If ever a building project reflected the trials, tribulations and also tragedy of a whole era, the project for the former World Trade Centre, or “Ground Zero”, is it. Ten years on from the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, however, the tangible results of a sometimes-bitter debate over what should stand on this Lower Manhattan site are finally becoming visible. The complexities of the development have tested New York and America’s resolve; the brief was as encompassing as it was impossible and now New Yorkers are finally seeing the results.
Central to the story of Ground Zero has been the almost crippling urgency to reconstruct and visibly heal a deep wound to the city’s physiognomy. “We will rebuild…The skyline will be made whole again,” said then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani on the day of the attacks. Since then a convoluted and sometimes litigious realisation has involved the site owners, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, developer Larry Silverstein and the many stakeholders, including most notably the families of the 2,753 dead and a prominent Muslim group.
The site that is emerging, master-planned by Studio Daniel Libeskind, will encompass (starting from the bottom) a complex and crowded transport hub with a Calatrava-designed street level concourse; a national memorial museum and gardens with 400 oak trees; a 1,776ft (in honour of the year of declaration of Independence) One World Trade Center, designed by David Childs of SOM. Growing at one storey a week, the new tower is set to be the tallest building in the US.
New York is breathing an almost palpable sigh of relief; a 10-year anniversary without fitting tribute would have not only been a cause of embarrassment but would have revealed a city trapped in a straight-jacket of speculative and commercial interests. Instead, two large sunken pools lie in the footprints of the former towers. The victims’ names are etched onto the walls of the pools beyond which will be 30ft lintels of cascading water. The One World tower, which was originally to be called the Freedom Tower, is also impressive and has an elemental resonance with Minoru Yamasaki’s 1973 Twin Towers, although the geometric, prism-like surface brings contemporary relevance.
After the decision to rename the structure One World Trade Center, Christopher Ward, director of the Port Authority said, “We were free before 9/11, we were free after 9/11. New Yorkers don’t need a tower named ‘Freedom’”. This pragmatic attitude is said to be behind the site’s quickening completion. Ground Zero is gradually becoming a location in the city’s psyche rather than an urban vacuum between West and Church streets. Commerce, civic interaction and plenty of space for reflection will soon emerge.