Conversation With Daniel Libeskind On Thursday February 20, Gotham
Gazette held an online chat with World Trade Center site design finalist
Daniel Libeskind. His plan for Ground Zero exposes the foundations of the
original twin towers.
Welcome everyone, and thanks for coming. Today we are talking to Daniel
Libeskind, a finalist in the competition to design Ground Zero.
Good morning, Mr. Libeskind (or good afternoon, as you
are joining us from Germany!)
The New York Times reported today that rebuilding
officials, as well as Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki, favor your
design for the World Trade Center site. Why do you think that there is
this apparent strong support?
Because we have reached a balance between
history, memory, revitalization and the future.
What do you mean specifically? How does your plan address
these four things?
Revealing the slurry walls retains the memory and does
not erase history. Revitalization is met by activating the street level
and attaining heights and densities which speak to the future.
Your plan memorializes the September 11 attacks in many
ways. Can you describe the design’s different features and the
meanings behind them?
The first element is the Wedge of Light. A public space
created by the sun angles on September 11 between the time the first
tower was hit and the second tower collapsed. Every September 11 no
shadow will fall on that public space. Park of Heroes is a park
dedicated to all those who lost their lives on September 11. Third, the
space of the memorial preserves the footprints, preserves the slurry
wall and provides a generous space for the memorial competition. In
order to repair the skyline and affirm life we are proposing an
immediate building which will be a modification of the Gardens of the
savethewtc asks, "Mr. Libeskind, thank you for all your
dedication in this project. Regarding the rebuilding of the WTC site,
there are some who support rebuilding tall to at least the height of the
old WTC, and others who may fear to work at such heights. What are your
personal thoughts on rebuilding to such heights and what do you tell
people that fear of working so high?"
I think that currently there is an immense fear of
working as high as people worked before. In my scheme we will balance
that fear with the obvious need for higher heights and densities. There
is an equal desire on many people's part to build taller than even
before. But there is the reality that somebody has to commercially
develop these buildings.
Why do you think there is an obvious need for higher
There is a dramatic and urgent need to repair the
skyline. I do not believe that two skeletons in the sky asserts the
vitality of New York or the courage of America. I do believe that a
distinctive and economically viable skyline has to be built.
Are you saying that the Think plan looks like two
skeletons in the sky? Compare your plan to the other finalists. What do
you believe your plan does better for the site?
Our scheme puts cultural life and retail and commercial
life on the streets. A balance has to be reached between the memorial
site and the activities of a bustling and active city life. We have
formed a cultural nexus at the intersections of Greenwich and Fulton
streets and will provide dense retail activity on the street level
connected to the underground.
You are implying by your answer that the THINK plan is
only two towers. But weren't those just meant to be the anchors to
attract commercial and business development?
We have provided an attractor to that site by proposing
the memorial site, the slurry walls, the cultural nexus, and the
reintegrated city street grid. Surrounding this we will provide the
space for flexible commercial development.
Peter Fegan asks, "What kind of message do you think
leaving an open grave site in the middle of the World Trade Center sends
not only to our city, but to terrorists around the world?"
We have been asked to look at the nature and atmosphere
of the memorial site. Far from an open grave, the memorial site will
prove to be an attractive, contemplative, and spiritual space. It
reveals the heroic foundation of the slurry walls which withstood the
incredible trauma of the attack. I do believe that one must preserve a
space which will allow people to think, experience and reflect on the
enormity of the tragedy.
Officials have said that both of the finalist plans will
need to be modified before they choose one design. We have two questions
Neil O asks, "The 1776 foot tall tower is amazing. Please
don't get forced into decreasing the height. We need something to
redefine the skyline and that tower is it. Do you plan to change that
savethewtc asks, "Mr. Libeskind, it has been said that the
slurry walls may be unable to be exposed. If this is the case, your
proposal will be significantly changed, how will your team respond to
We have no intention to decrease the height of any
building. Beyond that we are not allowed to discuss the immediate tasks
we have been given by the LMDC and the Port Authority since they have
placed a strict embargo on our work. I can well assure you that the
slurry walls will be visible and seen. The modification we have been
asked to review will not in any way diminish our core ideas.
