New York Times
February 27, 2003
Libeskind Design Chosen for Rebuilding at Ground Zero EDWARD WYATT
In open pit, the crucible where the fires burned for weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, and the ground that held most of the bodies of the dead, will stand as the centerpiece of the city's effort to memorialize and rebuild after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, under a decision made by city and state officials last night.
The move came yesterday when officials overseeing the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan agreed to hire Studio Daniel Libeskind, the Berlin-based firm whose plan for the site centers on the excavated pit at the trade center, ringed by glass towers that swirl upward to a 1,776-foot spire.
The Libeskind design was considered the front-runner for weeks, although a rival plan by an architecture team called Think, which featured two soaring latticework towers called the World Cultural Center, collected strong support as the decision neared. Ultimately, however, rebuilding officials voted in favor of Mr. Libeskind's somber treatment of the memorial and the incorporation of an active street life in the commercial portions of the site.
While the choice of design made some things clear, battle lines are already being drawn over other issues, from the proposed underground parking garages to an enclosed mall and the amount of commercial office space on the site. It is by no means certain, for example, how the memorial will be paid for, when the commercial buildings will go up, whether the towers will look much like the buildings in the design, or whether the city or the Port Authority will ultimately control the site.
A formal announcement of the decision was made this morning at an hourlong news conference at the World Financial Center's Winter Garden, adjacent to ground zero.
"The plan succeeds both when it rises into the sky and when it descends into the ground," said John C. Whitehead, the chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. "In doing so, it captures the soaring optimism of our city and honors the eternal spirit of our fallen heroes."
Mr. Whitehead called Mr. Libeskind yesterday to inform him of his selection, according to a person present during the conversation. Rafael Viñoly, one of the leaders of the Think team, said in an interview last night that he received a brief telephone call from Alexander Garvin, the lead planner for the development corporation, informing him of the decision.
After months of wrangling over the future of the area known as ground zero, and after three weeks of intense lobbying by the two finalists, the decision last evening was made in a meeting that lasted less than an hour.
The eight members of the steering committee that made the decision met with the architects on Tuesday night to hear about revisions that each had made to their plans to address concerns raised by rebuilding officials. Yesterday, just a few hours before the decision was reached, the architects met with Mr. Pataki and Mr. Bloomberg.
Two people who took part in the steering committee meeting said that both Mr. Pataki and Mr. Bloomberg supported Mr. Libeskind, as did representatives from the Port Authority. Roland W. Betts, the development corporation director who oversaw the site planning effort, supported the Think plan but agreed to the group's consensus.
Two people who took part in the committee's discussion yesterday said Mr. Bloomberg, who earlier this month said he favored Mr. Libeskind's design, was not impressed with the changes made by the Think team, particularly in the ground-level aspects of its design. Throughout the process, city officials have stressed their belief that a plan for the site must contribute to an active street life downtown.
Mr. Pataki has repeatedly said that his focus in the rebuilding process is on the memorial to the victims of the attack, and from the beginning he has said he was moved by Mr. Libeskind's design. Many family members of victims have also favored Mr. Libeskind's preservation of so much of the site, and Mr. Pataki has sided with the desires of family members several times, as when he proclaimed last summer that nothing would be built on the ground where the two towers had stood.
Mr. Viñoly said that he was not told much yesterday about the reasoning behind the decision. "But as far as I'm concerned, that is one of the situations in which our profession often finds itself," he said. "These things happen all the time, and you have to go on and do your work."
Two state officials said last night that they feared the governor could face some negative political fallout from the decision. The development corporation's site committee voted on Tuesday to endorse the Think plan; those board members were appointed by Mr. Pataki, Mr. Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Thus these elected officials overruled their own appointees, appointees who were charged specifically with carrying out the rebuilding.
But Mr. Libeskind's design, focusing on the pit and its bleak walls, has sustained a groundswell of support that began almost as soon as it was unveiled in December. The exposed concrete walls of the excavated pit, purely functional when built and designed to hold back the subterranean waters of the Hudson River, came in Mr. Libeskind's design to represent the foundations of democracy, standing fast under the onslaught of a swift and terrifying enemy.
The selection of a winning design is the culmination of a nine-month process that began last May. While the first phase of the rebuilding process is largely complete, much work remains to be done before anything resembling new development takes place at the World Trade Center site.
Rebuilding officials said this week that further revisions would be made to the plans, which were put together in little more than four months — an extremely short deadline for a project of such immense scope.
Most immediately, Mr. Libeskind is likely to focus on the memorial area, preparing guidelines for the memorial competition, which is scheduled to begin in the next couple of months. Development corporation officials hope to have a design for the memorial selected by the second anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.
In addition, engineers will begin work on the delicate process of securing the concrete slurry walls that hold back the Hudson River waters and which are the signature portion of Mr. Libeskind's design.
Much of the seven acres within those walls, an area known as "the bathtub" at the southwest corner of the site, will be devoted to the memorial. Mr. Libeskind's original design called for the memorial to be on the bedrock floor of the excavated pit, 70 feet below ground, but the revised plan calls for the floor of the memorial to be only 30 or so feet below ground level.
The original design by Mr. Libeskind featured two ground-level parks as well, one of which is positioned to capture a wedge of sunlight each year on Sept. 11, from the time that the first plane hit the trade center's north tower until the time that tower fell, the second of the two to collapse.