speak for itself,” he said, “not trying to come in here and impose a clear and reductive narrative,” his own included. “I don’t think you can force understanding or an epiphany on anyone, but you can create that space that allows people to have their own epiphanies.” After a decade of contention among parties trying to impose their stories on the Memorial, what the public will ultimately perceive and use is not time, political process, or even values, but the dialogues of expertise that generate a spatial performance.

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World Trade Center
Looking into the memorial's south pool, with Tower One rising at upper right.
Joe Woolhead

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.”


Maki's Tower 4 rises on the southeast corner of the site.

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.


The memorial's north pool under construction.

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.”

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The Culture Scene
Workspace Resident Mary Mattingly's studio at 200 Hudson Street at the LMCC's Open Studio Weekend in 2008.
Paul Porter

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.”


Workspace resident Eric Sall's studio at 200 Hudson Street in 2008.
Paul Porter

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.”

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9/11 Memorial Pools Almost Framed
Today, the Port Authority and National September 11 Memorial & Museum announced the near completion of steel framing for the design's memorial pools. 99.8 percent of the project's 8,151 tons of steel has been installed to date. For what it's worth, when completed the Memorial will boast more steel than was used in the construction of the Eiffel Tower. In the coming months, workers will begin the installation of the granite panels that line the walls of the pools, which will be the largest manmade waterfalls in the country when finished, pumping 52,000 gallons of recycled water per minute. A mockup of the waterfalls was built in Brooklyn in January. Follow this link to see an AP video of memorial designer Michael Arad discussing the motivations behind the project.
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Gaga for Gehry
We knew Rem Koolhaas had a crush on Miuccia Prada, but now Frank Gehry and her have teamed up, and it's not for a new "epicenter." As The New Yorker details in a Talk piece this week, the Santa Monica architect was asked by his artist friend Francesco Vezzoli to design a hat for none other than walking art piece Lady Gaga, and the hat, along with her dress, were made by Prada for a benefit at LA's Museum of Contemporary Art last month. As Dana Goodyear describes it, "Gaga wore the Gehry hat all folded in on itself, a millinery version of Walt Disney Hall." But this being The New Yorker, there were no pictures, only a drawing, so we had to see the hat for ourselves, which, thanks to Gaga Daily, we found it. But the real treat is hearing Gehry describe his pièce de résistance:
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.
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The Banality of Fashion
First the cracks, and now this? Sure, Peter Eisenman's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin has seen its fair share of controversies over the years, but it doesn't get much worse than a fashion shoot for an in-flight magazine. According to the New Statesman's scoop, easyJet had no idea the Holocaust memorial had been used as the backdrop for a bunch of models because its magazine is produced by an outside company. That company has yet to speak up about the matter, so it remains unclear whether the fine folks at INK publishing are ignorant or just stupid. Looks like Hannah Arendt is right once again. UPDATE: Ink Publishing, the company behind the offending shoot responds, and it's worse than we thought:
Ink Publishing sincerely apologises to anyone who may have been offended by the fashion shoot in the November issue of easyJet inflight, in which a model is photographed in front of Berlin's Holocaust Memorial. Far from trivializing the Memorial, on the contrary the intention was to encourage passengers to visit for themselves. The aim of each monthly shoot is to highlight an easyJet destination and tell a relevant narrative. The shoot was intended to not only promote local design talent and the city itself, but to raise awareness. From an educational perspective, it is of the utmost importance that visitors to Berlin see the Jewish Museum (who gave us written permission to shoot in their grounds) and Holocaust Memorial first hand. We absolutely regret any offence caused.
We're speechless yet again.
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Kings of Curbed
It must be said that Curbed, in its short life, has become one of the preeminent sites for not just real estate but also architecture and planning news, one of—not the, mind you, as that would us—best places for info on the evolving built environments of New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. They are most certainly in our Top 10. Reaffirming that fact is a Top 10 of Curbed's own, a celebration of the best buildings of the past decade, something the site(s) weren't around to see the dawning of, though who cares, since neither were we. Each of the three Curbed sites asked local luminaries—Brooklyn's notorious Robert Scarano and our pal Eric Owen Moss included—to name their favorite new buildings in their respective cities that had been built over the last decade. Noticeable trends: lots of boldface firms, lots of glass, lots of big buildings, lots of Standard Hotels. We woulda voted for the Nehemiya Spring Houses, because it shows that any architect, with the wherewithal, can do stunning affordable housing in the outer reaches of an outerborough—which is not to say Alex Gorlin is just anybody, but, well, you know. Alas, we lost our submission form and could not make the main event. Here are the sites' countdowns, plus their runners-up: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco (no runners-up yet). We're told there's more Top of the Aughts coverage to come, so keep your eyes peels. And, if you're an obsessive reader like us, you may have noticed part of the celebration is a sexy new redesign, to which we give a hearty Mazel Tov and thumbs up.
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The Wing that Soars
The Modern Wing offers views of the city, Millennium Park, and Gerhard Richter's Woman Descending the Stair (1965).
Dave Jordano

Even if you’ve been to every Renzo Piano–designed museum of the last ten years, you may be surprised at how much there is to admire in his new Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago. Though not without flaws, the addition is Piano’s best museum in America since the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas of 2003, and the best building in downtown Chicago since the John Hancock opened in 1970.

