WTC rebuilding: the blind leading the blind

With the introduction of the six plans for restoring the WTC area of New York, the chorus of grumbling and disappointment has been steadily rising. There are complaints from across the political spectrum, for example this plaintive screed from the New York times:

I wondered if we have lost our knack for bringing together big bucks with big ideas. In earlier generations, planners had the gumption and the vision to build grand and memorable public projects like the Brooklyn Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel and Rockefeller Center. Are we at the end of our creative run? Have we reached a moment when we are capable of designing only bland office parks and lightly nostalgic shopping malls? If so, we better snap out of it and fast. We can start in lower Manhattan.

New Yorkers expect a 21st century city to rise from the ashes of the twin towers and connect with the historic city. We need a "high-tech Machu Picchu," someone said at our table in the Javits Center.

Our culture has so many talented architects and planners, both within the large, established companies and at younger firms. When will we start asking them to help us imagine our future? We need designs that will truly revive and support our economy and satisfy our dreams for a world-class metropolis.

and this practical, functional critique from National Review:

Finally, all the plans involve creation of an intermodal transit nexus extending from the Hoboken Ferry terminal in Battery Park City to the presently labyrinthine Broadway-Nassau-Fulton Street subway complex east of the WTC site. What doesn't emerge in these plans is a new freestanding rail station, as opposed to "transit centers" submerged in commercial buildings. Such a station, which also figures in the Franck Lohsen McCrery scheme, would provide access to the PATH line to New Jersey as well as subway lines. A classical station rivaling Grand Central Terminal in beauty could reinforce the civic dignity and monumentality of the redeveloped WTC complex.

It's obvious that the vast majority of critics haven't seen the two following plans, which manage to satisfy both the critiques above. The first is called "Liberty Square" :

The project consists of a proud and heroic skyscraper, to be the tallest building in the world, flanked by nine of the tallest buildings in Manhattan and an entirely new train station building. These magnificent structures surround a dignified and urbane memorial square and monuments. All this situated in a beautifully improved system of city streets and blocks.

The design of this project immediately addresses the need for grand architecture - with the tallest building in the world, as well as a new Liberty Station. But the most moving aspect of this plan is the understated yet elegant plan for a memorial:

The heart of Liberty Square at the site of the former WTC plaza is the memorial monument which occupies two city blocks. A grass lawn is recessed three broad steps below street level. To the north of the square is the great pairing of History and Memory on opposite sides of a draped catafalque marking the place where thousands of victims died on September 11. At the square's southern edge in front of the train station are placed heroic statuary monuments to New York's great heroes: Firefighters and Policeman.

There is much more detail on the memorial at the site - a sketch of the Square, and a street plan detailing how the square is designed to be the "hub of the neighborhood" and an "oasis in the middle of the urban landscape". At the north end of the square, set back into will be statues of History and Memory, and a draped catafalque honoring the victims. If the sketch is any indication, these will rival the Lincoln Memorial as a place of quiet introspection and rverence. At the south end of the square, monuments to New York's Firefighters and Policemen will stand.

The second alternative plan is the Macchu Picchu one - WTC 2002: The Cyber City - a massive complex of five skyscrapers forming a colossal combined resdiential, commercial, and business space, 100 stories tall. Topped by an 11-story hotel in the shape of a glass pyramid. It's also been reviewed by the Miami Herald. The site claims that this plan is under consideration as the "7th plan" to be added to the previous six designs which elicted such yawns. NOTHING about this plan is yawn-worthy - pardon my french, but this plan has serious cajones. Even the website is all Flash and snazzy animation. There's a raw, quintessentially American spirit being exhibited here. Of course there is a memorial aspect to it, so it isn't all rip-roaring cowboy. The plan overview is:

The Twin Towers were 1320 Feet high. Mr Turner proposes to raise the structures to a height of 1449 feet, which, with the communications tower, will create the world�s tallest building at 1750 feet.

The concept comprises of five (5) cylindrical towers topped by an 11 story pyramid, arising from an enclosed, transparent, climatically controlled landscaped biosphere.

The fifth central tower accomodates 50 high speed elevators, each named after a State of The United States of America. The elevators are linked to the towers by transit levels every 10 floors, and two, seven story hydroponically landscaped galleries unify the massive aerial structures at the 45th and 75th levels.

The five circular floors atop the towers will include two revolving restaurant floors (one 'a la carte' International cuisine, one International buffet cuisine), two revolving tourist observation platforms with the fifth being the conference center for the 11 story �boutique hotel� in the form of a pyramid. (For example, Hyatt-In-The Sky)

A total of 111 floors rise above the sidewalks of Lower Manhattan.

The below-grade service areas (seven storys) and subway lines will extend under the entire site, above which, the domed enclosure of the Biosphere will accommodate commercial, residential, entertainment and related functions, including convention facilities, concert, opera, and theater halls along with recreation areas.

Within the Biosphere there will be 2833 living trees planted. Each living tree will be named and a plaque set at its base as a living memorial to those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001.

This plan's memorial isn't as moving as the Liberty Square one, but it is still an open area that is reserved for life. I do feel that any memorial should include space for people to engage in the simple act of everyday living, which in and of itself is a powerful negation to terrorism. I am glad to see "The Cyber City" under consideration as another official plan (if that claim is true). I hope Liberty Square also gets to be considered. Both add a mix of something sorely lacking to the existing dry proposals.

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