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In late October, the MTA announced it would lease 70,000 square feet of retail at the $1.4 billion Fulton Street Transit Center to a single operator who will manage and rent out the space. With the announcement, downtown Manhattan’s vast multi-grade retail landscape comes further into focus. After the MTA makes their firm selection, three major shopping centers will be connected via underground transit hubs and pedestrian passageways. The Westfield Group is in the midst of planning 365,000 square feet of World Trade Center (WTC) retail, and Brookfield is revamping 200,000 square feet at the World Financial Center. On completion, commuters will be able to shop and eat indoors all the way from Broadway to the Hudson River. A grand total of 635,000 square feet does not include 90,000 planned for the pending Two World Trade.
At Fulton, the MTA, in a departure from |its landlord role at Grand Central, will focus on running trains, not curating vendors. The main building, designed by Grimshaw Architects with Arup, employs a multifaceted circular glass atrium within a glass cubed-shaped curtain wall. At street side, market cafes will wrap around the atrium, dubbed the oculus, and retail will take up the interior walls. The second level is intended for destination restaurants, while the third floor awaits an anchor tenant. More retail can be found below at concourse and platform levels. The underground Dey Street passageway, devoid of retail, will take commuters toward the Calatrava-designed WTC Transportation Hub.
With much of the focus on the oculus, the project’s incorporation of the 1888 Francis Kimball-designed Corbin Building next door tends to be overlooked. MTA renderings show a restored 19th century clubby interior revived as a destination restaurant.
Westfield will be responsible for all retail at the World Trade Center. The company expects to finalize their agreement with the Port Authority next month and will spend more than $612 million on the retail environment, which will run over many levels at the WTC Transportation Hub, connecting concourses through to Three and Four World Trade. At Three and Four, the stores will meet the street and continue above grade. Retail intended for Two World Trade awaits financing for the tower as a whole. From the Hub, commuters can shop in concourses that lead to the World Financial Center, where Brookfield then takes up the baton.
Brookfield’s $250 million renovation of Cesar Pelli’s late 1980s World Financial Center ensemble includes preserving the Grand Staircase and balcony overlooking the World Trade site. Both are contained in a pavilion that juts out east toward West Street. The prime spot beneath the staircase is expected to be leased by a fashion or luxury tenant. Overlooking the Hudson, Brookfield plans a “locavores marketplace” featuring locally grown produce. Here, pedestrians may finally be enticed to come up for air and take a café seat overlooking the Hudson—outdoors!
This much we know: On October 20, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey confirmed Patrick J. Foye on Governor Cuomo’s recommendation to be the new executive director of the bi-state agency overseeing a 2011 budget of $7.2 billion with $3.9 billion in capital spending. We also know that Foye is a Skadden Arps (“recovering” in his own words) lawyer with Long Island Republican roots who spent less than 15 months as the downstate chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation under Eliot Spitzer and more recently was Cuomo’s deputy secretary for economic development.
We also realize that out-going PA executive director Chris Ward, who two months ago was the hero-du-jour for getting stalled projects at the World Trade Center up and building smoothly enough to pull off the 9/11 decennial, is currently serving as an all-round scapegoat for the cost overruns associated with that achievement. An audit begun on September 30 promises to thoroughly finish the job of tarnishing his legacy.
That the Port Authority is an unwieldy bureaucratic behemoth should come as little surprise; it manages the ports for two states, five airports, two tunnels, four bridges, a commuter railroad, a small police force, and a major planning agency. Established by Congress in 1921, the PA was a fiscal sinkhole until 1931 when it took over the Holland Tunnel. Even Robert Moses considered it an intimidating adversary of labyrinthine complexity and impenetrable means.
A recent opinion piece in the New York Post written by former PA executive director (1995–1997) George J. Marlin described an agency of career turf-fighting bureaucrats admitting little accountability to directors who come and go (on average at a 2.5 year clip) eager to get capital construction projects going before they have been appropriately planned because “once construction starts it’s almost impossible to stop.” Bluntly, Marlin also wrote: “PA employees are political animals who view the executive director and the governors they serve as meddling interlopers, and will fight to the death to protect their power, perks and pensions.” (Pensions apparently include lifetime guarantees of annual salaries ranging from $125,000 to $196,000.)