The Modern Wing, like the soaring Hancock, shows Chicago’s ambition. Conceived more than ten years ago, it ended up costing $294 million, and is likely to be the last great museum addition of its kind in America for some time. Its 264,000 square feet enlarge the Art Institute by a third and make it the second largest art museum in the United States. Chicago, no longer really even the “Second City,” is competing with New York again—at least in its mind, and that’s a good thing.


A large Multipurpose space, Griffin Court, forms a north-south Spine in the wing that is filled with natural Light.
Charles G. Young/Interactive Design Architects
 
The addition as seen from the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park.
Charles G. Young/Interactive Design Architects
 
The third Floor galleries, devoted to the Institute's modern collection, are almost entirely Daylit.
Dave Jordano
 
 

The addition allows the Art Institute to show off its encyclopedic collection, which includes its modern and contemporary art, such pieces as a suite of color panels by Gerhard Richter; two rooms for the gown, tissue box, and other odd objects and wallpapers by Robert Gober; and a gallery for the newly-acquired Hinoki by Charles Ray, a trunk of an oak tree on its side, hand-carved out of cypress. You can no longer think of the institute as a limestone building full of French Impressionist works. The wing is a game-changer.

Ten years ago, the Art Institute hired Pritzker Prize–winner Renzo Piano to design a smaller addition on the south side of the building. When Mayor Daley’s plans for Millennium Park, which was to cover over rail yards and parking lots downtown, grew to become Chicago’s most important project since the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, the Art Institute shifted its new addition to the north to face it. Accordingly, the Modern Wing grew in scope and cost.

Millennium Park, of course, features Frank Gehry’s band shell, waves of undulating stainless steel that reflect light and give the city pure joy. Piano said at the time that his building would engage in a “dialogue” with Gehry’s work, and it has. Gehry’s curving pavilion is directly framed by Piano’s rectilinear gallery windows; outside, Gehry’s steel reflects in the Modern Wing’s glass.

At the wing’s inception, an Art Institute trustee told me, “We’ll have to spend a lot of money on details; but if we spend the money, I know we’ll get a masterwork.” And so they did. The economic downturn after 9/11 didn’t stop the project. Having been called upon to fund Millennium Park, wealthy Chicagoans then ponied up for the museum so that for the first time in far too long, a grand civic monument could be properly conceived and executed in their city.

The detailing throughout the wing is at the highest level. From handrails to wooden floors to ventilation systems, the master architect got much of what he asked for.

The main sensation in the Modern Wing is its light. Piano’s system of louvers on the roof block the harsh southern light, admitting the calmer northern light, filtering it and diffusing it through vellum. The effect comes as close to perfection here as he has ever achieved, creating spaces that are alive yet serene. Looking up, the white aluminum blades are elegant and less fussy than Piano’s recent work in Los Angeles.

Moving the wing to the north side also allowed Piano to open that entire facade with floor-to-ceiling glass. This gives stunningly sensuous views of Millennium Park across the street, while the double-layer glass blocks the noise of the city. When you see people walking in the gardens across the way, it’s as if Piano has taken a masterpiece of the Art Institute—say, Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—and brought it to life.

Other works like Matisse’s large Bathers by a River gain in juxtaposition with the colorful gardens and water elements of the park outside. Constantin Brancusi’s reflective forms by the window engage with Anish Kapoor’s shiny, bean-shaped Cloud Gate outside, one of the great crowd-pleasing pieces of public art in the park. The south wall overlooking a new garden is also glass, covered with integrated thin scrims when it’s not overcast.

All Renzo Piano museum wings are similar but are not created equal. One may wonder why Chicago did so well. Years ago, I walked through the New National Gallery in Berlin with Piano. He was in awe of the place. It has minimal amounts of glass, steel, and stone, but is elegant, refined, and uplifting to the spirit. It was designed, of course, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German living in Chicago.

Piano brings some of that back to the Windy City. His exterior is boxy, glassy, and symmetrical like a temple, in the same way that Mies’ was. His slender, white-steel, tapering columns hold up a wafer-like flat white roof that extends out over the galleries; Piano calls it a “flying carpet,” and it’s part of his renowned system of getting natural light into galleries. The roof is Miesian, yet its horizontal thrust also recalls local hero Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style. The platonic cube of the main galleries, with ornament on the side, reminds one of Louis Sullivan’s Midwest banks. Like those, this is a jewel box that contains great treasure.

Piano deftly wove his building into Chicago’s history: He added parallel planes of Indiana limestone walls to complement the Art Institute’s beloved 1893 Beaux Arts building. Piano’s flat facade contains Millennium Park, and his transparent walls allow the grand urban square to transition gracefully from nature and pleasure to city and culture.

Yet not all is right at the Modern Wing. While the main building has a satisfying cube shape, other volumes have been messily added to the east side. First comes the nave-like entrance court, and then another is tacked onto that for more galleries and the restaurant. These feel arbitrary.

