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Blast of Personal Truth from Port Authority's Chris Ward
Far from the expected pablum that these events usually generate, Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority, gave a speech opening the New York Building Congress yesterday loaded to bear with fight, a lot of Good Fight, demanding continued federal funding for infrastructure. Along the way, he recalls his own version of the tortured path from Ground Zero grind to the Memorial Moment of meditation to come. It's quite a version and well worth a close read as he "recalls" Libeskind's master plan as "gardens in the sky" and how that was "replaced with another vision, as realities of the site, the market" set in. Then he talks about "Breaking Away from Monumentalism" and "The Assessment" thanks to the Port Authority, which may or may not be the stinking months of pissing match between PA and Silverstein as they wrangled about responsibility for building the first then the other towers. Sit back—but fasten your seat belt—You'll be amazed to read what you went through: Welcome I want to start by thanking Dick Anderson and the New York Building Congress for the invitation to speak here today. For over 90 years, the New York Building Congress has championed infrastructure investments and supported the Port Authority in its mission. Their most recent report “Building Infrastructure Pays Dividends” quantifies just how important this type of investment is. Introduction In twelve days, the world will gather Downtown to remember and commemorate the nearly 3,000 people who were lost on September 11th, 2001. It will be ten years. When the family members gather alongside President Obama, Governor Cuomo, Governor Christie and Mayor Bloomberg on that day, they will place their hands on the bronze parapets etched with the names of those we lost. They will see the fountains flowing into the voids of the original World Trade Center. They will walk among the hundreds of Swamp Oak trees planted on the plaza. This, frankly, is a remarkable achievement. It is a testament to the discipline and hard work of Port Authority engineers, our partners and the construction workers toiling on site. For many who lost their loved ones, this event may not bring closure. The attacks of September 11th were so devastating that closure may never be the appropriate word to describe how we come to terms with that terrible day. But I believe that the tenth anniversary does represent a significant inflection point. Dates are important. And on this anniversary, I believe the opening of the Memorial Plaza represents the end of the World Trade Center site’s past and the beginning of its future. For the first time, the public will be able to walk among the trees and fountains and in so doing, begin the important process of weaving this Memorial at the heart of the site into the fabric of New York City. Today, I want to talk about how the Port Authority stepped back from a difficult conversation about what the World Trade Center should be, stripped the site of what I call monumentalism, and focused on construction, of what it could be. I will then talk about how the challenges that we have faced at the site are unfortunately part of what I would call the deterioration of the social contract. And I will argue that in order to build the next generation of critical infrastructure projects, we need to restore a critical constituency – the pragmatic center. If we are again to become a nation, a City, of builders, current politics cannot endure; we will not only lose the public works that made us great, we will lose our democratic center that has bound us as a nation. A New Downtown On the 10th anniversary, the public will get its first real look at the New Downtown. They will see the Memorial Plaza, a place of profound tranquility for those who lost a loved one and wish to honor their memory. To read a name. But the Memorial Plaza, with 8 acres of unique green space, four times the size of Bryant Park, will also be the heart of a New Downtown. It will be a shaded park for office workers to grab a sandwich; a place for a couple to meet in the early evening before a date; or, a shortcut on a rainy day. It will be New York. The Port Authority’s investments will yield the magnificent Calatrava Transportation Hub, which will redefine the commuter experience, connecting 13 subway lines, 33 bus routes, the PATH system and our Ferry Terminal – the most mass transit connections anywhere in New York City. With our new partners from Westfield, this new site will house world-class retail and restaurants throughout nearly 500,000 square feet in total. With more retail space than the Time Warner Center, this – together with a collection of new public parks – will make Downtown the 24/7 community that Mayor Bloomberg, Shelly Silver and the community have long envisioned. And finally, with One World Trade Center, New York will have a new exclamation point in the sky. One World Trade Center will be Downtown’s counterpoint to the Empire State Building in Midtown, restoring that balance to the skyline. New Yorkers take pride in their skyscrapers, and as the building reaches its towering apex, it will become a vital part of daily life in this City. The site will be open, it will be democratic, it will be a clear demonstration of the City’s energy and vitality. It will be the New Downtown. Monumentalism at the World Trade Center But this reality was not always a foregone conclusion. For many years after the attacks, the World Trade Center site was bogged down by what I call “monumentalism.” The tension between the visions of monumentalism and the recurring reality of failure, of visions and plans unrealized, is