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New York's Great Monuments

LMDC Names 6 New Design Teams

Will The City Get A Great New Project?

By Carter B. Horsley

On Sept. 26, 2002, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is overseeing the redevelopment of the demolished World Trade Center and adjacent areas, announced that it had selected six "new" design teams, from a total of 407 responses, for the controversial and very important project.

The new "teams" presumably will come up with fresh ideas that will gain more public acceptance that the six plans published last summer by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (see The City Review article). By and large, the new teams represent modernist rather than traditional architects and as such reflect the influence of proposals recently promulgated in The New York Times Magazine (see The City Review article) and New York Magazine (see The City Review article).

The six teams represent 27 architectural and design firms in the United States and four foreign countries. Two of the six teams consist of individual architectural firms: Studio Daniel Libeskind, the architect of The Jewish Museum in Berlin, the new Imperial War Museum in Manchester, London and a planned explansion of the Denver Art Museum; and Foster & Partners, whose head, Norman Foster, the British architect, has designed such projects as the Commerzbank Headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany in London and the new Reichtstag Building in Berlin, and a planned new skyscraper for The Hearst Corporation on Eighth Avenue and 57th Street.

In its press release, the LMDC, which has a website at, the following comments were made:

“'These architects and planners represent some of the best and brightest minds in the world - and New York deserves nothing less,' Governor Pataki said. 'The rebuilding of the World Trade Center site is one of the most important projects ever undertaken in our nation’s history. What happened on September 11th affected not only the United States, but the entire world and all those who cherish freedom. It’s appropriate and inspiring that architects and planners from many different countries are now coming to together to help rebuild New York City.'”

"Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said, 'I am pleased that we have been able to attract the caliber of excellence exhibited by the group assembled here today. In response to the public's comments, the LMDC expanded the search for the most innovative architects and planners in the world to participate in a new urban design study regarding the future of the WTC site. We will continue to take our time during the planning process and seek ideas from wherever they come so that together, we can create a Lower Manhattan of the future that surpasses everyone's expectations.'"

"LMDC Chairman John C. Whitehead said, 'The LMDC has reached out around the globe to bring the best minds in design together with the many planners who have been working to rebuild and revitalize Lower Manhattan. We believe the end results will reflect the great potential of the World Trade Center site and all the surrounding areas.'”

"LMDC President Louis R. Tomson said, 'We are extremely pleased with the quality of these six teams – they represent the finest architects and planners from around the world. The public demanded bold and creative visions for the future of Lower Manhattan and this new talent ensures that we will deliver on our promise. The forward-thinking leaders at New York New Visions played an invaluable role in the selection of thoughtful panelists, and in turn, the panelists took their responsibilities the full course by choosing an outstanding and innovative group of professionals.'”

The six teams will each receive a $40,000 stipend to work with new and supposedly "more flexible program requirements," among which, according to the press release, "will be a range of commercial space, a preference for honoring the footprints as part of the memorial space, a powerful skyline element, the creation of a grand promenade on West Street, and the exploration of residential housing on or off the site."

The press relesae stated that the "LMDC and PA will continue to work with consultant teams previously engaged on the project, including Peterson Littenberg Architecture and Urban Design, and they too will be invited to participate in the design study. At the end of the study, LMDC and the PA will select the most promising ideas from those generated during the study, and invite those firms to work with LMDC and PA’s consultants to refine and develop the ideas into site plan proposals. By the end of the year, the LMDC and PA will present at least three new bold site plan proposals for public review. A final land use plan is expected to be released in Spring 2003."

New York New Visions is a coalition of 21 architecture, engineering, planning, landscape architecture and design organizations and it recommended a panel of six to select the six finalists. The panelists included Toshiko Mori, Chair of the Department of Architecture, Harvard Design School; Eugenie L. Birch, Professor and Chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania; Richard N. Swett, former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark and the only licensed architect to serve in the US Congress in the 20th Century; Kinshasha Holman Conwill, an arts and management consultant and Director Emeritus of the Studio Museum of Harlem; Terence Riley, Chief Curator of the Department of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art; Michael Van Valkenburgh, landscape architect and principal of Van Valkenburgh Associates.

The press release include quotations from the submission and except from the review panel's report for each of the six finalists.

