Rick Bell serves as executive director of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects where he was instrumental in the creation of the New York New Visions design and planning coalition, which has helped to catalyze and critique the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan. Since starting at the AIA in 2001, Rick has raised the profile and involvement of the architectural community on public policy issues, including accessibility, affordable housing, disaster response and sustainable design. The AIA’s storefront Center for Architecture on LaGuardia Place in Greenwich Village marks the shifting of priorities to a greater engagement with the public, with many exhibitions and programs available to all. Today Rick talks to WAN about the future of Manhattan's most treasured development site...
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
Paint it Black, The Rolling Stones, 1964
And what do we find here, the eloquence of organization or the brawl of disorganization? Is there leaven or ferment here?
Kindergarten Chats, Louis Sullivan, 1901
An architecture that is compelling, meaningful over the longer term and culturally ambitious not only respects the past, but also takes great risks to create the future.
Principles for the Rebuilding of Lower Manhattan, New York New Visions, February 2002
On June 11th, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will bring together at Gracie Mansion some of the key individuals who will determine the future of the World Trade Center site’s redevelopment. June 11th is the day that the Rolling Stones “Paint it Black” peaked at #1 forty-four years ago, and the day, also in 1965, that the Broadway play “Skyscraper” closed at the Lunt Fontaine Theater after 248 performances. Five hundred years before, to the day, on June 11th of 1509, Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon, but that’s another story.
What is happening at the World Trade Center site? And why is there a need to get together on 6/11to turn 9/11 around, yet again?
The memorial is proceeding, that we know. With leadership and fundraising oomph from the Mayor, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center (try saying that ten times quickly) is moving ahead. The outlines of its physical form are becoming clearer to those visiting the construction site perimeter. The connection between sacred and secular has been delineated. The design fights – over ramps, waterfalls, and location of the rendered names of those who were killed – have been fought and resolved.
The transportation facilities too are moving ahead, in fits and starts, like a subway with signal problems. The Fulton Street Transit Hub by a team led by Grimshaw Architects is benefitting from Federal Stimulus funds. This was a shovel-ready infrastructure project if ever there was one. Twelve New York City subway lines will be linked under a free-standing glass pavilion topped by an Oculus, bringing daylight down to track level.
The Port Authority’s Trans-Hudson lines will be housed in Santiago Calatrava’s transit hall, a structural expression of the desire to fly that had been grounded or slowed by cost controversies now largely resolved. Construction is proceeding and one of the underground links to the new station is visible to those entering the site by means of the regional rail from New Jersey.
Even the aptly-renamed “Tower One” is rising, ten stories of steel now above grade. Its location will be the linchpin of the spiral of different height towers, organized around the 9/11 Memorial, which characterizes the heart of Studio Daniel Libeskind’s masterplan. With the design-award winning 7WTC up and tenanted, the building formerly known as “Freedom Tower” – also conceived by a team led by David Childs and TJ Gottesdiener of SOM – is taking shape.
Across the street, the last empty lots of Battery Park City are under construction, with the Goldman Sachs tower by Pei Cobb Freed topped off, and The Visionnaire by Pelli Clarke Pelli fitted out. Even the wonderfully airy Poet’s House space by architect Louise Braverman in Polshek’s River House is set to open this summer.
Some, recalling the prior “Art on the Beach” use of Battery Park City, or the more recent wildflower meadows on a portion of that land, are asking 'why rush the completion of the three adjacent east edge towers on the World Trade Center site?'
Others, including Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post, shout 'Build Them Now', because if you build them, office workers will come.
Perhaps there is no absolute right and wrong about incentivizing development, it depends on what collectively we want to see happen first on the site given the limitations on public funding. Which comes first... the Memorial, the transit connections or the space for office workers? Do we have to choose? Another song near the top of the charts on June 11th of 1988, “Everything Your Heart Desires” by Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates, has lyrics which include:
You have everything your heart desires
So why do you want more?
If you had everything your heart desires
Would you still want more?
The same album also had the songs “Missed Opportunity” and “Downtown Life.”
