By Carter B. Horsley
Daniel Libeskind, the architect
of the extremely impressive Jewish Museum in Berlin, won the design
"competition" for the rebuilding of the World Trade
Center site in Lower Manhattan, but Larry Silverstein, who controls
the lease on the site, commissioned David Childs of Skidmore,
Owings & Merrill to design the project's tallest structure
that became known as the "Freedom Tower."
In recent months, the "collaboration"
between the two architects became exceedingly testy and appeared
headed on a crash course.
Libeskind apparently had been
relegated to becoming the site's "planner" and Childs,
whose major works in Manhattan include the Post-Modern but very
handsome World-Wide Plaza on Eighth Avenue and 50th Street and
the slick, reflective-glass "twin" towers of the AOL-Time
Warner Center nearing completion now on the west side of Columbus
Circle between 58th and 60th Streets, apparently was going to
be the architect of the tower.
Press reports leaked intimations
of Childs's design as a "torqued" tube crowned with
a trellice inside of which would be wind mills, a scheme about
as radically different from Libeskind's plan as conceiveable.
The unveiling December 19,
2003 of the new plan on which the two architects were politically
forced to collaborate therefore was almost event, one that some
thought would result in a travesty of this very, very public design
process. It was, however, a tremendous surprise and relief and
the two architects wrought something of a miracle, certainly in
The new design is impressive.
It gives New York a new skyline icon as its spire will top off
at 1,776 feet as Libeskind had insisted and Childs's diamond-grid
façade is not totally at odds with Libeskind's original
diagonally textured façades. Moreover, Childs's has not
banished Libeskind's slanted roof concept.
The new renderings and models
indicated that the new "Freedom Tower" will be a soaring,
asymmetrical structure of considerable elan. They did not, however,
offer enough detail, especially of the windmills and the base
of the tower, to quash all criticism. The windmills are contained
in the structural cage that rises above the office building and
while the notion that they might provide up to 20 percent of the
tower's energy requirements is environmental comforting it is
not clear how safe, let along beautiful, they might be. Depending
on which report one read, the tower will have 62 or 70 floors
of offices and their summit will be about 1,150 feet in the air.
The tower will supposedly have an observatory, presumably at that
level, as well as a restaurant run by the operators of the Windows
on the World restaurant that had been near the top of the demolished
South Tower of the World Trade Center.
Libeskind's original tower
plan called for a 70-story office tower abutted by a 1,776-foot-high
space-frame-like structure with gardens. Childs argued that the
"side" tower was too expensive and that a better solution
was to add on to the top of the office tower. His solution was
an open, cable structure that would rise above the slanted-roof
office portion to about 1,500 feet, above which would rise a spire.
The windmills would be attached to two columns that would rise
somewhat shorter than the cable cage's 1,500-foot summit.
Libeskind's asymmetrical tower
was intended in part to pay homage to the upraised torch arm of
the Statue of Liberty in the harbor. Childs's cables are intended
in part to pay homage to the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge, across
Lower Manhattan, over the East River. Such concepts are alright
even if quite abstract, although one might have thought that a
more obvious homage might have been to the fallen "twin towers"
of the World Trade Center and indeed one contributor to the discussion
board at http://www.wirednewyork.com digitally altered one of the new renderings
to duplicate the tower with a twin, a rather effective and impressive
Although press reports in the week or two prior
to the unveiled "leaked" news that the Freedom Tower
would actually have a television antenna that would bring its
height to 2,000 feet, the official unveiling made no such reference.
The north tower of the demolished World Trade
Center had a tall television antenna that brought that tower's
height to more than 1,700 feet but not as high as the Freedom
Tower spire, not including an antenna.
In an article in the December 20, 2003 edition
of The New York Times, David Dunlap sarcastically wrote:
"It will certainly be the world's tallest cable-fraed, open-air,
windmill-filled, spire-studded superstructure, rising atop 70
stories of offices, restaurants, a broadcast center and an observation
deck. Whether that makes it the world's tallest building is another
matter....The CN Tower in Toronto unhestitatingly describes it
self as the world's tallest building, at 1815 feet. But some see
it as more of a mast, with a relatively small amount of occupied
space....Then comes Taipei 101, a 101-story tower nearing completion
in Taiwan, at 1,667 feet, with the top occupied floor at 1,470
feet....That leaves as the reigning champion the 88-story twin
Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which measure 1,483
feet at the top of their spires, but only 1,229 feet at their
top occupied floors."