Moreover, Piano’s museum gives almost no views of Lake Michigan. Windows or a terrace on the east side would have offered spectacular views of Grant Park and the lake. The Modern Wing is a large intrusion into the “sacred” lakefront parks of Chicago; all the more reason to give back new lake views.

A 620-foot-long pedestrian bridge designed by Piano also mars the project. It blocks the facade, also seems tacked on, and is not well resolved where it meets the adjacent park. The bridge would not be necessary if city authorities had seen the wisdom of closing Monroe Street between the park and the museum, which would also help usher families into the museum.

Piano’s bridge again engages in a dialogue with Gehry, whose bridge in Millennium Park winds left and right like a river. Piano’s is a straight shot up from the park to a third floor sculpture terrace, free to the public, another stroke of civic generosity.

The Art Institute still straddles working train tracks. Part of Piano’s design was to open windows in the existing hall connecting the two parts. He wanted even larger windows, which would have been an improvement.

The museum is rightfully proud of its dignified yet intimate Beaux Arts entrance on Michigan Avenue, which makes Chicagoans feel like they’re going home when they go in, and that makes them feel like part-owners of the collection. Still, many will take Piano’s entrance to the north, which has a more commercial feel. It’s a large space: light-filled, double height, mall-like. Will this change the connection that the next generation feels to the place? Thankfully, the gift shop and cafe in this arcade are not front and foremost.

The Art Institute is seeking LEED Silver certification for the Modern Wing. For a city and a mayor that crow about being the “greenest” in America, a higher level of sustainability could have been achieved.

In the main, though, the Modern Wing is a triumph, with a civilizing presence. Piano has resolved the tension between what he calls a “beautiful fragility” and the need for strength. Power brokers in Chicago felt the city deserved an example of the world’s best contemporary architecture, and they got one.

Lifson and Piano discuss the new museum in an exclusive interview.

The secrets behind the museum can be found just below the surface.

Gerson's Ground Zero Gambit
Alan Gerson, the City Council rep for Lower Manhattan, issued a major statement today along with the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee, which he chairs. The statement lays out 17 demands the committee feels will ensure the timely opening of the memorial plaza by Septmber 11, 2011. It opens with an imposing if realistic appraisal of the challenges dogging the project so far:
The World Trade Center site is one of the most technically complicated modern construction projects ever undertaken: the building of five high rise towers, concomitantly, on a sixteen acre site over two train lines; issues of unprecedented toxicities and missing human remains; all in the middle of a bustling residential and business district. The architects, engineers and workers on the ground deserve credit for the performance of a difficult task, and interruptions, unexpected technical problems and delays should have been anticipated from its inception.
Gerson said that with the economy faltering, some might want to scale back or delay the project further, but he sees it as a WPA-style infrastructure opportunity, which can create jobs and infrastructure, which will be crucial once the economy rebounds. Gerson finished by asking Mayor Bloomberg, the Port Authority, and the LMDC to come together to finish the project on-time and in-line with Gerson's recommendations. An LMDC spokesperson said that the agency welcomed the advice but had the various projects under control. "It doesn't really look like anything new," the spokesperson said. And, according to today's Times, the disparate parties overseeing Ground Zero have come up with a new plan to finish the memorial and much of the site by the tenth anniversary. Update: Bloomberg spokesperson Jason Post responds: "We have different views. Council member Gerson thinks we need to add another layer of bureaucracy, the administration thinks we need to remove one." A list of Gerson's recommendations and a link to the full statement after the jump.
1. Appoint an auditor general to monitor all Lower Manhattan redevelopment projects 2. Reaffirm the 9/11/11 deadline for permanently opening the Memorial Plaza 3. Modify PATH train mezzanine to achieve simple elegance with columns 4. Within 90 days, the MTA must re-issue bid specifications for the Fulton Street Transit Hub with specification changes aimed at lowering costs by at least $200 million 5. Fully fund Fiterman Hall’s reconstruction 6. Reaffirm the Performing Arts Center (PAC) at the proposed location, with the 1,000-seat theater in a Gehry designed building, with the Joyce Theater as the anchor tenant 7. The Port Authority must issue a timeline for the turnover of Tower 2 to Silverstein Properties immediately and issue a status report and timetable, with benchmarks for the completion of any outstanding infrastructure work on the sites for Towers 2, 3 and 4 8. Immediately convene a Memorial access planning group 9. The LMDC must release design specifications 10. NYPD and FDNY must conduct and release a full security and fire safety audit of plans for the underground museum 11. Produce a Lower Manhattan bus plan within nine months 12. The LMDC must immediately issue a detailed status report and timetable on 130 Liberty Street and provide regular updates 13. Close Vesey Street between Church Street and West Broadway, but only if the Port Authority meets the burden of demonstrating that to do so would materially save time or provide for greater safety 14. Continue the Steering Committee recently established by Port Authority Executive Director Ward 15. Continue the Port Authority briefings for Family Members and Community Leaders in Lower Manhattan 16. Integrate the Tribute Center permanently into the Museum Entrance Building 17. Create a mechanism to strengthen construction site safety and Lower Manhattan’s livability
Read the eight-page statement, with details on all 17 points, here.