The hoopla concerning the “name change” of 1WTC was a reminder that, fuck me, they’re really redeveloping the World Trade Center site. For nearly a decade anyone living or working south of Chambers has had to put up with closed streets, cranes, dump trucks, and smelly construction workers bogarting deli lines with little more than a well-organized hole in the ground to show for it. But by 2012 (hopefully), the pain will be over.
When it was first revealed, 1WTC’s design failed to make a real impression (at least Daniel Libsekind’s piece of shit allowed me to hate it). The “Freedom Tower” branding was woefully uninspired and the symbolic height of 1,776 feet - retarded. The entire project reeked of sloppy politics.
But as early as September 11, 2008, rumors were spreading that the “Freedom Tower” name was falling out of favor among the developers. With Pataki gone, Rudy diminished (to put it diplomatically) and the Bush Administration tarred and feathered (also a diplomatic euphemism) - the professionals were left to their own devices. The public announcement two weeks ago that the “Freedom Tower” brand has been cast aside was really an official announcement that the project is out of the hands of bumbling politicians and vision-less real estate magnates and in the control of the some of the best designers and engineers in the world. Trust me, it shows.
Tower 1 - One World Trade Center
As the symbolic and actual heir of the landmark status of the Twin Towers, 1WTC is still a office building with a splash of amenities. Out of the 108 stories - 66 will be dedicated to office space, a dozen or so to mechanical equipment, with a two story observation deck to top it off. The twenty-story ground lobby will both activate the building at ground level while being the most elegant 200 foot concrete fortress ever built. In addition to shops in the basement and a subway/PATH entrance, there’s a restaurant planned to once again - take advantage of the view from the top. All in all, 1WTC is a thoroughly modern office building.
1WTC should look familiar. If it doesn’t, you should look at it again. The crystalline shape reflects a contemporary style that’s invaded nearly every neighborhood in the City (the Hearst Building, Cooper Union, the new Alice Tulley Hall, to name a few). But what makes the so-to-be iconic tower truly familiar is its shape; a shape that reflects the defining forms of the other skyline titans while echoing the accents of the building it’s replacing.
The footprint of the new 1WTC is nearly the exact size of the original 1WTC and its vulgar shape can be described as a twisty glass version of the original building. But the shape, obviously, has a more subtle connotation. Its twists are intended to combine the absurd experimentation in modern architecture using steel and glass with the classic tapered form of many Gotham buildings all while reflecting the original box shapes of the Twin Towers. Building on the theme of continuity, the spire at the top is intended to recall the antenna of the original 1WTC while symbolically linking the design to the iconic shapes of the Empire, Chrysler, and Woolworth buildings. The result is a landmark that feels right at home, in both its city, its contemporary aesthetic and in the history of its immediate location.
Tower 2 - 200 Greenwich Street
Tower 2 will be the second tallest building in the complex and will house a street level, multi-story shopping mall with 60+ floors of office space above it. Between Towers 1 & 2 - there will be nearly 5 million sq. ft. of office space (a lot to fill).
Tower 2 is huge in its own right. At 1,278 feet, it’s nearly as tall as the Empire State building (give or take an antenna). But not only is this building big; it’s beautiful. Designed by Foster + Partners, the tower is a fitting bridge between the future of the space and its history. Norman Foster, responsible for some of the more iconic buildings of the 21st century, is an internationally renowned architect who’s been on the leading edge of the absurd crystalline movement.
The building itself is designed to look like four towers in one - maximizing the ability of the glass curtain to absorb light and warmth as well as the number of corners to put offices in (always a plus). What’s more, the building itself is a marker for the memorial in that its bold, sheared roof directs the skyline to ground level and the memorial pools at the original Towers’ footprints. Keeping with the sanctity of the memorial park it points toward, the designers claim that the building has been designed to not cast a shadow on the park.
The Rest of the Complex and Memorial
Form & Function
The function of the entire complex and memorial is to restore the public space that was attacked in the 1970s, when the Center was first built, and finally destroyed on 9/11, when the entire complex was burned to the ground. While it’s poor form to speak ill of the departed, the original center was an eye sore in some lights and in most senses, a dead weight on Downtown.
The new World Trade Center’s form, in my opinion, will succeed in restoring a sense of public space to Downtown. While, of course, shops and restaurants aren’t necessarily public space, they have been co-opted into the contemporary public’s conception of public space (how many homeless people bathe in your local Starbucks?). In addition to all the new commercial nooks and crannies for New Yorkers to pass the time in, there will also be a beautiful new transit center (being sold as the Financial District’s own Grand Central) and a massive memorial park.
The memorial park, like the Center’s other elements, seems perfectly balanced on paper. As a memorial, the park needs to be a sober place that allows for peaceful personal reflection. So in order to separate the space from the shopping and trading across the street, the designers are planting hundreds of gigantic oak trees that will insulate the visitors from the rest of Downtown and create a sense of exception within Memorial Park.
For the gawkers, the September 11th Museum will display the tallest piece left standing from the original towers as well as other artifacts from the site. For the mourners, the Memorial will offer many different ways to grieve. At ground level, two gigantic waterfalls will mark the original footprints of the Twin Towers. The water will cascade 60 feet down into the Memorial Center were the names of the victims - from both the 1993 bombing and the 9/11 attacks - will be listed. The names will be group by familial relationships, instead of alphabetically. The idea is to show the victims as people who lived, worked and died together - as well as to bring their mourners together much in the same way the attacks did. At bedrock, there will be a piece of the slurry wall for tourists to touch, a room reserved for family members who wish to grieve in private, and a mausoleum with the unidentified remains of the victims.
In all, the new World Trade Center will balance all its functions in a way that the original was never able to. It will balance bold architectural expression with sensible urban continuity in a way that will surely influence urban design for decades to come. The original World Trade Center was, in many ways, a culmination of the Robert Moses New York. It’s only fitting that the new World Trade Center will mark a new chapter in New York City history: a rededication to a modern public’s space, a return to pedestrianism, and a reemergence of bold avant garde architecture intended to resonate well into the next century.