One of the first pieces of Ground Zero to be rebuilt after the 9/11 attacks was just across the street. Brookfield Properties, the owner of the World Financial Center–as well as the mall that was pulverized beneath the World Trade Center–quickly rebuilt the soaring winter garden that was the heart of the Caesar Pelli-designed complex, reopening it a year after the attacks.
Even the grand marble staircase that had been the main connection to the original Trade Center was replaced. This despite the fact that there was no longer the need to reach the long-gone Tower Two. Nevertheless, the vestigial stairway became more popular than ever, transformed into an amphitheater of sorts, a place to watch concerts both impromptu and organized as well as to eat lunch. Perhaps most importantly, it provided just about the best view open to the public of the pit that was all that remained after the attacks.
Now, Brookfield has proposed a redesign of the winter garden, including the removal of the steps, which can be seen in the accompanying gallery. The plans have caused an uproar within the local community, as well as at the upper echelons of city government. Some locals are concerned that the garden will lose its inviting nature and become another busy thoroughfare. Others are worried about sacrificing yet another link to the World Before 9/11, even if it is a recreated one. And then there is City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, who reportedly feels the space would look “tepid” without the stairs. Burden has no official say in the project.
Community Board 1, which also has no direct role in the project, recently received a presention from Brookfield and is considering passing a non-binding resolution for or against it next month. “There were a lot of concerns raised,” board chair Julie Menin told The Observer. “But the real issue is Brookfield has the ability to move forward no matter what.” While Menin said she thinks the stairs could stay, she also acknowledged that the community would benefit from a thriving retail center. Brookfield is planning to update the entire center’s shopping and restaurant offerings as part of its renovations, which are being undertaken by Rafael Pelli, the son of the complex’ original architect and a partner at his firm.
Brookfield, however, has made a well-reasoned argument. The developer is not seeking to dumb-down or otherwise demean one of the greater commercial complexes and civic spaces in the city. Instead, it is seeking to revitalize the winter garden. Like its neighbor Larry Silverstein, Brookfield wants to create a dynamic new link to the street and the World Trade Center site, both of which are undergoing their own transformations.
Sure, we could cling to these stairs and what they symbolize, but doing so is not that different from the urge many felt shortly after the attacks to rebuild the World Trade Center exactly as it was. It is a noble gesture, but ultimately a backward-looking one, not the progressive vision the city needs. As these exclusive renderings show, there is nothing to be lost and much to be gained by going ahead with this simple, subtle, spectacular project.