Studio Daniel Libeskind, Berlin, Germany is quoted as stating that “The act of building is an entirely optimistic one and New York deserves, despite and because of the tragedy of September 11th, to have an architecture which is exciting, thought provoking and innovative.” The panel's except about its submission said that "“True to his words, architect Daniel Libeskind brings to this very complex and important project a depth of understanding and empathy that he has demonstrated throughout his career. His ability to inspire profound critical discourse through his ability to use complex and layered sets of references for an architectural discourse will prove an original and responsive approach to the design.”

Foster and Partners is quoted as stating that “New York deserves something great. Something which looks to the future with an enduring and classic quality, which will become a symbol once again for the city itself and the optimism and cohesiveness of the inhabitants of New York City and the American people.” The panel's except about its submission stated that "“Lord Foster of Foster Partners of London, UK has a longstanding reputation of design excellence in building design, urban design and transportation projects. In spite of their large size, they have consistently addressed concerns for the physical context through their involved interpretation of the spiritual and material needs of the people who inhabit their designs. The result has been the creation of award winning projects all around the globe that are sensitive to the culture and climate of their locations. This sensitivity is especially applicable to and required by the World Trade Center design study. The broad collection of talent and experience encompassed by this firm will make a significant and innovative contribution.”

Several architects who participated in the proposal presented in The New York Times Magazine, Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey and Steven Holl, made up one of the other teams. Mr. Meier is best known for The Getty Center in Los Angeles. Mr. Eisenman is well known for the Greater Columbus (Ohio) Convention Center, Mr. Gwathmey is known for the Morgan Stanley & Co., building in Times Square. Mr. Holl is known for the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, Finland.

This team's submission supplied the following quotation: "We view design as a discovery process that begins with a rigorous inquiry into the particulars of location and program that results in an evolution, transforming problem-solving into art.” The panel's report noted that “Despite their international renown, this proposed collaboration reflects the principals’ personal and professional concerns for and commitment to their adopted hometown. Well known for their signature designs around the globe, the proposed collaboration holds the potential for an as-of-yet unrealized greater collective effort. In their confluences and differences of opinion, the team represents the city’s aspirations for an open debate in the service of architectural excellence.”

Another team, known as United Architects, consists of Reiser Umemoto of New York, Foreign Office Architects of London, Greg Lynn FORM of Los Angeles, Imaginary Forces of New York and Los Angles, Kevin Kenon Architect of New York, and UN Studio of Amsterdam. This team's submission was quoted as noting that “The terrible destruction of the World Trade Center site created both an imperative for commemoration and the need for development. Ground Zero is the last place any of us want to think about as a ‘project’, the last place any of us want to see ‘developed’, in that cynical, shortsighted manner that the word has come to mean. And now it has to be the first question.” The panel's report found that “This mutually complimentary, multinational team, (American, British, Dutch, Iranian, Japanese and Spanish) assembles some of world’s the most innovative and inventive young designers and architects to address the daunting challenges of this project. Possessing a broad range of expertise in theory, research, planning, engineering, infrastructure, transportation, residential, commercial and landscape design, this group is also universally recognized as the cutting edge users of advanced computer technology in design. With their ability to collect and analyze data, integrate knowledge, and develop design in a short amount of time, these visionaries will employ digital technology as an inventive tool and media for communication to bring forth and reinstate the progressive ideals of contemporary society.”

Another team is lead by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which has designed the proposed new Pennsylvania Station in New York, joined by Field Operations of Philadelphia and New York, Tom Leader of Berkeley, California, Michael Maltzan of Los Angeles, Neutelings Riedijk of Rotterdam, and SANAA of Tokyo together with artists Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, Rita McBride, Jessica Stockholder and Elyn Zimmerman. The team's submission is quoted as follows: “Like New York, our design team is at once global and local, visionary and practical, mindful of history and willing to question it.” The panel's report notes that “Recognizing New York as a “city of contrasts,” the team led by SOM seeks to “reconcile the spiritual and the pragmatic, meaning and purpose.” Their combined talents represent a diverse range of artistic and design disciplines, generational perspectives, and cultural backgrounds. The team has the potential to harness effectively fresh and unexpected thinking with the considerable resources of a global corporate firm. Rather than a single unified solution it is hoped that such a team can approximate the complexity, vitality and sophistication of the culture of Lower Manhattan.”.

