Silverstein/Childs take W.T.C. lead, but Pataki objects to tower move

By Josh Rogers

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

The World Trade Center site last week.

Before Daniel Libeskind’s World Trade Center plan was picked, before the six Beyer Blinder Belle proposals for the site were rejected, David Childs knew he was Larry Silverstein’s architect and he was pretty confident he would get to design the new offices at ground zero. Childs’ confidence proved well placed when he was named the “design architect and project manager” last week and Libeskind was relegated to be the “collaborating architect” on the 1776-foot Freedom Tower first conceived by Libeskind.

Back in June 2002, Childs, in an interview with Downtown Express, said the tallest tower on the site should be closer to Church St., east of where Libeskind now proposes it to be.

“I have been thinking of a tower,” Childs said in last year’s interview with Cleveland Adams, a fellow architect. “It should be located as far towards the center of Lower Manhattan as the site will allow. The more you can get it to the place it should be — and that place is east of Greenwich St. — the better. Then it would be out of the water and nearer to the commercial center of Lower Manhattan. It could be the great marker in the sky for the memorial. It could be the extension of the building from the 60th floor up to the 100th floor. This additional four hundred feet could be a cultural element that begins to devolve and finally completes itself.”

This week, Gov George Pataki threw some cold water on the idea of moving Libeskind’s tower from the proposed corner of West and Fulton Sts. Pataki said Monday that the Libeskind plan was picked after a public review process and that it would not be moved unless there was a “compelling reason” to do so.

Childs, Libeskind, Kevin Rampe, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., and Silverstein, the developer who signed 99-year lease for the W.T.C. a few months before it was destroyed, gathered at a spot overlooking the site Wednesday to celebrate the architectural collaboration.

If Libeskind was miffed at not getting to design his Freedom Tower, he hid it well laughing and smiling with Childs.

“We’ve got to roll up our sleeves,” Libeskind told reporters.

Asked when he thought the tower location would be resolved, Childs quipped, “as soon as we meet to discuss it. This afternoon.”

L.M.D.C. officials didn’t appear eager to have the architects speak to reporters for too long. They were in such a rush to usher them away that they accidentally knocked over a memorial wreath overlooking the W.T.C.

When Silverstein was asked where the tower was going, he replied simply: “To the sky. It’s going up.”

The idea of moving the tower east near or over the proposed transit center has received little support beyond Silverstein and Childs, a senior partner at Skidmore Owings & Merrill.

Mark Ginsberg, an architect and a leader of New York/New Visions, which has advised the L.M.D.C. on the rebuilding process, said it is important to leave the tower where it is because it will be more visible on West St. and it creates a spiral effect with the other buildings proposed by Libeskind.

“It would be a big mistake to put something over the transit center,” Ginsberg added.

Beverly Willis, the co-founder of Rebuild Downtown Our Town, agreed. “One of the dramas of the transit facility is it is flooded with light,” she said.

Rampe said last week that moving the tower is an option under consideration, but regardless of where it goes, “The tower is going to be consistent with Libeskind’s vision.”

Childs will be paid through Silverstein, Rampe added. “The L.M.D.C. is not paying S.O.M. or David Childs with respect to the tower,” he said.

S.O.M. was picked as one of the six teams that competed against Libeskind, although Childs was forbidden to work on the scheme since he had already worked with Silverstein. The S.O.M. plan received little support and the firm dropped out of the competition before the field was narrowed down to two teams at the beginning of this year.

Rampe hopes there will be a “final master plan” for the site by the fall. Regardless, he said the tower indecision will not slow the environmental review process since it requires everyone to consider several options for the site. An environmental scoping meeting is scheduled for this Wednesday. Officials hope to have the review done by next spring and to begin construction on the site in August, which will be a few days before the Republican Party Convention in New York City.

Willis said if the Libeskind plan is changed too much, it would call to question the public comment process that preceded the selection. “What was the point of having a competition to select an outstanding design if we are simply going to destroy it.”

Madelyn Wils, an L.M.D.C. board member who has criticized some aspects of Libeskind’s plan, disagreed with that assessment. “Did the public choose the Libeskind plans,” she asked. “I’m not aware of this.”

She said the Libeskind plan was just a site plan, and it was always clear that someone else would design the offices, particularly since Libeskind “has never designed a tall building before.”

Wils, also the chairperson of Community Board 1, consulted with Childs in connection with his design for 7 World Trade Center, located across the street from the site. Childs, also designed the proposed, but never built iconic tower that was going to be the new home of the New York Stock Exchange at Wall and Broad Sts.

“I have a lot of admiration for David Childs,” Wils said.

And although Wils has called for improving the pedestrian access across the site and increasing the amount of open space in the Libeskind plan, she doesn’t think moving the tower is wise.

“My gut says it is probably best left where it is,” she said.

The Libeskind plan has also been criticized because it pushes most of the office space onto Church St. and some are worried that moving the tower east will exacerbate the problem. The leaders of St. Paul’s Chapel have said the shadows from the proposed buildings could affect the trees in its historic cemetery and they have joined with the owners of Century 21 department store and the Millenium Hilton Hotel in asking to see a presentation of any proposed changes, according to a source.

Wils is also opposed to adding a fifth building to the site, as Silverstein has suggested. “I don’t think you want five office buildings on the site,” she said. “I don’t think you can fit 10 million sq. feet of office space on the site.

Will Childs and Libeskind be able to work together?

“Hopefully they will both be able to put their egos aside for the benefit of the project,” Wils said.


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