Knowing this casts a pall on Cuomo’s latest suggestion that the murky Port Authority amass even more responsibility by taking charge of the Moynihan Station Development and the LMDC. And while it’s good news that Cuomo is trying to redirect attention to the no-brainer but somehow long-idling Moynihan Station, it seems too early to think of LMDC as winding down, as Senator Charles Schumer put it in commending the consolidation. With a majority of the site still incomplete and unrealized—the board of the mega-performance center by Frank Gehry won’t even be announced until the end of the year, there’s miles to go before either State or City can let up their guard. In fact, even as I write, Bloomberg’s people and the Governor’s people are wrangling over who’s going to pay for all the security at the site; the City said it always assumed the PA had the money.
Foye is known to be a bit of a number cruncher and, according to a press release from the agency’s chairman of commissioners, his job will be to “re-prioritize future construction to limit money-losing projects and identify new revenue sources besides the region’s residents and businesses.” At the same time, Cuomo calls the PA: “a major economic engine that plans for the region and attracts business on an international scale.”
So let’s get this straight. The mandate is to keep costs in check at the same time as making a splash? Sounds like Foye has his work cut out for him. Then again, there’s always the $3.4 billion-and-counting transportation hub by Calatrava. Renting it out for wedding receptions could be just the ticket to having it both ways.
Obama’s jobs speech was music to the ears, but for architects the music is still playing in another room.
Perhaps you sat up at the president’s call for a “world class transportation system” competitive with China’s, and salivated at the prospect of “modernizing” 35,000 schools (although Obama quickly established the modest scale of renovation at fixing roofs and caulking windows and “installing science labs”.) Rebuilding schools still comes closer to design work than filling potholes. It was slightly dispiriting to hear Obama quickly—in the next breathe, actually—go from talk of re-establishing our status as an “economic superpower” through rebuilding to citing a trucking bridge in Ohio in need of a fix. (Sounds like the powerful U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lobby is still calling the shots.)
Obama did not once utter the word “infrastructure” in his speech although some tealeaf readers found implied support for the Infrastructure Bank that architects once thought was going to be the ticket to the kind of ambitious capital investments in which they long to participate—housing, courthouses, libraries, and multi-modal transportation hubs. Many more architects seemed resigned to the fact that the second stimulus, like the first, is going to pass architects by, because the work of making architecture—that’s vertical construction in job-friendly speak—with all the advance prep work from site analysis to public review, takes too long at a time when the economy needs immediate help.
But could it also be that the president believes the American public is wary of Grand Projects, and therefore of capital-A architecture? Two New York projects could easily fuel that impression: One is “New York by Gehry.”
The problem is not that Frank Gehry’s shimmery supertower doesn’t add some glamorous swag to the skyline: it most certainly does. The sorry part is the awful brick box that Gehry designed for the public school at the base. For the rental tower, he was working with $875 million. Surely he could have insisted on spreading some of the joy to the public school. He had the chance to show the world that superstar though he be, he can still do the amazing with a small budget. As it happened, Swanke Hayden Connell did their best with $65 million to fit out more than decent interiors for which they are getting zero credit. At the first day of school, it was Bloomberg and Gehry welcoming the kids. In other words, it was the usual architecture as marketing.