When will we know what the altered plans will look
When the LMDC and the Port Authority release them to the
Your design preserves the seven-acre hole where the twin
towers stood, called the "bathtub," for a memorial 70 feet below ground
level. The Times recently reported that rebuilding officials have asked
you to change your design in order to make room for a bus parking garage
and the PATH station. But many victims’ family members say that
the entire 70-foot pit is sacred ground and should not be used for
transportation infrastructure. How will you accommodate both of these
It is our understanding that the families are concerned
about security issues. The path station is already being built. It has
always been there and the tracks cover the south footprint. There is no
possibility for the path train to be moved. The transportation
infrastructure can be accommodated.
Community Gardener: "Mr. Libeskind - I'm talking now as
someone who worked in the WTC during the first bombing in '93 & lost
several friends on 9/11. My father-in-law was a construction worker on
the original WTC, his last job before he retired. He and other
craftsman said that the earlier building was rapidly and poorly
constructed because of the exo-skeletal design? How do you plan to
design your buildings with greater structural safety?"
It is correct that the original WTC Towers were not
constructed to the more stringent rules and regulations that apply
today. There is an entire family and community group that has made it
their tasks to lobby for buildings built by the Port Authority to be at
the highest standard. There is no possibility that either I or any other
responsible architect would conceivably build high rise buildings
without the latest structural and mechanical knowledge. That includes
the knowledge of enclosed elevator cores, stair cores, egress and
access, all of which can be engineered to a higher degree of safety.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation will soon be
conducting a separate competition for a memorial. Yet your design has
many memorial spaces and, with its exposed hole where the Twin Towers
stood, interprets how we should remember the attack. How might a
separate memorial design fit in with your plan for Ground Zero?
What I am providing is the outline of a memorial site. It
includes the memorial site, the footprints, the September 11th Plaza,
and the walls around the site. This allows for not only a two
dimensional space but a three dimensional one for the memorial
competition. I have simply indicated the parameters of the site without
any design included. Whatever memorial is chosen will be done by the
Robert Beecher asks, "Do you personally plan on entering
the memorial competition, or are you prohibited from entering?"
Simply put if I win then I shall work closely with whom
ever wins the competition. If I lose, then I will have to think about
What is the cost of your World Trade Center site plan,
and do you think that there will be enough money to build it?
Our WTC plan has been cost estimated at between 220 and
320 million dollars. It is considered the bargain basement of all the
schemes in the competition. I believe there will be more then enough
money for this scheme.
Do you think that is one reason that your plan is the
frontrunner? Because of its cost?
I cannot comment on that. Certainly I have tried to be
economically responsible to the client and to the people of New York who
have to pay for this.
Do you have an idea of how much of your plan would be
paid for with private vs. public money?
Clearly the office towers will be developed by private
developers and investors. And clearly the below ground infrastructure
will be paid for by FEMA money administered by the Port Authority and
the LMDC. The above ground public spaces, including roads and parks,
will be paid for with public funds. And obviously cultural institutions,
like a performing art center and a museum, will be paid for by public
funds with some private donations.
GSD asks, "What role is the "winner" likely to play when
economics and the realities of real estate finance come into play? How
could you or another architect ensure that the integrity of the
architectural vision is not compromised?"
As an architect who has had the good fortune to build
primarily public projects, I believe that one of the most important
roles is to be a strong and persuasive advocate. I believe that the
urban idea has to be strong enough to withstand the vicissitudes of both
developers and politicians.
Philip Nobel, in a Nation article, said that "the shaken
should look elsewhere [besides architecture] for solace." Are people
investing too much hope that the aesthetics of architecture will heal
the city or provide solutions?
I would respectfully disagree. I believe architecture to
be a communicative public art that tells a story, not just of its own
making, but much more importantly the story of its context.
Bessie asks, "I don't know if this question has been
asked but do you believe there are some "fundamental flaws" in the
program - in the sense that is there a new kind of program, more process
oriented, that can foster a new approach to place making and city
building in the 21st century?"
I have participated in countless competitions. This one
has proven to be the most open minded and civically driven that I have
ever experienced. There is no doubt that the difficulties inherent in
this process have been due to the uniqueness of the tragedy and of the
depth of the response needed. No matter what the result, as an American
and a New Yorker I have felt privileged and honored to be part of it.
Thanks for coming today, