Gotham Gazette

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Rebuilding NYC

A Good Work in Progress

The recently released Freedom Tower is a well thought out design, and a lot of issues have been addressed. That said, there are a few things that still need to be developed. Given the early phase of design the building is in, there will be plenty of chances to make these improvements.

There are a lot of things about this building that I like. The idea of creating an open space with cables that resemble the Brooklyn Bridge is a good one, the building relates to the street grid in a way that makes sense, and the glass wall is going to have a texture that will pick up light differently throughout the day, which will mean that the look of the building will vary at different times. One of the clearest messages is that people want a new icon to replace the twin towers, and I think this will do that. At 1,776 feet tall, you’re going to see it from everywhere.

This building is tall enough to be graceful. The problem with modern office buildings is that you need a large floor size, which makes it hard to design an elegant skyscraper. In general, the tenants for “class A” office buildings want a 30,000 – 40,000 square foot floor plate, which results in buildings, even if they’re 40 or 50 stories, that look short and squat. They’re not as graceful as the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building, which have much smaller floor plates.

The most ambitious aspect of the building is the area containing wind turbines in an open-air frame made of cables. Would you normally build a space like that for wind turbines? I don’t think so. But if you have the space, the idea of putting wind turbines in a place like that is a good one. Technically, it’s not a gamble; cable structures are a proven technology, and wind turbines are a proven technology.

I and many others feel the need to set an example by building a sustainable or green building. The wind turbines provide 20 percent of the buildings energy at peak times, and even more at night. As a symbolic statement about the need to reduce our dependency on oil, it is strong. It is also unusual to have a large section of a building that is basically empty. I think there’s a certain poetry in that. It’s an office building, but there’s also a void in the building that will remind us what we’ve lost.

The design isn’t perfect. I think that the asymmetrical spire on the top isn’t very well integrated into the rest of the building design. I’ve heard David Childs talk about an artist redesigning it, and I think it can be fixed and resolved. But right now it is a weak point.

There are also questions that have not yet been addressed. No one has talked much about the building at street level: What does it look like from the street? How are the entrances arranged? What does it feel like to walk by it? It’s not that I think these elements aren’t going to be good, it’s just that we don’t know.

It is not unusual at this stage of design for there to still be concerns that have not been addressed. In architecture, you typically start at the large scale and work down. There’s a long way to go, meaning that there is plenty of time to answer these unanswered questions. However, the schedule is being compressed, for political reasons, to have the design ready for the cornerstone to be laid by the third anniversary. That doesn’t leave a lot of time.

Mark Ginsberg is the President of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects

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