More worrisome still is the World Trade Center transit hub by Santiago Calatrava. If Obama never said infrastructure, he did say transportation, several times. Now under construction, most would agree that Calatrava’s hub will be world class, some ten long years after breaking ground. But as far as stimulus, this winged white elephant is an egregious overproduction. And as soon as the political group hug—also known as the tenth anniversary of 9/11—is a few weeks behind us, someone is going to start wondering why this station serving 80,000 PATH commuters—originally budgeted for $1.9 billion with expected completion by 2006—is now costing $3.44 billion (the memorial and museum cost $925 million). Charles Bagli of The New York Times—the first canary in the coal mine?—notes that Penn Station serves seven times as many people. There is a real danger of this project becoming a Red Letter A for architectural extravagance, and precisely the kind of fancy work that the country cannot afford. And that’s a real pity because the disappointing Spruce Street School cereal box and the bloated transit-osaur do not represent the highly engaged and smart long-term planning that most architects we write about today are working towards. I wish Obama had had some words of encouragement for the important work they are already doing, stimulus or not.
The eloquence of the void at Ground Zero will never be surpassed. Walking past the site almost every day, I am always moved by its immense formal authority and grandeur, its presence. Its scale and proportion are not unfamiliar: Times Square, the Zocalo in Mexico City, Red Square, the great plaza of Isfahan are in the same family of spaces, profound settings for public assembly and crucial city symbols. I imagine Ground Zero transformed into such a space of gathering, something between a plaza and a park, a permanent memorial to an event that was so terribly public.
To build such a place requires both an excellent design for the square itself and careful attention to its perimeter, the solid edges that enclose it. The basic envelope is fundamentally sound and includes many superb and historic structures, such as the Barclay-Vesey building, St. Paul’s Chapel, and the beautiful post office. Many opportunities to further shape this envelope also exist, particularly to the south where virtually the entire edge might be reconstructed. There are also sites both east and west that—rebuilt—could dramatically reinforce the sense of place. These sites would be logical for cultural institutions, commercial space, and housing.
Although there were many who immediately called for the dedication of this entire place to public use and public commemoration, this option was quickly removed from consideration as “impractical.” The Lower Manhattan Development (not memorial) Corporation decided early on that the only “vision” they would support was one that replaced all of the commercial space lost on September 11 on the site itself. The LMDC has been remarkably adroit in stifling any other suggestion and has been equally canny in their use of architecture to obscure the fundamental exclusion of the public from a meaningful role in decision-making.
When the public responded with outrage to the series of diagrammatic solutions to the site design offered two summers ago, the LMDC feigned responsiveness by staging a “competition”—whose winner was selected by administrative fiat—in which a number of architects proposed designs for exactly the same program. None had the courage to suggest that massive amounts of office and shopping space might not be the only possibility. With their fawning connivance, the public was distracted from a discussion of fundamentals and invited instead to debate the finer points of architectural style, which version of 12 million square feet of commercial space it preferred. Now, even the winner of the competition enjoys the indignity of seeing his ideas winnowed away by the growing committee of high-style designers hired by Larry Silverstein, who uncritically seek to bolster their reputations and bank accounts on the site.
Why build skyscrapers here? The main argument is commercial—pulling Silverstein’s and the Port Authority’s chestnuts out of the fire—but this flies in the face both of a lack of demand (vacancies are high all over town) and of many alternative sites for such buildings. There is, of course, also an argument that the restoration of what was there is the appropriate riposte to terror. This has unfortunately yielded the stupid machismo of yet another “world’s tallest building”—a title the Trade Center held only briefly, an equally likely result for any successor. This is simply too preening a response, without gravity, without respect. Finally, it’s argued that skyscrapers are the preeminent symbol of New York. Certainly they are the highest architectural achievement of our commercial life. However, I believe that Central Park is the greatest symbol—and the greatest repository—of our public culture.
The last act of the LMDC’s roughshod arrogation of downtown’s future has been the memorial competition—its finalists just announced—which attracted over 5,000 entries, a clear indication of the pent-up desire for participation. This competition, however, can never substitute for what should have happened, an open competition for ideas at the beginning of the process, throwing it wide open for invention and debate and allowing the memorial to function as the driver. The LMDC has instead waited until the very end and offered competitors a site that is luridly constrained. Submerged below grade, hemmed by the glass-covered slurry-wall and a gigantic waterfall, over-hung by cantilevered cultural institutions, surrounded by Daniel Libeskind’s elaborate and banal iconographic program, and lying beneath the looming bulk of the world’s tallest building, the memorial—whatever it turns out to be—will suffer the consequences of being an afterthought, an appendage to the big plans of the LMDC, the Port Authority, and Larry Silverstein.
