At Last: Enlightened Ideas for the WTC Site

When the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. first released six plans for redeveloping the World Trade Center site in August, New York was served a heaping portion of mediocrity.

The Port Authority asked us to embrace a tangle of structures surrounding a vacant lot. New Yorkers dream of a place of daylight, beauty, and grandeur. The dream is what architecture can provide, and this Sunday, New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp and some of this city’s brightest architectural minds have shown us what is possible. (See article at

Even if you don’t like the contemporary aesthetics (or other personal preferences) that Muschamp promotes, architecture is more than skin deep. Can we transform Lower Manhattan into a 24/7 neighborhood? These architects have explored that.

With the days of the Westway brouhaha behind us, Frederic Schwartz reconsiders one elegant solution born in that era: bury West Street. Doing so gives Lower Manhattan a green swath and space for rebuilding all of the WTC’s square footage. With office towers straddling Ground Zero, this new-found land can provide much-needed housing as well as a pedestrian-friendly fabric that reunites Battery Park City with Lower Manhattan. Residents and small businesses on both sides of this heroic infrastructure project benefit.

Is there any proper way to memorialize the 9/11 tragedy? The blueprint exercises humility and restraint by refusing a memorial scheme, and leaving it to us citizens to create. On the other hand, many of the objects within the blueprint are already living memorials, like the Kennedy Center. Rafael Vinoly’s transit hub rips open the earth, like Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial, and breathes into it the everyday movement that makes a city hum.

Richard Meier’s Urban Faculty exemplifies education, transparency, and democracy, principles on which this country is founded. It’s a looker, too. And if Frank Gehry’s work in Bilbao, Spain, has taught us anything, it’s that great architecture generates profit as much as it does admiration.

The architectural imaginings in the article aren’t perfect. The group hasn’t cracked the codes of financing or eminent domain. In addition, Peter Eisenman’s three office buildings on Ground Zero’s western border look partially collapsed, a harsh and offensive reminder of our not-too-distant past. The buildings also turn their backs on the magnificently redesigned Winter Garden and sever Battery Park City from Lower Manhattan.

And yet this group of thinkers has given us a platform for change that is head-and-shoulders above what the officials paraded before us. Rather than write off the Times’s blueprint as just another academic exercise, we should rally around it. It’s the best we’ve got.

Categories: Cities