When Governor George Pataki unveils the design plans for the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero on Dec. 19, it will mark the end of nearly six months of heated argument between two architects with radically different visions for what will be the tallest building in the world. What will emerge is a hybrid of the two very different architects’ visions for the signature skyline element of the new World Trade Center-forged in an uneasy compromise.
As details of that compromise were uncovered, in interviews conducted over the last week, it appeared that except for a few elements, the tower will closely resemble a design forged initially by architects at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, house architects for Ground Zero leaseholder Larry Silverstein, in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. That was long before Ground Zero master planner Daniel Libeskind was involved in the redevelopment process.
Because S.O.M. partner David Childs’ design for that tower was a product of a private, business relationship with Mr. Silverstein, it was never made public. But comparing the accounts of sources familiar with the compromise, with drawings produced at S.O.M. for Mr. Silverstein and subsequently obtained by The Observer , a picture of what the tower will look like began to emerge.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the city agency responsible for reconciling the two camps’ competing visions for the tower, announced late Monday night that the two sides had finally struck a final compromise on a tower “proposed” by Mr. Libeskind and “given form” by Mr. Childs. The brief press release, which made an understated reference to the “often spirited debate” between the two architects, stated that the tower will incorporate elements that were of paramount importance to both David Childs, the lead architect on the site, and Daniel Libeskind, who officially collaborated on its design.
According to a source close to the negotiations, the compromise breaks down like this:
As in Mr. Childs’ design, the building’s lower 70 commercial floors will torque and twist as they rise to approximately 1,100 feet; the next 400 feet will be a cable-enclosed lattice structure filled with windmill turbines.
In a bow to Mr. Libeskind’s design, the roof of the commercial space will be sloping and asymmetrical; in addition, a spire will rise 276 feet out the cable section-which tops out at 1,500 feet-making the building top out at 1,776 feet; it will be tallest in the world. The original Twin Towers reached 1,368 feet.
“There were compromises and refinement, but what emerged is a better building that is consistent with the master plan,” said Matthew Higgins, chief operating officer of the LMDC.
“Despite the clear differences along the way, I feel optimistic about the progress made for the building to fit into the master plan,” Mr. Libeskind told The Observer in a statement, declining to comment further.
Mr. Childs was unavailable for comment, but his client, Mr. Silverstein, is apparently breathing a sigh of relief that the end seems to be at hand.
“Larry is thrilled,” said a source close to Silverstein. “He pushed the architects all along to come to a meeting of the minds in a time frame consistent with the Governor’s schedule, and we got there.”
Sources close to both sides, however, called the compromise the result of a whirlwind of intense, sometimes fiery meetings over the course of the last week. During most of that time, staffers from studio Daniel Libeskind were banned from the 40 Wall Street offices of S.O.M., where the two camps had been working. As a result, both sides were barely speaking to one another.
The ban began after Dec. 4, when, as the New York Post first reported, there was an alleged “Watergate break-in” at the S.O.M. offices by staffers from Studio Daniel Libeskind. Quoting anonymous sources within the Childs camp, the Post described how Libeskind staffers began “photographing drawings and models over the protests of stunned Skidmore staffers,” who tried to “shield drawings from the Libeskind staffers, who had brought along lights and other professional gear.” The story also described how Mr. Libeskind used the “plundered material” the next day in a meeting with aides to Gov. Pataki to show that Mr. Childs’ design was not conforming to the master plan.
The next day, the Post reported that the security firm of ex–New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir was investigating the incident.
Mr. Libeskind vociferously denied the implications of any wrongdoing, and issued the following statement through a spokesperson.
“I am profoundly disappointed and insulted that such scandalous and false accusations have been made against my staff.”
Sources close to the Libeskind camp said that several staffers did indeed shoot a succession of pictures that day, but none of them were unauthorized. According to those sources, around 6:30 p.m. that night, the Libeskind staffers came to the building and asked whether the S.O.M. staffers could make available some current architectural renderings and models of the Childs plan for the tower, so Mr. Libeskind could stay abreast of the evolving design. (Mr. Libeskind is not allowed in the S.O.M. offices without Mr. Childs being present, and thus Mr. Libeskind has to rely on his staffers to take digital pictures of current designs, or for them to physically ferry models between the two offices.) In what the sources described as a very civil exchange, the S.O.M. staffers said that they weren’t allowed to make those drawings or models available. The Libeskind staffers then asked, and received permission, to use S.O.M.’s equipment to shoot some models that the Libeskind staffers had brought over themselves. Staffers from S.O.M. even helped them with the photo shoot with the use of S.O.M.’s large-scale model of the city that both teams use to give their shots the proper context.
Not surprisingly, things look different from the other side.
“Clearly there’s a difference of opinion about what took place,” said a source close to the Childs camp. “But the important thing is that everybody has put it completely behind us, and there’s no ongoing dispute or investigation.”
Mr. Safir was traveling at press time, and was unavailable for comment on the alleged investigation.
The forced marriage of ideas between Mr. Childs and Mr. Libeskind was fraught with friction from the start. Even though the two architects agreed in July that Mr. Childs was to be the lead architect on the tower, with Mr. Libeskind collaborating on the design, it was not immediately clear how many concessions each would have to make to the other. Mr. Libeskind is a world-renowned designer of conceptual and emotional architecture like the Jewish Museum in Berlin, but he has very little experience in erecting massive commercial projects. He entered the scene in February, when Governor Pataki controversially overrode the wishes of the site planning committee of the LMDC and selected Mr. Libeskind as the winner of a competition to become the master planner of the site. It fell to Mr. Libeskind to essentially rezone the destroyed Trade Center site, deciding how to remake the roughly 10 million square feet of office space that were lost in the attacks, in addition to deciding a location for a memorial, and a rethinking of the streetscape patterns.