Clearly, the tower will have difficulty claiming
to be the world's tallest building, or even structure. The office
portion of the tower will contain about 2.6 million square feet
of office space, or about the same as the MetLife (formerly the
PanAm) Building that straddles Park Avenue in midtown. The design
plan for the tower, which can be found at http://www.renewnyc.org,
states that there will be "opportunities to highlight the
design with inspiratonal lighting." "Like the shell
of a nautilis, the form of Freedom Tower developers from the logical
development of structure. An innovative diagonal structural grid
- or diagrid - encircles the perimeter of the tower and sets in
motion the twisting of its form. Paired with a concrete core,
the diagrid system lends substantial rigidity to the overall building
structure whileproviding column-free interior spans for maximum
flexibility. Above the occupied spaces, the diagonal, twisting
geometry of structure extends upwards as a lacy system of steel
cables....Supporting the cables like the masts of a sailboard
are two circular structure cores contaiing elevators and stairs."
Critical reception to the new design has been
generally favorable. The front page of The New York Post
December 20, 2003 proclaimed "Power Tower," and an article
in that edition by Steve Cuozzo maintained that "Ona site
defined as much by heroism as by atrocity, the Freedom Tower is
heroic," adding that "Its truncated pyramid form rises
from a parallelogram-shaped base - but it's more intriguing than
that suggests." "The gently twisted, 'torqued' façades
and slanted roof of the commercial base skews its geometry just
where it threatened to be predictable, yet without the knife-edged
facets of Libeskind's early drawings.""
Herbert Muchamps, the architecture critic of
The New York Times, wrote on December 20, 2003 that "the
architects have come close to transcending what's left of their
battered selves," adding that "With some shrewd editing,
the design could become one of the noblest skyscrapers ever realized
in New York." "These refinements," he continued
in his Page One column, "should not be difficult to achieve."
In the December 20, 2003 edition of Newsday,
Justin Davidson provided the following commentary:
"The weakest elements of the design are
those at the borders where Childs' method and Libeskind's literary
ideas meet. The tower's three levels - solid base, airy torso
and slender needle - are well articulated but need to be better
glued together. For now the top third of the building looks a
bit like a nutcracker soldier's tall hat adorned with a wispy
feather that is practically begging to be knocked off.
There are questions at the bottom of the building,
too. The high-ceilinged, unpartitioned lobby might end up feeling
palatial or cavernous, depending on the details. On the eastern
side, the lower stories of the skyscraper might be joined to a
performing arts center, a building that has yet to be commissioned
or conceived, much less designed, so it's impossible to know how
the tower will present itself to the throngs who flow westward
from the new transit hub."
The new, tapered, asymmetrical design promises
to be an intriguing and alluring new skyline landmark. The devil,
of course, is in the details and the renderings and models that
were unveiled December 19, 2003 are still "preliminary"
and subject to "refinements." The public design process
for both the office buildings and the memorial at the World Trade
Center site have been extremely frustrating and something of a
travesty in their misleading the public's understanding of what
might actually be built. Design by politics and committee is almost
always compromised. This tower will only contain at most 70 office
floors, which will occupy only about two-thirds of the structure's
height. In recent years, flat-topped towers have become rather
passé, witness many of the superstructures and esoteric
birdcages atop the newer buildings of Times Square. The form of
the new structure has elegance and good proportions, but it remains
to be seen whether its cable-cage top and spire are gangly, if
not preposterous, or beautiful. One hopes the latter. The "torqued"
façades are supposed to help the building weather wind
loads. One hopes that the windmills are carefully studied and
tested to prevent whistle or unexpected aerodynamics.
Libeskind is an architect of high-tech poetics.
Childs has been heretofore a good practitioner of classy but basically
conventional high-rise office towers. Despite the hoop-la and
controversies over their collaboration, the two architects have
somehow forged an interesting new design that is likely to become
popular because of its asymmetry and its height. Seventy or so
floors of offices is not a lot in the global skyscraper contests,
but this design is a much better start than most of us anticipated
in this very tortured design process, but it's still a bit early
to give a final verdict.