But this need not be. Let the winner of the memorial competition—the only open competition held so far—build his or her winning entry in a great space of public assembly, not in the midst of a clutch of slick office towers. Let those who are so eager to build do so on the perimeter of the site, or in Midtown South, or in Queens or Brooklyn or the Bronx. Let us have a wonderful hub of transportation—the means of bringing people together—under and near Ground Zero. Let cultural institutions gather around the site, as they do around Central Park. But stop the demeaning arrogance of business-as-usual and the construction of an architectural zoo on this hallowed ground.
Can we pay for this? We must. It is time for the federal government to step in: No less than Gettysburg or Pearl Harbor, this is the site of a national trauma and, whatever its ownership, a place that “belongs” to us all. To be sure, the price tag would be several billion dollars but we are about to spend $87 billion reconstructing Iraq, to make that country whole after the devastations of tyranny and war. Surely, we can afford to make Ground Zero a place of peaceable assembly for everyone. Indeed, if terror demands a civic reply, what better than a solemn memorial to those lost and a space for the most fundamental exercise of democracy in space, the freedom to gather in a place that is our own.
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An abstract vision of the site's future is also a high-tech marketing display.As work at the World Trade Center site progresses steadily, a matryoshka-like replica of it has taken shape on the 10th floor of 7 World Trade. With a view of the construction below, the Silverstein Properties marketing suite occupies the same floor as the WTC architects’ annex offices, providing a tableau of the working architects as well as the completed site to prospective tenants of towers Two, Three, and Four. Scaled architecture studio Radii Inc. have been designing models of the site since its earliest phases, so Silverstein’s senior VP of marketing and communications approached Radii partners Ed Wood and Leszek Stefanski with his conceptual ideas for the diorama. “He wanted it to be big,” said Wood. “Our first questions was, ‘What are the ceiling heights?’” With 14-foot ceilings and 25 square feet of floor space, the team mapped out a footprint of Lower Manhattan from Chambers to Albany streets on the north and south and from Hudson to just past City Hall from west to east. Radii then began to experiment with varying levels of details and abstraction for the WTC buildings. “When you abstract a building, it can be as challenging as making it photo-real,” said Wood. “How do you distill it down to an iconic replica but still have it read as a whole?” They decided to render the models in ⅜-inch cast acrylic with a P-95 finish, a factory matte that lends a frosted appearance to the crystalline forms. More than 60 sheets of 4-by-8-foot acrylic went into the full model. Fenestration is laser-scored on the exterior, and interiors contain ghosts of interior floor plates and cores. Only details that point to the essence of each design are included: Roger’s structural ladder accentuates its verticality, while Calatrava’s transportation hub is distilled into a bony spine and Snøhetta’s visitors center into a gestural representation of the building’s gradated skin. Towers are lit with interior columns wired with rows of LEDs, a concept developed, along with a backlit transparency of the street grid and subway lines, in collaboration with an exhibit electronics technician. Each LED color identifies separate leasing zones, allowing marketing presentations to control the display via iPad. Even with a two-month design process and thousands of parts to be pre-assembled, labeled, disassembled, wrapped, and transported to the marketing suite, the entire installation took place over a long weekend, in time for a post-Memorial Day opening. Ultimately, though, Wood said the biggest challenge was making sure his team had the latest information about the ever-changing World Trade Center site and building designs. As a result, Radii became a sort of clearinghouse for the latest details, often fielding calls seeking the most privileged information. “We even get calls asking how many trees are on the site,” said Wood. “There are 463. And they will grow to 60 feet when they are mature.”
Buzz and hype have surrounded China’s recent building boom, but to the east, South Korea is becoming the next hot spot for international architecture.