Another team is known as THINK and consists of Shigeru Ban of Tokyo, Buro Happold Engineers of Bath, England, Jorg Schlaich of Stuttgart, Germany, Jane Marie Smith of Baltimore, William Moorish of Charlottesville, and from New York, Frederic Schwartz
Ken Smith, David Rockwell and Rafael Vinoly. This team's quote is that “The role of memory in the construction of our City is as crucial as the proof of its constant renewal. The central problem of this project is not simply how best to remember those that perished in this tragedy but how to make their memory the inspiration for a better future." The panel's excerpt maintained that “The core team consists of an experienced and highly regarded downtown architect and a landscape architect joined by an innovative young architect of international renown and an architect with a large New York City firm. Support from international experts in sustainability and engineering and other design consultants gives additional resources for this project. This energetic and comprehensive team structure allows a complex series of multilateral and multidimensional issues to filter through their creative design process. Imaginative and realistic in its role as an advocate for the community to promote excellence in architecture and design, this team understands the monumental task at hand.”

The LMDC also announced that the review panel also identified seven semi-finalists in the shortlist for this Innovative Design Study.

The seven semi-finalists included: Ken Greenberg, architects, Alliance; Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner; ARUP, NY and Mueser Rutledge; Ian Simpson Architects, Ian Simpson and Rachel Haugh, Principals; Eric Owen Moss Architects, Eric Owen Moss, Principal: Lead firm; Coop Himmelb(l)au: Associate firm, Peter Sellars, Artistic Director: Associate firm; Bernard Tschumi Architects; Leslie Robertson Associates, Structural Engineering, ARUP, Transportation; Michel Devigne, Landscape Architecture; Santiago Calatrava; Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects, Julie Bargmann, Landscape Architect of D.I.R.T. Studio, Ralph Lerner Urban Design and Sam Schwartz Company, traffic and transportation design; Sasaki Associates; Dennis Pieprz, Urban Design, Alistair McIntosh, Landscape Architecture; Alan Ward, Urban Design/Landscape Architecture, Kathryn J. Madden, Planner/Managing Principal.

Clearly, there are some significant talents among the six finalists and also among the semi-finalists, and the purpose of this "design study" is to discover some new conceptual approaches to the problem of what should be done in Lower Manhattan. One suspects, unfortunately, that a "Chinese menu" - one from column (team) A, one from column (team) B, etc. - may vitiate the conceptual designs. Still, it is a worthwhile and important exercise that will help bring into sharper focus the magnitude of the challenge and its potentials. One does wish that Eric Owen Moss, Santiago Calatrava and Frank Gehry were in the finalist group.

While the design goals are ostensibly to plan an exciting new downtown skyline, a fitting memorial for those lost in the terrorist attacks, a handsome "bridge" to Battery Park City, and vastly improved transportation access to Lower Manhattan, such goals can be accomplished and still fall far short of the real opportunity to make downtown much, much more vibrant and viable, to make the city much more dynamic and contemporary, to reassert the city's status as the world's greatest urban center.

Before the tragedy of 9/11/01, the proposed new Solomon R. Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry for a platform on the East River south of the South Street Seaport promised much in terms of significantly uplifting downtown with cultural and architectural excitement. It should not be overlooked in the new plans. Nor should the city's major historical monuments, which might provide clues for the new developments, not specifically in terms of design but in terms of their transformative values.

The Precedents

The City Review offers the following list, albeit subjective, of the city's most important "transformative" monuments:

1 - The Statue of Liberty. No other structure so richly symbolizes the spirit of the city, and the nation. It is an indelible icon of inspiration, idealism, and liberty.

2 - The Woolworth Building. New York City truly gained international statue when the lower end of the island of Manhattan began to sprout splendid skyscrapers and this "cathedral of commerce" was, and is, thrilling.

3 - The Singer Building. Sadly demolished, this elaborate skyscraper bulged at the top and marked the city's dynamic individualism.

4 - The Empire State Building (see The City Review article). By a fluke of history, this skyscraper's isolation has given it more visibility than any other.

5 - Rockefeller Center (see The City Review article). This Art Deco-style masterpiece of urban planning legimitized midtown as a business district and quickly became the heart of the city.

6 - The Chrysler Building (see The City Review article). A good building with the world's greatest and most spectacular and shiny skyscraper top. It makes imaginations run riot.

