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New WTC Designs Unveiled

Yesterday, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation unveiled designs for the World Trade Center site by some of the world’s best-known and most innovative architects and designers. Seven teams comprising 34 architecture, urban design, landscape architecture, retail design, video arts and graphic design firms presented nine projects, which will be on view to the public between December 20 and February 2.

The designs expressed some consistency according to programmatic guidelines. In response to public requests to restore the skyline, for example, each design includes a skyscraper element, and each also preserves the footprints of the original World Trade Center. The designs restore 6.5 million to 10 million square feet of office space, hospitality uses and as much as 1 million square feet of retail, as well as a transportation hub building. In addition, each proposal presumes an upcoming an international memorial competition. LMDC board member Roland Betts commented, "The visions are similar because they religiously adhere to the guidelines we gave them, but here is where the similarities end—the visions are vastly different."

Different, indeed. And not so different, too.

Studio Daniel Libeskind’s plan for the World Trade Center site, called "Memory Foundations," centered around a memorial procession into the foundation footprints of the twin towers. "The great slurry walls are the most dramatic elements which survived the attack," Libeskind read from a statement, "an engineering wonder constructed on bedrock foundations and designed to hold back the Hudson River." From this "bathtub" space, 70 feet below grade, visitors can also catch glimpses of the adjacent transportation hub, which includes mezzanine and concourse levels for retail. An interpretative museum also looks out into the bathtub.

Above, Libeskind recommends building a "Gardens of the World" tower measuring 1,776 feet high. The garden symbolize life, according to Libeskind, and its vertical public spaces can be accessed from an adjoining commercial tower via skywalks.

Rather than skywalks, the design by Foster and Partners includes a pair of twin towers that "kiss" at three points where there public amenities will be located. By connecting the towers, occupants also have more escape options. In that same vein of security, the towers’ exterior is triangulated with an interior concrete core; "this project is based on the triangle, it is inherently immensely strong," Norman Foster said. Foster also proposed to reconnect Fulton and Greenwich Street. The building incorporates "green" design elements that "enable the towers to avoid energy-wasting air conditioning for up to 80% of the year," according to the team’s statement.

The so-called "dream team" of Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey and Steven Holl opted for a realizable scheme, although Eisenman recently proposed to several publications that de rigueur melting and shard-like forms were well suited to rebuilding the World Trade Center site. Eisenman today said, "All great monuments are remembered not for the architects, not for the hyperbole, not for the current forms, but for the sense of place it creates."

In this plan, five 1,111-foot-tall buildings lining two sides of the perimeter of the site are all connected via five skyways. The spaces between the buildings are to serve as entryways to the site. Within the space is what the team calls "Memorial Square." A retail concourse connects to an underground transportation center that Gwathmey called "a destination—it’s multi-use, it’s multi-functional, and it inspires a sense of place" while "fingers" extend outward from the site in order to create additional memorial sites. THINK introduced three proposals at today’s unveiling. The team includes architect Frederic Schwartz, who loudly advocated for West Street to be buried in order to better integrate Battery Park City with Lower Manhattan. The schemes for both the Sky Park and The Great Room reserve space for the world’s tallest skyscraper, measuring 2,100 feet tall in the latter case. THINK’s third proposal, for a World Cultural Center substitutes, highlights public functions housed in a two central, cylindrical towers, rather than private commercial space, which is relegated to mid-rise perimeter buildings that are constructed in response to market demand. West Street’s interment was not mentioned.

United Architects, as well as the team led by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) proposed a redesign that also built along the perimeter of the World Trade Center site. Each proposal includes unusual building forms; United Architects deemed its design a cathedral-like "veil" that protects the twin tower footprints. United Architects presenter Greg Lynn also stated that a 60th-floor connector and public space would serve as a "city in the sky." SOM’s Roger Duffy echoed that theme, saying that a vertical distribution of 16 acres of public functions and another 16 acres of public space would give back to the public realm.

LMDC in-house planners Peterson/Littenberg Architecture and Urban Design, uniquely positioned among the teams, also presented a scheme for redesigning the World Trade Center site. That plan was more focused on urban design, and recreated most of the street connections lost in the original construction of the World Trade Center, with streetfront retailing. Barbara Littenberg said that the new street connections would create 1.8 miles of it.

In opening the presentation, LMDC chairman John Whitehead said of the schemes, "not only are they for our time, but for all time." That doesn’t guarantee their implementation, however.

Today’s event was the culmination of an eight-week Innovative Design Study prompted by negative public response to the six master plans originally considered for the World Trade Center site; 407 submissions were entered. Because the process was deemed a "design study," however, neither the LMDC or the Port Authority are obliged to incorporate these new designs, or elements of them, into its Master Land Use Plan.

Moreover, because today’s exercise will influence only a master plan—which indicates the location and massing of infrastructure, buildings and other elements—rather than building design guidelines, the architectural forms unveiled today will not necessarily be considered for adoption either. The Master Land Use Plan will be issued for public comment on January 31.

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