Far from deferring to China’s hectic development, South Korea is positioning itself to be the East Asian country that grows not only faster but also smarter. In 2010, Engineering News Record ranked Seoul as home to six of the 75 top international contractors—a significant number for a nation so small. The juxtaposition of major construction corporations side-by-side with government support and a growing national interest in architectural design is producing opportunities inevitably attractive to international players.
From big corporate firms from the United States to young, internationally-trained Koreans, architects are capitalizing on opportunities in the East Asian nation and particularly Seoul as it rises to compete with China and assert itself as a business hub for northeastern Asia.
After generations of political turmoil, South Korea can now guarantee a degree of economic stability. As a result and on a grand scale, Korean companies that went abroad to build some of the tallest buildings around the world (Samsung led construction on the Burj Khalifa) are now looking to field monuments on their own native soil. Even at the grass-roots level, there is a growing interest in avant-garde architecture and design—home-brewed as well as imported—providing opportunities for small firms and young designers to have an impact on the street by designing art galleries and small homes.
Off the coast of South Korea and not far from Seoul, Songdo represents a new kind of large-scale planned city. A joint venture between Cisco Systems, Gale International, and the New York City office of Kohn Pederson Fox, New Songdo City could be the prototypical aerotropolis—a city defined as much by its proximity to an airport as by its livability—as described by authors John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay in their new book Aerotropolis: How We’ll Live Next.
Since 2001, when Gale International signed a $35 billion dollar loan from Korean banks to develop a city right by Incheon International Airport, Songdo has grown rapidly on landfill in the Yellow Sea. Today, it’s home to the tallest building in the country —KPF’s 68-story Northeast Asia Trade Tower—and it’s still growing. Construction on KPF’s masterplan will be completed in 2015. Fitting to the city’s mission to attract foreign business, its architecture includes work by multiple American firms: KPF’s own nine buildings in the central business district include a convention center and an international school, and there are also six residential towers and a hotel by HOK.
Songdo is intrinsic to the South Korean government’s vision of the future, according to Richard Nemeth, a KPF principal: “[They] realized that to compete with China, they needed a platform to work internationally. [Songdo] is connected to the new airport, one of the busiest in the world.”
If its proximity to an international airport gives Songdo the futuristic moniker “aerotropolis,” its vast scale represents a first in international sustainability. Under the USGBC’s LEED for Neighborhood Development Pilot Program (KPF engaged with USGBC to certify the masterplan and develop a new LEED category), Songdo boasts a central non-potable water canal, electric vehicle charging stations, and a city-scale co-generation plant—elements that operate on a larger scale than traditional single-building LEED certification. The city also takes some of its literally green inspiration from American roots: a large public park in the middle of Songdo is named Central Park. The city also attempts to offset the effects of massive new construction by recycling 75% of construction waste and using local materials to minimize transportation costs.
Elsewhere on the western edge of Seoul and in the coastal city of Busan, another American firm is hard at work: Skidmore, Owings and Merrill is constructing what will be two of the tallest buildings in Asia. To be completed in 2013, the Busan Lotte Tower will stand 126 stories high and the Seoul Digital Media City Landmark Tower—renamed Seoul Light Tower—will rise over the capital at 133 stories as the tallest building in East Asia when completed. While the two high-rises began differently—the developer Lotte Group directly offered SOM the Busan tower, while the Seoul Light Tower was won in an international competition (with Gensler plus the local Samwoo Architects on the team)—both towers respond to the demand from public and private sectors in Korea for skyscrapers to represent a new Korean identity.
“We have seen a larger demand for super high-rise buildings out of Korea than from most other countries,” said Mustafa Abadan, an SOM design partner. “This has been driven by the fact that Korean contractors have been involved in the construction in the world’s tallest buildings. Part of this desire to build a homegrown super-tall tower is for the contractors to establish themselves as the contractors who will be building the super-tall buildings of the future.” Several such towers from Korea will be featured in the upcoming exhibition “Supertall!” this July at the Skyscraper Museum.
