Architect Trio Alights to Join Zero All-Stars

Ground Zero is set to become a Hall of Fame for the all-stars of contemporary architecture now that developer Larry Silverstein has named three of the world’s most celebrated architects to design massive towers to line the perimeter of the site. London-based Lord Norman Foster, of Foster and Partners; Tokyo-based Fumihiko Maki, of Maki and Associates; and Jean Nouvel, of Ateliers Jean Nouvel in Paris will design towers ringing the memorial site planned for the southwest corner of the new World Trade Center, if Mr. Silverstein has his way.

The three will join Santiago Calatrava, the famous Spanish architect who is working for the Port Authority to develop a transit hub on the site; Daniel Libeskind, winner of the competition to design the overall site plan; and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill consulting partner David Childs, who will design the 1,776-foot-tall “Freedom Tower” called for in Mr. Libeskind’s plans. Mr. Childs also designed Mr. Silverstein’s tower at 7 World Trade Center, which broke ground in November.

The Silverstein camp made the announcement after the first meeting between the three new architects and Messrs. Libeskind and Childs on Sept. 30, according to representatives of Mr. Silverstein.

Gerald McKelvey, a spokesman for Mr. Silverstein, said that the developer had been negotiating with the three architects for a “couple of weeks” before making the announcement. He stressed that there were as yet no contracts between Mr. Silverstein and the new architects, calling the arrangement a “handshake agreement.”

In all likelihood, he said, each of the architects-Mr. Foster, Mr. Maki, Mr. Nouvel and Mr. Childs-would develop signature towers at the site. They will work with Mr. Libeskind to integrate their designs into his plan for the site.

Lord Foster participated in an earlier round of competitions sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the Port Authority, which owns the site, to come up with an overall development plan. His design, which featured two giant interlocking towers that, in the architect’s words, “touch and kiss,” evoked memories of the Twin Towers and gained popular support when it was displayed in the Winter Garden alongside six other designs for the site. But members of a development committee dismissed the design early on. Mr. Foster told reporters on Sept. 30 that his initial bid would not affect his work on a tower project at Ground Zero.

His recent major projects have included the dramatic rehabilitation of Berlin’s Reichstag in 1999, the Great Court at the British Museum in 2000, and the new Millennium Bridge in London in 2002.

Mr. Nouvel’s most famous works include the Arab World Institute in Paris, the Lyon Opera House, the Cartier Foundation headquarters in Jouy-en-Josas, France, the Galeries Lafayette department store in Berlin, the Lucerne Culture and Congress Center, and the Tours Conference Center.

Mr. Nouvel has completed two office towers: the Dentsu office tower in Tokyo and Mediapark Tower in Cologne. Three more are in the works in Germany, Spain and Saudi Arabia.

Also in design or construction are the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, the Broadway Grand apartments in New York, the Quai Branly Museum of Primal Art in Paris, the Queen Sophia Museum in Madrid, the Danish Radio Symphony Hall in Copenhagen and the Guggenheim Museum in Rio de Janeiro.

Mr. Maki’s work includes the Asahi Broadcast Headquarters in Tokyo and the Rolex Toyocho Building, also in Tokyo. In the United States, Mr. Maki’s first architectural commission was the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts galleries and forum in San Francisco. He’s currently at work on projects at Washington University in St. Louis, where he once taught, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Guidelines Due

LMDC spokespersons wouldn’t comment on the announcement by Mr. Silverstein, but sources involved in the redevelopment process said that Mr. Silverstein’s announcement came earlier than they would have liked. The LMDC was to develop a set of guidelines for architects working on the site that was meant to assure the public that the vision of the site promoted by Mr. Libeskind would be preserved in any other architect’s designs.

Mr. McKelvey batted away speculation that the announcement-made before any contracts were signed between Mr. Silverstein and the architects-was meant to pump up Mr. Silverstein’s image in the wake of recent court reversals in his legal fight with his insurers. The status of Mr. Silverstein’s insurance payout-which would provide, as he has said many times, the only nonpublic source of rebuilding funds for Ground Zero-is seen as a key element of his viability as a developer on Ground Zero.

If, finally, Mr. Silverstein loses his chance to develop new office buildings on the site, his choice of architect could become immaterial.

Even if Mr. Silverstein maintains his grip on the development rights to the site, he will have powerful government forces seeking to guarantee that major elements of the Libeskind design remain in place. Governor George Pataki was an early and vocal backer of the building designs submitted by Mr. Libeskind; the Port Authority, perhaps less enthusiastic about Mr. Libeskind’s design, nevertheless is composed of a board half of which answers directly to the Governor.

As the developer of the towers, Mr. Silverstein is free to contract with architects-as he did with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, to come up with an overall plan for the site-but without cooperation from his landlord, the Port Authority, implementing the designs may not be possible.

For instance, Daniel Libeskind was ultimately selected by the Port Authority and the LMDC to develop an overall site plan for Ground Zero, even as Mr. Silverstein was drafting his own plans with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill for the site.

Mr. Silverstein publicly excoriated the Port Authority for its marginalization of his interests and plans for the site in the process that led up to the selection of Mr. Libeskind.

During the summer, calls for curtailing office development on the site in favor of other uses led to reports of tension in the planning process.

Since then, tensions among the LMDC, the Port Authority and Mr. Silverstein appear to have lessened, and Mr. Libeskind and Mr. Silverstein even recently took a tour of the architect’s Jewish Museum in Berlin. Mr. Silverstein had seen the museum before, but wanted Mr. Libeskind to guide him through the design of the building, a spokesman told The Observer.

Still, Mr. Libeskind appears to be more and more the odd man out in the redevelopment of Ground Zero. Initially, many New Yorkers had the impression that the new World Trade Center would look much as Mr. Libeskind’s model had in the public display in the Winter Garden. But increasingly, Mr. Libeskind has ceded the top design spots on major portions of the site-first on the transit hub, which will now be led by Mr. Calatrava; then on the signature 1,776-foot-tall spire, a project on which Mr. Childs is now taking the lead; and lastly on at least three other structures to be designed by Messrs. Foster, Maki and Nouvel.

There remain other parts of the site to be dealt with. The Port Authority is currently in negotiations to buy out its retail leaseholder, Westfield America, from its stake in the site for some $140 million. If the agency succeeds in vacating that lease, it will either have another element of the site under its direct control-meaning Mr. Silverstein’s designs would have to be brought into accordance with the Port Authority’s needs in developing the retail spaces in the bottoms of Mr. Silverstein’s office buildings-or it will be looking for another developer, an entirely new player, to enter the playing field.

Meanwhile, arts institutions from the Smithsonian Institution to City Opera have applied to become the major cultural players in whatever cultural space is built on the site. Their consultation with the LMDC and the Port Authority will surely be required before an architect is chosen to develop those spaces.

Last but not least, there remains the memorial. A committee put together by the LMDC has yet to announce finalists in the design competition for the memorial portion of the site set aside in Mr. Libeskind’s design.

But as more and more parcels of the site are assigned to other architects, it is difficult to imagine the impact of Mr. Libeskind’s vision on the site, and whether his design for Ground Zero will serve as background material for the new World Trade Center or play a prominent part in its redesign.

Asked by a reporter on Sept. 30 whether he was going to design at least one of the office buildings on the site, the puckish architect-who has, at present, no office skyscrapers under his belt-said: “I certainly hope so!”