Gotham Gazette

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The Freedom Tower, Again

A new design for the Freedom Tower proposed for Ground Zero was presented to the public on June 29, almost a year to the day after Governor Pataki officially kicked off construction by laying the building’s cornerstone on July 4th, 2004. The new design more closely resembles the original Twin Towers than it does the previous designs. The only feature retained from the original idea for the building is its height of 1,776 feet.

If the focus of the previous versions of this building was symbolism, the new design is clearly centered on safety. The tower's base is a windowless block of steel and concrete rising 200 feet up from the street. This area will be filled with mechanical equipment, and sheathed with a decorative metal facade. The building will also now be considerably further away from the street.

These changes are meant to make the tower less vulnerable to car or truck bombings, a fear that served as the primary justification for the new design. This spring, the New York Police Department became increasingly vocal in its concerns about security. Officials were eventually forced to address these concerns with major architectural changes.

But the changes have virtually eliminated the ideas of architect Daniel Libeskind, who first conceived the tower in his master plan for Ground Zero in 2002. Libeskind's Freedom Tower was a slender building with an asymmetrical spire, which he intended to evoke the outstretched arm of the Statue of Liberty. This spire rose to a height of 1,776 feet, a tribute to the American Revolution.

In an unhappy collaboration, Libeskind and architect David Childs redesigned the building in December 2003. The new design envisioned a larger tower that twisted to a height of 1,100 feet, with an open-air shaft of windmills surrounded by cables rising 400 feet further. The building was topped by Libeskind’s asymmetrical spire.

The new Freedom Tower does not twist. It has no windmills, and lacks a Statue of Liberty spire. Above the 20-story concrete base, the 77-story building tapers as it rises to 1,362 feet in the air, the same height as Tower Two of the original World Trade Center. Its façade is designed to be reminiscent of the Twin Towers. A centered antenna rises to a total height of 1,776 feet.

By all accounts the building will now be safer. But it seems to have inspired little genuine enthusiasm, at least initially. Michael Goodwin of the Daily News complained of "design fatigue."

New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff saw the design as an indication that political priorities have trumped architectural sensibilities at Ground Zero.

“It is exactly the kind of nightmare that government officials repeatedly asserted would never happen here: an impregnable tower braced against the outside world,” he wrote. “The temptation is to dismiss it as a joke.”

Frank Rich, also in the Times, made the same point more succinctly, renaming the skyscraper "Freedom Bunker."

In the Chicago Tribune, Blair Kamin described the building as “monumentally ordinary,” writing that “it does not turn out to be a persuasive synthesis of armor and aesthetics.”

Newsday’s Justin Davidson said the building was "better than many expected and not nearly good enough.”

Others wondered whether the building can be built at all. Construction is now slated to begin early next year, but the revisions will delay its completion, from the initial promise of 2008 or 2009, to 2010. It is unclear how much the changes will add to the building's $1.5 billion budget.

Looking ahead, skeptics wonder whether there is sufficient demand for the tower’s space, or for the space of any building at Ground Zero. Nearby Seven World Trade Center remains tenantless, even though its construction has gone on without a hitch and is scheduled to be completed in early 2006.




Computer generated view of the new Freedom Tower design.


Twin Towers, 1973-2001

Daniel Libeskind's original Freedom Tower design, December 2002

Freedom Tower design, December 19, 2003



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