7 - Grand Central Terminal (see The City Review article). A bulky Beaux Arts-style railroad terminal that is significant for its great and gigantic grand concourse, its underground connections to surrounding buildings, its integration with subways, and the great "Terminal City" vision that led to the development of many surrounding compatible projects, many sadly since altered.

8 - The original Penn Station. Sadly demolished, the original Penn Station had several of the city's noblest spaces that evoked grandeur far surpassing that of Grand Central Terminal, but sadly it did not spur nearby development of comparable quality. Both it and Grand Central Terminal, however, were very great gateways to the city.

9 - The Brooklyn Bridge. One of the world's greatest engineering feats when it was created, it has assumed a romantic, legendary aura even though it is not the city's prettiest bridge. It did, however, expand the city.

10 - The Metropolitan Museum of Art (see The City Review article). In its infancy, it was a nice, small museum, but it has grown into a gargantuan treasure house that displays the wondrous, world-class treasures accumulated by many New Yorkers.

11 - The Helmsley Building, originally the New York Central Building (see The City Review article). The midtown grid, one of New York's greatest plans, is violated here but a very romantic and impressive tower that is equally impressive at its base where it has curved drive-throughs. It also was a sublime landmark that happened to be part of the "Terminal City" of Grand Central Terminal.

12 - The New York Public Library (see The City Review article). A stunning Beaux Arts-style masterpiece that signified the city's understanding and support of education.

13 - Central Park. This large landmark park did much to improve uptown real estate values and is full of delightful surprises and over the years its edges have been built up with many important buildings.

14 - The San Remo. The most beautiful of Central Park West's multi-towered residential skyscrapers, this epitomized the elegance of high-rise living, even though it was preceded by the Ritz, which suffers from not facing on a major park, but which was also designed by Emery Roth.

15 - The Beresford. With its three-towers, this Emery Roth-designed residential skyscraper solidified Central Park West's status as the city's most architecturally important residential avenue.

16 - The Municipal Building. Straddling Chambers Street like the Helmsley Building straddles Park Avenue, this fine public building has a noble top but unfortunately is a sad reminder that plans for a truly grand civic center never got off the ground.

17 - The Plaza Hotel (see The City Review article). The city's dowager luxury hotel commanding the southeast entrance to City Park reeks of elegance.

18 - The United Nations. This flamboyant International Style-landmark ushered in the era of glass-curtain walls and certified the city as the international center of the world.

19 - The Flatiron Building. The triangular plan of this richly detailed Beaux Arts-style skyscraper has never lost its appeal in part because of its fronting on Madison Square Park and being at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway.

20 - The old Metropolitan Life Building on Madison Square. Although its facade was "modernized" a few decades ago, this huge variation on the famous tower in Venice added a great lantern, an observatory, sadly closed for many years, and giant clocks high up on its four facades.

21 - The Seagram Building (see The City Review article). The building that not only spawned a generation of bronze-glass office towers, but more importantly its decision to not building on its entire plot and create a large front plaza led to a major change in the city's zoning.

22 - Lever House (see The City Review article). Small by the city's standards, this Modernist-style landmark spawned a generation of green-glass office buildings, made Park Avenue the city's most impressive office address, and its opening of street-level spaces and landscaping and asymmetrical design qualify it as a masterpiece of modern architecture.

23 - St. Patrick's Cathedral (see The City Review article). This twin-spired neo-Gothic-style building gave midtown its most graceful landmark.

24 - The Sherry-Netherland Hotel (see The City Review article). This minaret-topped luxury hotel may well be the city's best skyscraper because of its massing and gargoyles and location.

25 - 998 Fifth Avenue (see The City Review article). The first major, palatial Fifth Avenue apartment house.

26 - Riverside Drive. By building this highway, Robert Moses created a major park overlooking the Hudson River with sinuous borders.

27 - Washington Square Arch. Washington Square Park was the city's most elite residential address before the arch was built and over the years has been largely taken over by New York University, but the handsome arch is a lovely southern anchor to Fifth Avenue.

28 - The World Trade Center (demolished in the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01). The gleaming twin towers were awesome even if they tilted the downtown skyline and lacked some subtlety in detailing.