not unique to the World Trade Center. It has been present throughout the City’s history. Think of the colossal vision for a huge East Side development for the United Nations – what was then dubbed “X-City” – a plan to build six skyscrapers, three housing complexes, one hotel, an opera hall, a yacht landing and a heliport. That monumental vision was ultimately reduced to the more practical size we see today. Even the original plan for the World Trade Center was not the 16-acre site on the west side, but a huge low-slung complex taking up most of the East Side highway. But think also of those visions that were realized. That today define New York. I think it is fair to say that Olmstead’s monumental vision for Central Park defines New York perhaps more than any other project. But what would New York City’s urbanism be without Rockefeller Center? Think about the transformation still underway at Battery Park City. So we have seen monumentalism succeed triumphantly and we have seen it fail spectacularly. Through the early years, the World Trade Center straddled this divide between success and failure. Think of the early days after the attack, the City itself launched into a collective exercise to fill the void. Seeking the visions of world-class architects, eight plans were put forth. Some so out of context, in terms of shape or form, they went well beyond reimagining the City. Think about how Downtown was described at the time, the very language that was used to describe the vision. There was the rhetoric of patriotism, of national pride, of sending a message – that New York must be number one again. Leaders and elected officials spoke time and again of the monumental need to build a new downtown. And so, in 2003, the Libeskind Master Plan was adopted. Soaring glass towers, glinting sunlight, gardens in the sky, sunken highways, and a vast memorial space. But soon that plan was replaced with another vision, as the realities of the site, the market, and what it might actually look like began to set in. I would argue that what filled out that Master Plan became even more monumental, as the City poured its whole civic heart into the site. And so came the tallest skyscraper in America, 10 million square feet of office space, a museum and memorial of such breadth and power, a new street grid, the third-largest transportation hub in the city, and a performing arts center. It was all to be there, on sixteen acres, linked together in one monumental project. And it was all to rise at once. Breaking Away From Monumentalism [PS! You know who you are!] By time I became Executive Director, the monumentalism of the World Trade Center Site Plan – the tension between its soaring vision and the realities of construction – had reached a breaking point. At that point, what we had was a beautiful set of renderings, but very few blueprints. So the Port Authority undertook a comprehensive assessment of the World Trade Center project. [PS! Some might say The Assessment was May 2006 when Guv Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg brought in Frank Sciame to figure out how to keep Memorial in line with promised $500 million budget.] As we undertook the Assessment, there was a desire in some corners to reverse the trajectory of the seven years since 9/11, to wipe the slate clean and start again. But, as we quickly realized, there was no rewind button to undo the billions of dollars already committed. What we could do, however, was level with the public about the circumstances on the ground and be forthright about cost, schedule and risks. We were candid about the difficult challenges facing the site. Then we went out began attacking each one. Before the Assessment, the 9/11 Memorial was not scheduled to open until 2013. This was simply unacceptable. But by setting a clear priority – to actually open on the ten year anniversary – the Port Authority engineers did what engineers do best. They solved the problem, seeing a whole new way to approach the job. Instead of building the Transportation Hub from the bottom up, we switched the design to build it from the top down. This way, the Hub’s roof, which doubles as the Memorial Plaza’s floor, would be finished in time for the ten-year anniversary. From there, we re-engineered the Transportation Hub itself, simplifying the beautiful, yet extraordinarily complex Calatrava design [P.S.! Still costs over $3.2 billion dollars]. And we completely restructured our procurement process – the way we buy and implement the billions of dollars of construction contracts – going from a huge single package of work with no real milestones and little accountability to multiple smaller packages that we competitively bid to a hungry market. It is amazing what a little competition can do. I often compare the site to an enormous game of pickup sticks, where you can’t change anything without affecting the entire site. Over the past years, the Port Authority and our partners – the 9/11 Memorial Foundation, Silverstein Properties and the hundreds of contractors on site – have gotten very good at playing pickup sticks. I want to personally thank Joe Daniels and Larry Silverstein for their partnership in getting us to this point. It has truly been a team effort. Aside from the creative engineering solutions we implemented, we also made other, more symbolic decisions to reposition the site. Perhaps no other action speaks to this more than our renaming the Freedom Tower to One World Trade Center. The name Freedom Tower loomed over the site, carrying all the symbolism and monumentalism of those early years after the attack. From a real estate perspective, it loaded the site with a difficult image that experts said would make it hard to lease. So we replaced the name “Freedom Tower” and the building’s address, “One World Trade Center.” We were free before 9/11, and we are free today. Just like we had to start treating the World Trade Center site like a construction project, we had to start treating this building like a commercial office building. Making Progress at the World Trade Center Site On the heels of these important decisions, the Port Authority began to make striking progress at the World Trade Center. In 2008, the site was still defined by the family ramp down to the pit. Today, progress at the World Trade Center is advancing on every inch of the site, and you can see and feel the difference. At the Memorial, workers are putting the final touches on the plaza. 