Twin Towers memorial rises from rubbleSep 06, 2011
A decade and a day after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the public will be able to return for the first time to the place where the Twin Towers stood.
Visitors will walk through a grove of swamp oaks and pass verdant lawns as they move toward the centrepiece: two huge pools where the towers once stood. Thirty-foot waterfalls cascade down the black granite sides. Three rows of the names of those who died on September 11 2001, as well as the six victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, will stretch around the pools. The opening of the National September 11 Memorial, designed by architect Michael Arad and landscape designer Peter Walker, marks the completion of a long and difficult process to create a space to honour the nearly 3,000 people who died at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93.
With so many different groups involved in rebuilding the 16-acre site – including city and state governments, a private developer and victims’ families – the project has a fractious history. Repeated delays, wholesale changes to design plans and renegotiated contracts plagued the redevelopment until 2008, when the parties, led by Michael Blooomberg, New York’s mayor, came together in 2008 to set a deadline for the opening of the memorial: the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
“It’s hard to find a construction project on the planet that has had so much attention, so much focus, so much controversy,” says Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, which owns the site.
The memorial is also the first phase of a project the site’s designers, owners and developers hope will herald the transformation of downtown Manhattan. It will be some time before the memorial is the urban oasis it was designed to become. For at least the next five years, it will sit at the heart of one of the world’s busiest construction sites. Visitors will have a close-up view as five office towers and a new transportation hub rise around them.
Today, 1 World Trade Center, soon to be the tallest building in the US, stretches 80 floors in the sky and is rising at a rate of one floor a week. “For a long time, including within the last couple of years, there was a general belief that the World Trade Center site was a big hole in the ground. Now [people] realise it is the most complex construction site on the planet, and they are seeing visible evidence of that,” Mr Baroni says.
The new World Trade Center will reshape New York’s skyline much as the original towers did in the early 1970s. “The world was looking for something to be very iconic. We had to replace this hole in the sky,” says T.J. Gottesdiener, who oversees 1 World Trade Center for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the architecture firm.
But while attention has been focused on the buildings and their A-list architects, including Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Santiago Calatrava, the redesigned site will also remake the neighbourhood at street level. Where the old development was a “superblock” with its towers set back on a large plaza, the new design restores the street grid along the east side of the memorial. Retail stores, once concentrated below ground, will draw shoppers on Church Street, out of sight of the memorial.
“Everybody will have their own view of the architecture, but it brings this neighborhood back to being part of the city,” says Janno Lieber, project director for Silverstein Properties, the real estate development group that controls three of the five towers. The shift in focus from skyscraper to the neighborhood street echoes the larger transformation that has turned downtown Manhattan into one of the city’s fastest-growing areas over the past decade, fuelled by $30bn in private and public investment.
Today, 56,000 people live below Chambers Street – twice the population on September 10 2001. The area is home to more businesses, tourism has doubled and nearly all the jobs lost after the attacks have been recovered. Not only has the Wall Street area come back to life but the character of downtown has changed as a growing stable of non-financial businesses has attracted a broader range of New Yorkers, says Elizabeth Berger, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York. The diversification is exemplified by Condé Nast’s decision to move its headquarters to 1 World Trade Center, signing a 1m square foot lease worth an estimated $2bn over 25 years.
Larry Silverstein, the developer, takes a decidedly long-term view of an undertaking that has already spanned 10 years and will probably take a lot longer to become profitable. “Success in this project will be determined not by dollars or cents but by the quality of what we accomplish and the manner in which we accomplish it,” he says. “It we’ve done the job properly, the impact on the city will be a major one, a lasting one for generations to come.”