29 - The World Financial Center at Battery Park City. Highlighted by Cesar Pelli's great Wintergarden, this huge commercial complex included a major marina for large yachts and significantly help reddress the skyline imbalance created by the World Trade Center and gave a significant boost to the rest of Battery Park City with its vast and handsome retail spaces.

30 - The Lincoln Center for The Performing Arts. Disappointing architectural, but an extremely important incentive for the renaissance of the Upper West Side. Its central plaza surrounded by huge balconies of the three main "houses" is very successfully done and one hopes that renovation plans do not lessen its popularity.

32 - World Wide Plaza. This full-block redevelopment of a former site of Madison Square Garden was extremely important in the renaissance not only of Eighth Avenue but also of Times Square as long-delayed plans to renovate 42nd Street were mired in legal controversy for many years. The project consists of a major skyscaper modeled in Post-Modern fashion after the great New York Life Insurance Building on Madison Square Park as well as a large-mid-block plaza and a residential section with a handsome tower and low-rise structures.

33 - Zeckendorf Towers. William Zeckendorf Jr., whose father was a legendary developer, pioneered several very important "renaissances," in this case that of Union Square. He also was a principal in the development of World Wide Plaza. While this four-towered, full-block project is a bit ungainly, its illuminated tops complement the great lantern top of the Con Edison Building across Irving Place.

34 - The Dakota. This legendary apartment building was a pioneer in the development of Central Park West and the Upper West Side and its courtyard and fearsome moat railings never fail to impress.

35 - The Ansonia. Another Upper West Side landmark, this building is missing some spires but remains the city's most fanciful "exploded" Parisia-style apartment building.

36 - The present Waldorf-Astoria (see The City Review article). One of the city's Art Deco-masterpieces, this is the city's "grand hotel."

37 - Carnegie Hall (see The City Review article). The world's most famous concert hall is also a fascinating mixed-use building.

38 - The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Flank Lloyd Wright's inverted cone is one of the masterpieces of architecture.

39 - Citicorp Center (see The City Review article). This silvery structure raised on stilts remains a bold, modern landmark.

40 - The Crown Building (see The City Review article). The great top of this medium-size skyscaper adds the right amount of glitter to the city's most expensive intersection.

41 - The Equitable Center on Seventh Avenue. An insurance company with a long and prestigious real estate history in the city pioneered the renaissance of the West 50th on Seventh Avenue with this huge tower and, more importantly, its lavish and interesting art.

42 - The Frick Collection. The finest small museum in the Western Hemisphere and the crown jewel of the city's museums because of its very, very high ratio of masterpieces.

43 - The National Museum of Design, originally the Andrew Carnegie mansion (see The City Review article). With its enormous garden and handsome tall fences and great marquee, this huge mansion led to the renaissance of a neighborhood now known as Carnegie Hill.

44 - The Queensborough Bridge - With its Gothic finials and huge steelworks, this structure gives great visual interest to an otherwise bland East River cityscape.

45 - The city's subway system. Not only did the subways provide fast transit to most parts of the city, but they also did away with elevated rail lines that were noisy.

46 - 9 West 57th Street (see The City Review article). A daring, soaring sloped skyscraper of great sleekness established the Plaza district as a major business district.

47 - The George Washington Bridge. Public enthusiasm for the exposed structure led to the decision not to clad it in limestone, thankfully.

48 - The A. I. G. Building, originally the Cities Service Building (see The City Review article). One of the great spires of Manhattan, it contains the world's greatest observatory, unfortunately closed to the public.

49 - Waterside Plaza. Slender, chamfered and bulging residential towers along the East River, designs that should have been used on Roosevelt Island, one of the city's major architectural disappointments.

50 - The MetLife building, originally the PanAm Building (see The City Review article). Although rightfully detested by many for its marring of vistas of the Helmsley Building, and its poor detailing, this is one of the world's finest Brutalist buildings, with an unusual massing and very strong and deep fenestration pattern, and expansive public spaces.

This is not a list of the city's finest architecture, but of its most important structures historically and it would be easy to add to this list with structures such as Trinity Church on Wall Street, One Wall Street, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the old Madison Square Garden on Madison Square Park, Gramercy Park, the Jefferson Market Courthouse (now Library), the former U. S. Customs House, the former Hall of Records, 570 Lexington Avenue (see The City Review article) and Trump Tower (see The City Review article).

The redevelopment of the World Trade Center site hopefully will eventually get near the top of this list.


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