225 trees are planted. Grass has gone in and we are getting ready to welcome the world on September 11th. When we published the Assessment in October 2008, our schedule anticipated the completion of the Memorial’s Visitors Center by the second quarter of 2013. As you can see, we are well ahead of schedule. The Visitors Center, which will serve as the entrance to the 9/11 Museum, is nearly complete. At One World Trade Center, we are now at the 80th floor. One World Trade Center is now the tallest building in Lower Manhattan at more than 960 feet above street level, surpassing 40 Wall Street. Floor slabs for One World Trade Center are at the 71st floor and the glass curtain wall is up to the 52nd floor. We are accelerating work on the World Trade Center Transportation Hub's concourse area in the East Bathtub and have made tremendous progress in the Main Hall. Larry Silverstein’s Tower 4 is rising rapidly in the southeast corner of the site, and the curtain wall provides a beautiful reflection of the Memorial’s South Fountain. And all this work is being performed by 3,500 construction workers. At a time when unemployment in this country is at unacceptable levels, the World Trade Center is truly a job creation engine in the region. So we are finally seeing tangible progress. This progress is happening in part because we learned the lessons from the difficulties of the early years – that it is better to focus less on the monumentalism of a project and more on hard and fast decisions like pragmatic design, construction milestones and budgets. The Evolution and Deterioration of the Social Contract But having spoken of this bright future for Downtown, I must share that I do not have the same optimism for both the City and the Country going forward. Like the World Trade Center, we can reverse course, but it will require a major correction in how we talk about infrastructure and how people come to understand their role in shaping this new agenda. Change we must. At times, I worry that America’s dewy eyed nostalgia can blur our real history, but think back to that incredible time of building in America – the Progressive Era. Emerging out of the good government movement – which swept out corruption and the power of political machines – we launched a revolution in infrastructure. It is no coincidence that the New York Subway System, Water Tunnel Number One and Grand Central, the hallmarks of a modern New York, were all opened at that time. It was the Progressive Era because we wanted change; the Nation and City understood its future lay ahead, not in some fixed idealized political past. And, out of this Era, a social contract was formed, establishing an American pragmatism – a center – that said we will endorse a government that, in fact, builds that better world. For the decades that followed, this country continued to build great works of public infrastructure. But that center is quickly vanishing. Across the country and in this region, we have seen both leaders and voters reject that vision. For all his vaunted optimism after the Carter years, Reagan also launched a darker strain in American politics, that somehow government itself is the problem, and that you can always do more with less. No doubt, that strain ran through Gingrich’s Contract With America, Grover Norquist’s No Tax Pledge, and to the Tea Party of today. But the left is not without its responsibility; too often, we have seen rigid opposition to social and private sector market innovation. Today, we are truly seeing the consequences of that slow deterioration of that social contract. The recent debt ceiling debate in Washington is the most depressing reminder. Without action, 90 years of infrastructure investment will be left without a future. But I believe, in a small way, The World Trade Center Project provides somewhat of a model for how we might restore that pragmatic center. In turning the site from a monument into a construction project, setting realistic budgets and deadlines, we were candid and transparent about how much it would cost and when it would be completed. For the public’s support and endorsement, that must be the foundation of all large-scale projects moving forward. Whether it was the early years of the Trade Center, or more dramatically, the Big Dig in Boston, the public has grown increasingly cynical of what we do. But shaped by a different narrative, not one simply characterized by boondoggles for what was obvious cost underestimating, the Big Dig was a huge success for Boston. Think of it: Two Major Tunnels, a brand new bridge, a beautiful park built over the highway, all of it linking Boston back to its historic waterfront. I would say they got their monies worth; what they did not get was realistic schedules and budgets. That is government’s responsibility. Restoring the Pragmatic Center But the public and each one of you have a responsibility as well. We all need to be a part of restoring that pragmatic center and changing the political conversation. The