Volume 17 • Issue 32 • Dec. 31, 2004 - Jan. 6, 2005

Talking Point

Sectional view of W.T.C. memorial design shows part of the north tower reflecting pool and places where the box-beam columns of the original north tower will be preserved. The author says the effects to the columns in other parts of the memorial will be minimized with a new proposed design for the PATH station.

Preservation has improved the W.T.C. development plan

By Robert Kornfeld, Jr.

David Stanke’s Talking Point (Dec. 17 – 23, “The excesses of W.T.C. preservationists”) is misleading and requires a response. The article has several main points: that the remnants of the World Trade Center tower footprints are not really significant, that preservation advocates are anti-development and that preservation will hurt the redevelopment effort. These views are simply not accurate, and the anti-preservation philosophy that he espouses would lead the site’s developers into violation of the regulations that govern how projects funded with federal money affect historic resources.

The extant features of the Twin Towers, the foundations of the towers and original steel box column bases that define the floor plans of both towers are an extraordinary historic resource their significance is not marginal, it is well established. The significance of these features is recognized by the historic consultants working for the site’s developers. It is recognized by mainstream preservation organizations such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Municipal Art Society, professional organizations such as the American Institute of Architects and American Planning Association and agencies including the National Parks Service and New York State Historic Preservation Office.

There are few sites where world-changing events are summed up to this extent in one physical place. Some comparable historic sites might be the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, or the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem. The value of the W.T.C. tower footprints as ruins may be hard for some to comprehend. It may difficult to visualize how the footprints, in their current partially excavated state, would look as a well-planned historic site.

You would think from Mr. Stanke’s article that preservation advocates oppose the redevelopment plan. This is not the case. The preservation of the tower footprints is perfectly compatible with the redevelopment plan and does not conflict with any of the major elements of the redevelopment, such as the Freedom Tower, W.T.C. PATH station and transportation hub, the office buildings east of the slurry wall, and the memorial plaza whose Reflecting Absence voids are to be set directly over the tower footprints. This is due to architect Daniel Libeskind’s original design concept the core idea was to leave the tower footprints unbuilt, and to locate new buildings to the north and east.

The historic review is not a delay; it is a normal, ongoing part of the design process, one of many types of consultation that go into every publicly funded project of this magnitude. There has been a focus on issues in several specific areas. Mr. Stanke argues that preservationists and family members are standing in the way of expanding the PATH station to preserve more of the footprints, but the Port Authority and its architect, Santiago Calatrava, have worked well with preservation groups and have come up with a way to add another train platform while minimizing the effects to the north footprint. Another accomplishment is the preservation of the E-train corridor which will be integrated into the new PATH station. This is a section of corridor from the subway to the original W.T.C. Concourse it is the only surviving remnant of original W.T.C. interior finishes, complete with signage. It was originally slated to be demolished. Working out these kinds of details to protect historic resources is exactly the purpose of the Section 106 historic review, which is mandated by the National Historic Preservation Act. The Section 106 process with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. has been quite productive, and will end up producing refinements that greatly enhance the design.

One focus of Mr. Stanke’s attack is the Coalition of 9/11 Families, a group that has advocated preservation of the tower footprints. He and other residents have displayed an intense personal hostility to these family members at Section 106 meetings. They have made remarks that were inappropriate and even cruel. They seem to feel that preservation is somehow serving the special interests of the Coalition. In fact, this is no truer than saying that the Arizona Memorial mainly serves the interests of the families of those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Coalition has made an impressive effort to approach preservation issues in a thoughtful and professional way, and out of a 16-acre site with many historic remnants, has narrowed its preservation focus to the roughly two acres that are clearly defined and have exceptional significance, the tower footprints.

Mr. Stanke seems to believe, along with some residents and business groups, that the historic resources in situ should be obliterated, and all reminders of the 9/11 emergency relegated to the memorial center. He has recommended plucking a few historic remnants from the site and moving them into the memorial center; everything else would be turned into a blank slate. That approach does not acknowledge the site’s significance as a setting for its original artifacts the memorial center should enhance the experience of visiting the site, not try to take its place. It was understandable that some people were concerned about having to look down into an open pit, but that will not be the case because residents succeeded initially in lobbying to change the original Libeskind plan: there will be an abstract memorial plaza at grade level, covering the historic site.

The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. is effective because it takes events that happened far away and creates a place to symbolize them. The W.T.C. tower footprints are already a clearly defined place, the place where the events actually occurred. The idea of destroying the authentic historic site and building an abstract memorial to replace it is absurd. It simply cannot be justified. However, the project seems headed toward a good compromise. The approach of having a grade level plaza as a cover for an historic site beneath at bedrock level is consistent with preserving the site’s historic resources, does not interfere with the redevelopment plan, and is the solution that best balances the interests of residents with the preservation of one of our nation’s great historic sites.

Robert Kornfeld, Jr., an architect with Thornton-Tomasetti Group, is a board member of the Historic Districts Council who has served as a consulting party to the W.T.C. Section 106 review and was an informal advisor to the Coalition of 9/11 Families prior to the beginning of the preservation review of the World Trade Center site.

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