Space questions about W.T.C.

By Josh Rogers

Drawing by Daniel Libeskind of his proposed Wedge of Light at the World Trade Center site does not indicate enough room for buses to travel on Fulton St., as many people favor.
Daniel Libeskind’s design for the World Trade Center site has been praised for creating a large public square at the Wedge of Light, but the proposed plaza will be much smaller than it appears on some diagrams once you allow for vehicles to run through the plaza at Fulton St., according to some.

“It is very possible we will end up with less space,” said Madelyn Wils, a board of directors member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which selected Libeskind as the site’s architect in February. “When you allow for vehicles through, it becomes a much smaller space.”

Wils, like most people who have examined the site closely, favors the extension of Fulton St. as a way to better connect the east and west sides of Lower Manhattan, but she thinks the lack of plaza space at the Wedge, slated to be at Fulton, Church and Greenwich Sts. puts pressure to allow for part of the 4.7-acre memorial area to have some space that will be used by residents.

Map of Libeskind’s Wedge of Light, above, and Eli Attia’s idea of how it might look with Fulton St. running through it, below.
“I never felt it (the Wedge of Light) was adequate public space, which is why I think part of the memorial space has to be passive community space,” she said.

She said the Wedge will be a welcome addition, but because of its size and the fact that it will be across the street from the proposed transit center, it will be a “very-heavily passed through plaza.”

Architect Eli Attia, a harsh critic of Libeskind, has calculated that the Wedge will be under an acre once enough space is provided for Fulton St. to run through it. Another architect, who requested anonymity and is also critical of Libeskind, has likewise calculated that the Wedge will be just under an acre.

Some of the close-up drawings Libeskind has done of the Wedge show Fulton St. as a relatively narrow pedestrian pathway, but a drawing he did from a further distance shows buses heading west on Fulton toward Battery Park City.

There has been some discussion of closing Fulton St. to most vehicles, but many people who favor this option support keeping the street open to buses.

Libeskind was traveling to London on May 19 and was not available for an interview. But his spokesperson said the architect would not comment on the Wedge’s size since he is still making adjustments to the plan and it has not been determined. Staff members of the L.M.D.C. did not respond to questions about the Wedge’s size.

When Libeskind was selected to design the site, Mayor Mike Bloomberg said one of the highlights for him was the large public space that the Wedge would provide.

Drawing by Libeskind of his Wedge shows Fulton St. with cars and buses going though it.
Ray Gastil, executive director of the Van Alen Institute, an architectural organization, said one acre would be a significant addition to Lower Manhattan. “One acre in New York is pretty darn big,” said Gastil. “Think of what Liberty Plaza means to people,” he said referring to the plaza immediately southeast of the W.T.C. site.

Gastil said given that Libeskind’s design is proceeding, it is probably not productive to look for flaws in the design. “Where does all this go,” he asked. “Where is this heading?”

Indeed, Wils and the rest of the L.M.D.C. board voted last week to offer Libeskind, his staff and consultants two contracts totaling $4.5 million to complete the work at the W.T.C. The board has already authorized to pay Libeskind’s team about $400,000 for their work in March and April after they were picked, on top of the $370,000 the team made while it was competing against six and then one other architectural team.

There has been a strong push from Downtown business leaders and others to keep the Lower Manhattan rebuilding efforts moving in a forward direction, so any hypothetical effort to pause the process, alter the design dramatically and increase the amount of public space, would likely meet a huge amount of resistance.

Attia said fears of delays are misguided. He said the best solution would be to have a four-month open competition evaluating plans rather than architects. “To fix this plan will take a lot longer and cost a lot more than a competition,” Attia said.

But Attia and the group he is working with, Project Phoenix, would have to convince many that Libeskind’s plan is in fact in need of fixing.

Rick Bell, executive director of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said quite properly, the Wedge is not too large because it serves as a funnel into the “big show to the west,” meaning the large memorial that will be 30 feet below street level.

The original plaza at the W.T.C. was five acres, but it was not as well used as the size would suggest because of harsh winds and a widely-criticized design. Bell said the smaller Wedge of Light won’t be “as morbid as the World Trade Center plaza.”

Bell said he is also not concerned there will be shadows on the Wedge in the morning every Sept. 11, contrary to what many people believed about the design. He said he was impressed at last week’s A.I.A. convention in San Diego when Libeskind gave his explanation of the Wedge’s shadow effects every Sept. 11.

Bell said there will be definite shadow changes at the two key times – 8:46 a.m. when the first plane struck the towers and at 10:28 a.m. when the second tower collapsed. “A shadow is cast at the [anniversary of] the moment the building falls,” said Bell.

Andrew Winters, who has just been promoted to be the L.M.D.C.’s vice president and director for planning, design and development, said the development corporation “knew from the very beginning” that shadows from the Millenium Hotel, which coincidentally was designed by Attia, would cast shadows on the Wedge. Last week, Winters, echoing comments made by Libeskind, said it is important to think of the Wedge as a three-dimensional space in which the proposed glass buildings Libeskind has designed would reflect light into the plaza.

One prominent architect, who is generally supportive of Libeskind’s design, used a barnyard epithet to describe his view of the reflected light explanation.

The L.M.D.C. Web site still carries the explanation that the “sun will shine without shadow” between the key times of Sept. 11.

Attia, who did the study exposing the Wedge’s shadows, said the open space problems in Libeskind’s design are even worse in the proposed Park of Heroes, opposite the Wedge. When Libeskind adjusted his design between December and February, one of the buildings was moved to encroach on much of the park, limiting it to a fraction of an acre, said Attia.

He is also concerned about the office space that will be concentrated on Vesey and Church Sts., a concern that has also been raised by the owners of several Church St. properties including St. Paul’s Chapel, the Millenium Hotel and Century 21 Department Store.

Bell said most of the office buildings will be built over the long term and it is far from clear that they will be as big as they are currently proposed.

“There will be a lot more discussion about programmatic and massing elements before all is said and done,” Bell said.

It is talk like this that leads Attia to say it is time to go back to the drawing board. “You keep changing things and changing things, and what is left?” he asked.


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