Port Authority recently sought to significantly raise its tolls and fares, and inserted itself into that conversation. In an instant, we became subsumed in the political environment I have been describing – one with little capacity to support the investment our region’s economic backbone so desperately needs. By the end of it, we emerged with a ten-year capital plan that in some ways is all too modest – one that keeps our transportation network in a state of good repair to be sure, but not one that expands it in any transformative way. That agenda was unthinkable in this environment. But what have we lost when the standard is not whether you can get to your job efficiently, fly around the world, ship billions of tons of cargo, or even build a brand new City downtown? No, it has become the price of a pair of blue jeans, the cost of a new TV. Surely, this cannot be the standard by which we judge or govern a great City. Unfortunately, you cannot always do more with less. Sometimes you must simply do more. And until that reality becomes part of our political conversation, we will be playing catch up with the rest of the world. Change we can. But change has to come from both government and its people. I have known many of you for years. I know what you stand for. What is important to you. You are the pragmatic center. I believe we can build the next generation of critical infrastructure projects, and I believe we can restore that social contract. But we need your help to get there. Conclusion At the World Trade Center today, we have proven that by restoring the public’s confidence, we can build big. By focusing on the decisions that really count, by putting aside monumentalism, we are ready to open the Memorial in 12 days, a goal that seemed unthinkable three years ago. But we are not just building a Memorial, we are delivering a vibrant city within a city – a sprawling Transportation Hub, the tallest skyscraper in North America, and the critical infrastructure to support it all. And while it is the Port Authority’s job to translate the site’s monumental vision into concrete, steel and glass, the World Trade Center will not be what a politician or a cultural leader tells you it should be. It will be what you make it. It will be your Downtown. Thank you.
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9/11 Memorial Plaza: How It Works
A decade after the 9/11 attacks, the public will soon be able to visit the site, much of which has been fully transformed into the 9/11 Memorial Plaza. While many were dispirited by the years of revisions to and deviations from the Libeskind master plan (which itself had many detractors), AN's recent visit to the plaza, crowded with workers laboring toward the anniversary opening, revealed a vast, contemplative space that we predict will function well as both a memorial and a public space. Next week AN will take a look at the design and offer a preview of the what the public can expect from the space, but, first, a look at how the highly engineered plaza works. With transit tunnels, mechanical systems, and much of the memorial museum located below the surface, the plaza itself could only be approximately six feet thick. Unlike the original World Trade Center Plaza, which many found to be barren and scorching or windswept, the Memorial Plaza is conceived of as an abstracted forest of Swamp White Oaks surrounding two monumental pools outlining the footprints of the original towers. Designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker Partners, with Aedas, the plaza will include approximately 400 trees, 215 of which will be in place for the opening. About one third of the plaza has yet to be constructed, while the Santiago Calatrava designed PATH station is being completed. Plaza plantings are arranged in bands, alternating between bands of pavers and bands of trees, grass, and ground cover. This creates both a unifying visual language for the large plaza and a highly rational system for organizing the mechanical and irrigation systems on the site. Between the planting bands, accessible utility corridors house electrical and security equipment. Drainage troughs divide the planting bands from the utility corridors. The whole plaza acts as a vast stormwater collection tray. The plaza is very carefully graded to channel stormwater into the drainage troughs. Rainwater is collected in cisterns below and recirculated in the plaza's drip irrigation system as well as funnelled into the memorial fountain. The trees grow in a lightweight mixture of sand, shale, and worm casings. Growing and installing the plaza's oaks has been a long process. Given the pace of slow construction, the trees, which have been cultivated at a nursery in New Jersey, are much larger now, most standing around 25 feet tall. Trees were hauled onto the site with cranes and then placed in the planting beds with a specially designed lift. Tree roots will spread laterally, filling in the planting bands, and designers believe they will eventually reach 60 to 80 feet in height. The roots are anchored with bracing under the stone pavers. While the PATH station is being completed, the remaining unfinished plaza is still an uncovered construction site, inaccessible to the public. According to Matthew Donham, a partner at Peter Walker, the construction of that portion of the plaza will be even thinner in depth. Aside from an expansion joint, there will be no visible difference between the two sides.
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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.
[+ Click to enlarge.]
 

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.
[+ Click to enlarge.]
 
  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.