A waterfall at the W.T.C.?

By Josh Rogers

A little-noticed part of Daniel Libeskind’s plan for the World
Trade Center site includes a waterfall that would be almost as tall as Niagara Falls, above.

How about building a waterfall almost as tall as Niagara Falls at the World
Trade Center site?

The idea perhaps sounds like just one of the thousands, if not millions, of ideas that have been proposed by architects and lay people and posted on Web sites, e-mailed to news organizations or discussed in barrooms all over the world since the 9/11 attack.

But far from some quixotic idea, a 150-foot waterfall facing the W.T.C. memorial area is part of the approved site plan by architect DanielLibeskind. It is without a doubt the largest, least-talked-about aspect of the Libeskind scheme. [Because of a misleading bar scale in a Lower Manhattan Development Corp. diagram, Downtown Express incorrectly reported that the waterfall will be 250 feet in its hard copy edition.]

“It hasn’t come up in one conversation I’ve had with anybody,” Madelyn Wils said about the waterfall.

Quite a statement.

Wils is on the board of directors of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which managed the site planning process. She has attended virtually ever L.M.D.C. meeting and executive session in which the Libeskind plan was discussed and has had countless private conversations with the various W.T.C. decision makers. She is chairperson of Community Board 1 and has presided over numerous public meetings and forums to discuss the site.

The W.T.C. waterfall would be roughly the height of a 15-story building compared to Niagara’s American Falls, which is 184 feet tall. It would be about 200 feet wide on the Greenwich St. side of the memorial site, according to the L.M.D.C. guidelines sent to the thousands of aspiring memorial designers.

The L.M.D.C. guidelines said that the waterfall was not part of the proposed memorial area, so presumably, the memorial ideas will all be compatible with a large waterfall.

A spokesperson for Libeskind said the architect would not comment on his proposed waterfall. An L.M.D.C. spokesperson said the state-city agency would not comment either.

Wils doubts if the costs of the waterfall have been considered yet and said the decision on whether or not to proceed with the waterfall plan will be dependent on the specific memorial design.

“I don’t know if it’s a reality,” she said, adding that it would be a major component of the design. “On the southern end of the site, that would be the predominating feature.”

Charles G. Wolf, whose wife was killed in the 9/11 attack, is on the L.M.D.C.’s family advisory committee. He had not realized there is a proposed waterfall opposite the memorial, but he is not concerned because he figures it won’t be built if it is not compatible with the selected design.

“If there is a waterfall and it works, fine; if it doesn’t work, let’s pull it out then,” Wolf said. “Nothing is cast in stone right now…. Waterfalls can be very peaceful, but a [large] waterfall could be thunderous.”

More than 13,000 people registered to submit a memorial design. The drawings were due June 30, and L.M.D.C. president Kevin Rampe said last week that he is certain more people submitted a design than the 1,400 who proposed a design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which had bee the largest memorial competition in the world.

The L.M.D.C. is not yet finished logging in every entry and the final number of entries is still unknown. The 13-member jury, which includes leaders in the world of art, architecture and academia, will select up to five by September and is expected to pick the final design in October.

Rampe and some members of the jury, in public comments, have encouraged the designers to be willing to deviate from the competition guidelines, but the written parameters do not indicate the same amount of flexibility. Almost 4,600 of the people who at least registered to design the memorial are from

New York and are more likely to be aware that the restrictions may not apply. Wolf said he is not concerned that some artists could be at a disadvantage.

“New Yorkers know, ‘Don’t believe the signs,’ ” he said. “This is life. This is what you call street smarts. Does it set up different rules for different people? It probably does, but I don’t think it will box anybody out.”

Sudhir Jain, a member of the L.M.D.C.’s resident advisory committee, however, said he thought that some designers could feel constricted. He also was unaware about the waterfall. “If it’s a required element of the design, it should have been discussed more thoroughly,” he said.

Mark Ginsberg, one of the leaders of New York/New Visions, a group of architects and other professionals that advised the L.M.D.C. on the architectural selection process, said he had not given extensive thought to the waterfall, but he said he viewed it as a possible way to separate the memorial from street noise, similar to Libeskind’s idea to put the memorial 30 feet below street level.

He said he heard Libeskind mention the waterfall at least once during a panel discussion, and Ginsberg didn’t have the sense that the waterfall was a crucial element of the plan.

“Do I think the waterfall is critical,” Ginsberg asked. “No. Could it be nice? Yes.”

He agreed that the waterfall decision should be put off until the memorial is picked. As for the memorial, Ginsberg thinks, “if it breaks some rules, it breaks some rules.”

Ginsberg is part of a group that has opposed efforts to change the more well-known aspects of the Libeskind plan. He favors keeping the memorial below street level and leaving the 1,776-foot tower near Fulton and West Sts. and opposes adding a fifth office building to the site, which has been proposed by the site’s leaseholder, Larry Silverstein.

Wils, for her part, said she finds waterfalls soothing, but she’ll wait to see what design the jury picks and see if they voice an opinion on the waterfall.

“I think the jury’s completely independent,” she said. “They are looking at this truly as an open book.”



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