You can’t always get what you want.
Do we need the almost six million sq ft of office space contained in Towers 2, 3 and 4, being designed by Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Fumihiko Maki?
The current much-publicized dispute over the timing of the construction of the office space at the World Trade Center pits the property owner, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, against the lease-holder, Silverstein Properties. The Port Authority sees the slow-down of the office market in Lower Manhattan and throughout Manhattan as indicating that only Tower 2 should be built now, with Towers 3 and 4 awaiting resurgence in the demand for space and revitalization of private credit markets. A study completed for the Port Authority said that the almost 3 million sq ft in Foster’s Tower 2 would not be needed until the year 2026. Silverstein Properties, on the other hand, has seen the value of building ahead of the curve, of having space available when the economy recovers. It is asking that risks be shared by the public sector.
Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the New York State Assembly, in a speech given Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association on May 8th, said: “I am fed up with the stalling and I am exasperated by the current state of the World Trade Center project.” He continued, “that we are where we are after this much time is an embarrassment to our City, our State and to our Nation.” Speaker Silver called for a compromise whereby the Port Authority would assist with the financing of two of the office towers, while requiring Silverstein Properties to up their equity stake in the project. Janno Lieber, president of World Trade Center Properties LLC (part of Silverstein Properties) replied that, 'New Yorkers deserve a timely and full rebuilding of the World Trade Center'.
A letter written by the Regional Plan Association expressed concern, however, 'that up to $3 billion could be diverted from the region's transportation network to fund speculative office building on the World Trade Center site'. The RPA and other signatories noted that, 'these funds are more essential to improving transportation access to both Lower Manhattan and Midtown, in particular building a new PATH terminal and a new rail passenger tunnel underneath the Hudson River', and concluded with, 'in a time of limited resources, investment in the region’s transportation system needs to be given priority'.
The impasse over whether the towers are needed now, or later, recalls the terms of the original World Trade Center site competition, or 'innovative design study' commissioned by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. It called for comprehensive planning – a master plan for the entire 16 acre site – but incremental development of five or six office towers as market conditions allowed. That planning concept coincidentally doomed the linked twin-tower replacement scheme by Lord Foster, favouring the spiral of five individual towers proposed by Daniel Libeskind.
So what should happen on June 11th at Gracie Mansion? Should additional public monies be allocated to assure that construction of the office towers stays on a pace to bring back jobs to Lower Manhattan? Or are those jobs not likely to return, even if the office space is built?
When an architect looks at a glass of water, he or she seldom states categorically that it is half full or half empty. Perhaps the glass is twice as big as it needs to be?
This metaphor, used by Snohetta’s Craig Dykers in his remarks at an architectural conference, applies equally well to the current office market. Six-storey 'plinth buildings' are reportedly being proposed by the Port Authority for the sites of Towers 2 and 3. Retail space would, in this view, help animate the street and bring some income stream until the office market picks up. One could imagine green roofs atop these structures, recalling the wildflower meadows of Battery Park City’s undeveloped sites.
Or not. Back in 1903, Louis Sullivan wrote in the Kindergarten Chats that: "A city is but the material reflection of the character of its inhabitants. That a city, in turn, is but a screen; and behind that screen are the men, women and children who will it, who suffer it to be, whose thought it is. It is their image, their materialization. It is the impressive enlargement in bulk of the notion that behind the screen of each building is a man. The type is subjectively and objectively fundamental – and remains ever true.”
A compromise will be worked out. Towers 2 and 4, I predict, will rise. But who is behind the screen? Mayor Bloomberg simply said that on June 11th, those convened will strike a new deal, bring clarity to what is confusing to many: “We want to create a roadmap that would create progress at the site” and that will “require a realignment of incentives, which will take time to negotiate. It’ll require us to find ways to safeguard public resources.”
One of Sammy Cahn’s songs in the 1965 musical Skyscraper was “More than One Way” which had the chorus: “There’ll be 1,000 floors, slowly but surely..… there’s more than one way, more than just one way to the stars” and concludes “This way of mine suits me just fine.”
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