O Brave New World!

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STUDIO DANIEL LIBESKIND

The design concept for the development of the World Trade Center site by architect Daniel Libeskind

Daniel Libeskind calls architecture "a civic art, an art of negotiation." Which is another way of saying that designing a building is only half the battle. The real struggle is getting the thing built. Libeskind, 56, was named the winner last week of the extraordinarily hard fought and closely watched competition for a design to rebuild the World Trade Center site. Now the real work begins: financing a scheme that includes a museum and five office buildings, working with the sharp-elbowed assortment of public authorities and private parties who lay claim to the site and keeping the plan from being nibbled to death by changes. How much of it will actually be built? If you want to make God laugh, the saying goes, tell him your plans.

Then again, God may not have reckoned with a man of Libeskind's willingness to accommodate or his industrial-strength charm. In the years ahead, his tommy-gun speech, his more or less Polish accent and his hand-tooled cowboy boots will become as familiar to New Yorkers as Sarah Jessica Parker and her Manolo Blahniks. His intense campaigning for the project made him a target of criticism. But Libeskind has produced a design worth campaigning for. At its symbolic center is the "bathtub," the scorched and scoured pit in which the foundations of the Trade Center once stood, plus its surrounding concrete wall. Libeskind's plan calls for a 7acre area, 30 ft. deep, to be preserved as testimony to the attack and the resilience of New York City and America — in effect, a Wailing Wall for the 21st century, with an emotional power that grows from calamity but tells of endurance.


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"I shaped the entire site to speak to the traces of the event and to its significance," he says. "But we also want to reassert its vitality." So all around and above, Libeskind offers life rearing up in triumph. Above the hole there's the museum in his signature angular style. On three surrounding sides is an ensemble of towers, including a 70 story office structure with a spire that rises to the patriotic altitude of 1,776 ft.--the world's tallest building. In a gesture that harks back to the ancient solar markers of Egypt and Peru, he has designed his public squares so that each year on Sept. 11, a wedge of sunlight will fall across one of them from 8:46 a.m., when the first of the hijacked planes struck, until 10:28 a.m., when the second tower fell. Still to be decided is the design for a memorial to the Trade Center victims, which will be chosen this year after an open competition and may be erected within the bathtub. Meanwhile, Libeskind has embedded the idea of recollection all through his design, moving vertically from grief to renewal.

But who exactly will build it? After 9/11, New York Governor George Pataki formed the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC) to oversee restoration of the Trade Center site. But the 15 LMDC board members share power with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that built the Trade Center and owns the land. The Port Authority in turn must accommodate Larry Silverstein, a New York City developer who signed a 99-year lease on the Trade Center six weeks before the attack. Silverstein is partnered with a retail developer, Westfield America, that is pushing for maximum shopping space in any new plan. For good measure, he also has his own famous architect, David Childs. Though Silverstein says he is committed to building Libeskind's tower, it could be Childs, not Libeskind, who provides its final design — assuming that Silverstein stays in the game at all and is not bought out by the Port Authority. Got that?

Then there's the money question. While the museum and other cultural facilities in Libeskind's design are likely to be built with some combination of public and private funds, no one knows where those will come from. As for the office towers, are there many private developers ready to build them in lower Manhattan, where 14 million sq. ft. of office space sit empty? And as of now, no law requires any private developer to accept Libeskind's designs, though arm twisting and pleasanter incentives from the state and city can be expected.

As befits a knot this tangled, the crucial figures in awarding the Trade Center job to Libeskind were not the official decision makers of the LMDC. In August the LMDC had set in motion a worldwide competition for the site. Early last month six semifinalists were winnowed down, Survivor-style, to two: Libeskind and Rafael Vinoly, a global design star of the same magnitude as Libeskind who worked as part of a project team called THINK. Its design featured immense twin towers of steel latticework. High-rise delicacies, they looked like ghostly evocations of the annihilated Trade Center — too much so for some people. The Port Authority also preferred Libeskind's design because it was less expensive and easier to integrate with their plans for transit lines and a rail station. And New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg liked the street life and plazas.

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