Mr. Childs, one of the world’s most sought-after architects of commercial structures, recently completed the mammoth Time Warner center at Columbus Circle. Critics contend that he sometimes subverts aesthetic innovation in pursuit of maximizing a building’s commercial potential. He officially arrived on the scene July 16, when Mr. Silverstein, who gained control over the site only six weeks before terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, chose him to design the Freedom Tower.
But ever since the July agreement that was supposed to codify the relationships between the two architects, both camps have feuded on and off over the degree to which the Freedom Tower would either conform to Mr. Libeskind’s vision and his master plan, or whether the tower would rise up almost wholly along the lines of what Mr. Childs had in mind. The latter’s client, Mr. Silverstein, is currently embroiled in a court battle with his insurers over how much money he is owed from the attacks; he claims his site was the victim of two attacks on Sept. 11, hence he is owed around $7 billion; his insurers claim it was only one attack, and are thus only liable for around $3.5 billion.
With the outcome of that case in doubt, it is not difficult to imagine Mr. Silverstein’s interest in consolidating as much office space as possible in the first tower to be built on the site. While officially rebuilding authorities claim Mr. Silverstein will be the developer of all 10 million square feet of office space lost on Sept. 11, privately many involved in the rebuilding process worry that Mr. Silverstein’s money won’t hold out long enough to build out the entire commercial development on the site.
That conflicts directly with the overriding goal of Mr. Libeskind’s master plan: to avoid the overly massive towers of the original World Trade Center, and to give the commercial buildings a real relationship with their surroundings. In Mr. Libeskind’s master plan, the requisite 10 million square feet of office space is split over five buildings, all of which, he argues, are scaled in such way that they create pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, and the slopes of the buildings’ roofs take advantage of the natural curvatures of the sun’s arc, minimizing shadows on the site.
The Two Towers
In the final days before the compromise was reached, it was politics, not design, that was the essential element, as Mr. Libeskind mustered the aid of his lawyer and Pataki confidant, Ed Hayes, in an attempt to force Mr. Childs to bring his design more in line with the master plan. Specifically, Mr. Libeskind was seeking to get Mr. Childs to reduce the massing and height of the tower. According to sources familiar with the situation, Friday the 12th was apparently the turning point. On that day, Port Authority vice chairman Charles Gargano, Port Authority executive director Joe Seymour, LMDC president Kevin Rampe and LMDC chief operating officer Matthew Higgins met with Mr. Childs in Governor Pataki’s midtown offices. They implored Mr. Childs to bring down the height of his cabling section from what was then 1,776 feet. At some point during the day, the Governor himself showed up and made the same plea. Within a few days, Mr. Childs agreed to lower the cabling section to 1,500 feet-and allow the spire to rise to 1,776 feet. It was a compromise Mr. Libeskind could live with, and it removed the last significant obstacle to the plan.
But the Libeskind camp had wanted the building to have setbacks, as opposed to the sheer façade that now covers the building. They also had to forgo putting gardens, restaurants and other public program-type elements in the building’s spire-which will now be left empty.
That much about Mr. Libeskind’s regrets are publicly known; they were all part of the presentation that he made in February after being chosen by Governor Pataki to work up a master plan for the site. What is not as publicly known, however, is just how much Mr. Childs has had to compromise, as he never publicly presented iterations of his plan for the tower.
That’s where a look at the original renderings produced by S.O.M. becomes helpful. The renderings were created by Mr. Childs’ staff at the behest of his client, Mr. Silverstein. They show the torqued body, the bank of windmills encased by the cabling structure rising to 1,776 feet, and an open lattice system of antennas rising above the cables to reach 2,000 feet. The renderings are dated Aug. 12, 2003, less than a month after Mr. Childs and Mr. Libeskind agreed to collaborate on the design of the tower.
However, Mr. Childs has been thinking about the design of the Freedom Tower almost from the very day of Sept. 11. His firm, which had to flee its downtown office on the day of the attack, had already been retained by Mr. Silverstein do some renovation work on the World Trade Center before it was destroyed. In the immediate wake of Sept. 11, Mr. Childs and his staffers began informally working up ideas to replace what was lost. The idea behind the torqued design was one that had been suggested to Mr. Childs mere days after Sept. 11 by another architect, Richard Dattner; the idea gained momentum almost a year later when Guy Nordenstrom, an engineer working for Mr. Silverstein, submitted a version of the torqued design to Herbert Muschamp for inclusion in his portfolio of ideas for the reconstruction of Ground Zero that appeared in the New York Times Magazine on Sept. 8, 2002.
Now that the compromise is complete, rebuilding authorities have only to face one more obstacle: the ornery public. Fed throughout the process on the idea that public input had guided the design of the new World Trade Center, they will be presented not with several tower designs to consider, but one. Messrs. Childs and Libeskind are not the only ones for whom everything rides on the public’s reaction to that tower.
Mr. Pataki hopes to drive a spade into the foundations of the tower in time for the Republican National Convention next August. There’s no time left, for him, to be sent back to the drawing board.
Follow Blair Golson via RSS.