Busan, like Seoul, is becoming the launching pad for something of a skyscraper arms-race: another New York City firm, Asymptote Architecture, was commissioned in 2007 to build the World Business Center Solomon Tower, a set of three jagged spires, now under construction, designed to culminate 131 feet higher than SOM’s Busan Lotte.
Because Seoul and Busan are mostly horizontal metropolises, sprawling laterally rather than vertically, permits for these high-rises were individually negotiated as anomalies to existing zoning laws. When issuing permits for such major projects, local Korean public authorities require that a certain amount of square footage be dedicated to public amenities. For example, KPF’s 110-story Hyundai Tower in Seoul will house a museum, an orchestra hall, and a cineplex. These policies exemplify a growing public demand for cultural centers and high-end public spaces.
Public interest in art and design is also creating opportunities for architects at smaller scales, including institutional and residential projects. The APAP Openschool, an art school built of eight bright yellow shipping containers, was recently completed by New York-based architects LOT-EK in the city of Anyang. Joel Sanders’ New York office in collaboration with the Korean firm Haeahn Architecture designed the Seongbuk Gate Hills, a complex of 12 private homes in Seoul’s chic Seongbuk-dong neighborhood. Also working in Seongbuk-dong is the Brooklyn-based firm SO-IL, whose design for the new Kukje Art Center is currently in construction.
Far from the corporate glitz of the super-tall towers, Sogyeok-dong is filling up with independent coffee shops, boutiques, and galleries that are a hub for young creative professionals. SO-IL’s “campus plan” for the Kukje Gallery infiltrates the low-rise neighborhood by occupying different sites within walking distance of one another. The main gallery is designed to house live performances and large-scale installations in the open-plan first floor.
Comparing Korea to Japan over a decade ago when architects from Aldo Rossi to Steven Holl were working there, SO-IL principal Florian Idenburg said, “I think the same thing is happening in Korea, there is a growing appreciation for design and also for being Korean.”
SO-IL has two Korean staff on the Kukje Gallery team, part of a growing trend wherein local designers who studied abroad then practice in Korea with local or international firms.
Jae K. Kim, the young founder of Counterdesign, recently completed his own first project in Seoul. Kim studied architectural engineering in Seoul before attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he currently studies. Kim’s approach to the Bikyoshoki House was born of his work experience at a local construction company and his education at MIT. “People [in Korea] are now starting to be interested in design itself,” said Kim. “Before, it was really profit-oriented. Now things are changing, and I’m not talking just about developers, I’m talking about people. They’re more interested in environments between architecture and people.”
The concrete and steel Bikyoshoki House defies both conventional traditional Korean and American housing typologies: it is a single-family dwelling in a place where most city-dwellers prefer high-rise condominiums, and its spatial organization is provocative. With angular concrete forms paired with glass railings and glazing, the design seems to herald a new Korean architectural identity free of overt historical iconography. While in the past few years, there were few opportunities for small firms to work on single-family residential projects—in the way young architects do in the States—such projects are becoming a common testing ground for young talent.
“There is a new trend in Seoul to have a house as primary residence,” said architect Francisco Sanin, chair of graduate programs at Syracuse University’s architecture school. “Before that, the trend was for apartment buildings, and an incredible number were built, but in more recent times there is a feeling that you can have a private house.”
Sanin is currently working on the construction of ten such private houses in Jisan Waldhaus, a townhouse development of 50 houses built by five architects, all Koreans apart from Sanin. The homes at Jisan Waldhaus—which uses contemporary materials like steel and cast concrete—show off the growing collaborative relationships between international and Korean architects resulting in a new modern suburban typology.
“I think there is a new sense of critical and intellectual discussion about what is best for Korea,” said Sanin, adding that there is increasing confidence, especially among architects, in engaging with their own history objectively and creatively.
Brant Coletta, an SOM managing director working on the Seoul Light Tower, noted that rather than building a Korean cultural identity drawn from well known historical icons or philosophy, there is a desire to look forward and build toward a vision of what Korea could be in the future. And that, not surprisingly, is of considerable interest to architects both inside and beyond South East Asia.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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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.”
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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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