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Future of Ground Zero Continues to Stir Controversy Among New Yorkers - 2003-09-04


Developers say a brand new World Trade Center complex is just a few years away, but many aspects of the planning are far from complete. Controversies abound over how to best memorialize the victims, how to revive the Lower Manhattan business district and how to design the series of structures that will replace the twin towers.

The agency overseeing the redevelopment of the site, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation - or LMDC says the first cornerstone of what will become the tallest building in the world will be laid down in just one year's time. The Freedom Tower, as it will be called, incorporates a spire that reaches 541 meters, or 1776 feet in the air, a number that represents the year the United States gained independence from Britain.

Architect Daniel Libeskind says he wants it to "restore the spiritual peak to the city."

"It is important to be in New York to realize the importance and the desire for height in New York," he explained. "The restoration of the skyline in New York is not an abstraction because the World Trade Center Towers were such an important icon. And more than an icon, an orientation device."

But developer Larry Silverstein, who owns the lease to the site, has employed a different architect to design the Freedom Tower. So despite Libeskind's plans, no one really knows what the tower will look like, and even its location has not been finalized.

Libeskind proposes a large green space where the Twin Towers once stood, a space that will be surrounded by several other buildings. In computer-generated designs, many of the buildings appear asymmetrical, with slanted roofs and sheer metallic exteriors.

Francis Morrone, an architectural historian who leads regular walking tours of the area around Ground Zero, says the futuristic look of the buildings has caused a stir in the architectural community.

"Several architecture firms were invited to participate," he said. "This was controversial because all the firms represented a particular kind of chi-chi [upscale] quote-unquote cutting edge design. Architects working in a variety of other styles, including traditional styles, were shut out of the competition process."

The centerpiece of the Libeskind design is a memorial honoring the nearly 3,000 people who died there on September 11,2001 and the six who were killed during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The design for the memorial will be chosen as part of a separate international competition, which is under way.

Under Libeskind's plans, the memorial area will encompass 18,000 square meters, including a below-ground area for the memorial itself, all while preserving the original footprints of the twin towers. Every year on September 11, one public space in the memorial area will receive uninterrupted sunlight between the times of 8:46 a.m., when the first tower was hit, and 10:28 a.m., when the second tower fell.

In addition to the memorial space, plans include 56,000 square meters of cultural centers, a museum and two major transportation hubs.

"The focus has been on creating a real functional site for Lower Manhattan," said Joanna Rose, a spokesperson for the LMDC. "There will be two new great transportation hubs. The aesthetics will have a real draw as well, just in terms of visitors to the site and to the area of Lower Manhattan. This is an integration of all those different issues and we think we have struck a really great balance with that."

The LMDC says it has opened itself to public input on many aspects of the rebuilding process, and officials say they have received over a million suggestions since the attacks occurred.

One of the most problematic issues to resolve is how to re-incorporate 930,000 square meters of office space into the plans. 1.2 million square meters were destroyed when the towers collapsed.

Some observers say that all that development is not necessary.

"If there were a dire shortage of office space in New York City, that would be one argument," argued Michael Sorkin, an architect and author who heads the Graduate Urban Design Program at the City College of New York. "But there isn't. In fact, it's the last thing we need," he continued. "I also have a philosophical difference with the triumphalist style in which the site is being rebuilt. The world's tallest this, the world's biggest that. This all seems inappropriate."

Mr. Sorkin would like to see the 65,000-square-meter site become a memorial park with no construction on it at all. He submitted a design proposal to the LMDC, but it was turned down.

Many New Yorkers who follow the rebuilding process are divided over what the future of the site should hold. Some New Yorkers, particularly family members of victims who were killed at the World Trade Center, want to see a significant memorial and less emphasis on creating a business hub there. Other New Yorkers, like Alice La Brie, want to see as little memorialization as possible.

"I don't want to remember or think about it," she said. "I just want to pretend it never happened."

While Ms. La Brie advocates more commercial building, Mr. Morrone tells those who take his Ground Zero tour that when developers and politicians say downtown needs to be revitalized, a bit of perspective is necessary.

"Downtown is dying today," she said. "Downtown was dying 10 years, 20 years ago. There has never been a time when downtown wasn't dying in New York and people haven't been concerned about shoring up downtown."

While New Yorkers continue to speak their minds about what the future should hold, as anyone who walks by the site can see, the work is moving fast. Construction workers are already laying the foundations for new underground trains. The LMDC projects that a new, ultramodern New York City skyline could be complete as early as 2006.

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