Friday, July 19, 2002

The six design proposals for Ground Zero have been out since Tuesday, and the public reaction to them seems to be one of total disinterest. It doesn't help that all six concepts are essentially the same, with generic-looking office buildings on the east side of the site (where the smaller WTC buildings used to stand) and a large open plaza or park on the west side, including the "footprints" of the towers themselves. There's not much to recommend any one proposal over another, though I like No. 5 better than any of the others. It has a pair of towers among the office buildings, and the placement of the buildings, while impinging on the old towers' footprints, leads to speculation that it might be the most interesting to walk around. Of course, there are many unsolicited ideas out there as well. Jan Herman's The Juice turned me on to this outlandish concept yesterday. No one would ever build something like it today, but it's ideas like this that the current six options (which everyone was quick to say are just starting points and may change) are lacking.

I think that the WTC site cannot be left entirely open, as some have advocated. It's valuable real estate in one of the prime business districts in the world. So we need to rebuild something on the site. On the other hand, you can forget about rebuilding the WTC exactly as it was before. No one in the world would want to work on the upper floors, and no insurance company on the planet will insure buildings that tall here. And I don't think it's "letting the terrorists win" to build something different. "Letting them win" would have been the case if we had not pursued Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. But I'm getting off topic.

I think that the WTC site needs a mix of office, commercial and cultural space, along with a significant memorial. Designers shouldn't be concerned with building something on the footprints of the old towers, either. Whatever is designed should allow for traffic to flow through the site from north to south, something that the WTC didn't really allow before. And West Street should be moved underground, to reconnect Battery Park City and the World Financial Center to the rest of downtown. The designers of the six proposals had these ideas in mind, but unless they have something really spectacular in store for the final design, what they've shown so far is unremarkable. Placing a series of office towers along Church Street with a park behind them will only divide downtown along that street, instead of West Street as before.

The sad thing is that one of these six proposals will likely become the final design as is, despite what we're being told about the fluid nature of the design process. There's a push from the site's leaseholder to move the rebuilding process along. To accomplish that, it will be easier to stick with one of these designs rather than throw them all away and start again. No matter what, there will be lawsuits and delays, as victims' families sue for a larger/different memorial, or while the leaseholder countersues the families for a larger office footprint. I predict that there is a long, sad road ahead for redeveloping the site.

No comments: