The park slipped on top of the World Trade Center Vehicular Security Center is a rare thing within the World Trade Center campus. Up until now, traversing the WTC site has presented the hapless wanderer with despair. To discover an east-west passage meant confronting an interminable and illegible security and construction barrier. Liberty Park is both an unexpected place for rest and relaxation and a visually appealing pedestrian corridor. Its infrastructure-as-park fascination is reminiscent of the High Line and its formalistic planter-and-seating shards recall Zaha Hadid’s cosmopolitan futurism.
Clearly marked stairs step up the screening building and connect to a bridge across the West Side highway to the Hudson River. Along the way, the passageway folds out into a rooftop park, punctuated with stylized white concrete planters and benches that plunge out into sharp points and a long terrace that overlooks the entire campus. Its graded pathway makes the building feel like a gently sloping hillside.
It may be the mercifully limited programming and lack of overdetermined symbolism that give it the promise of urbanism—its resonance will come from being inhabited and iterated over time. What Liberty Park provides are two qualities that the reborn World Trade Center lacks: A sense of place and a free passage for walking.
Designed by Gonzalo Cruz of AECOM’s landscape studio as a part of the WTC transportation infrastructure portfolio brought to the firm by Joe Brown during its merger with EDAW, the park itself is a legacy that dates all the way back to the original Daniel Libeskind masterplan. It was meant to buffer the memorial site and provide an open public space adjacent to Liberty Street. But as security measures intensified throughout the WTC site, the Vehicular Security Center got pushed to the edge, and the park ended up plopped on top of it. As the building elements shifted during its design, the park deformed to become a complex landscape, graded and situated to disguise the robust security apparatus below. The Port Authority covered its reported $50 million price tag.
The adjacent street, once imagined as a restoration of the street grid, will be permanently blocked by a guard booth and vehicle entry barriers, but at the street level, the truck-shipment screening facility is clad in a G-O2 Living Wall, covered by rows of periwinkle, sedge, and ivy.
It may be fitting that this odd park cropped on top of a security building achieves what’s missing from the intensely programmed whole. As a leftover space, the designers were unencumbered by the duties of solemn remembrance, architectural spectacle, real estate bravado, and tourism. It anticipates the day when the World Trade Center is reborn as a part of the city, which could be a greater honor than any designated monument.