Accessibility links

Working Plan for NY's 'Ground Zero' Site Approved

After months of high-stakes design competition and passionate public debate, a working plan has finally been approved for Ground Zero, the terrorist-scarred site in New York City where the World Trade Center towers once stood. The design chosen to replace the two-hectare World Trade Center complex is the brainchild of the renowned 56-year-old architect, Daniel Libeskind. While there is expected to be intense politicking before a final Ground Zero blueprint is achieved, a milestone has been reached in the process of rebuilding what may be the most closely watched pieces of real estates in modern American history.

Part of the debate over what to do with Ground Zero concerned what sort of buildings should replace the World Trade Center towers, if any. Some wanted buildings even taller than the towers had been, to spite the terrorists, perhaps. Others countered that super-tall towers might prove a tempting target for another attack, and would be difficult to evacuate in an emergency.

The winning design addresses both concerns. Its centerpiece is a spire-tipped tower soaring over 545 meters high. That would make it the tallest structure in the world, if it were built today. However, as New Yorker Magazine architecture critic Paul Goldberger explains, only the first 70 stories would serve as an office building. "The rest of it would just be a spire, and while there could be an observation deck or a restaurant at the top, it wouldn't be regularly inhabited space. It would be more like an Eiffel tower structure. I think an "Eiffel Tower for the 21st century"is a wonderful way to commemorate the skyline and to use the technology of our rime in a positive way," he says.

But there is much more to this design than the crystal spire. The plan also includes a September 11 museum and other, more commercial elements, all bearing the angular ultra-modern crystalline shape for which the architect, Daniel Libeskind, is famous. According to Mr. Goldberger, his plan would balance the Ground Zero site's now-iconic status with Lower Manhattan's vibrancy as a commercial center. "There are several office towers, there is a transportation center that would unify all the different subway lines and transit lines coming into the area, and there would also be a performing arts center and a cultural facility and stores and shopping," he says.

Most New Yorkers agreed that a rebuilt Ground Zero should include a memorial to those who died and a reaffirmation of democratic values. Architect Daniel Libeskind tries to do both with his winning plan. Raised in New York by Jewish parents who had survived the Nazi Holocaust, Mr. Libeskind's memorial design retains a so-called "slurry wall" from the foundation of the old World Trade Center. It will be part of one side of a vast sunken memorial pit about ten meters below ground level.

Mr. Libeskind explains how he arrived at this idea. "I was very moved when I walked around the site with millions of New Yorkers and trying to fathom and grasp what had happened on that site," he says. "And then, when I walked into the site itself, not only the indelible footprints of the towers were there, but something really amazing, which were the foundation walls, the so-called slurry walls, which are the foundation that protect that site from being flooded by the Hudson River. So they withstood that attack. So I wanted the public, the citizens, to be aware of where they are standing. It really is a sacred ground, a spiritual space."

Mr. Libeskind says the physical descent into the memorial pit will be an important part of experiencing what he calls Ground Zero's "sacred space." "It takes a long time. You go by ramp, it takes a while to get down there. And then when you get down 30 feet [about 10 meters] below, you see those foundation walls which still stand, you no longer hear the cars, you don't hear the traffic, you are in a space which will be developed as the Park of Memory with works of art, with all sort of possibilities. With even a great wall of light which will be bringing light into the transportation system which is down below the site," he says.

Although his plan has been officially endorsed, Mr. Libeskind recognizes that the vast array of competing commercial and political interests in the Ground Zero site make it anyone's guess what will actually get built on the site in the end. "And one has to remember that, at the end, it's not just about retail and office buildings and the stations and all the money that will be spent on the site. This site belongs to every single New Yorker," he says. "And every American! And every free person in the world who has a good heart also has the site in their heart."

Mr. Libeskind is comfortable with the fact that negotiation and compromise and even some conflict will be necessary at Ground Zero in order to reconcile what is in the heart and what is on the drawing board, and on the ground. For him, that is a quintessentially New York attitude. "And I think what makes a great democratic capital like New York a pluralistic city with heterogeneous interests is precisely that one has to navigate and reconcile all sorts of different aspects of the site and different stakeholders. I am sure that the design will undergo evolution," he says. "And it always gets better! I think a design a design that evolves is always better than a design that didn't evolve!"

That was architect Daniel Libeskind, whose plan for the rebuilding of the former World Trade Center site in New York was formally approved earlier this month.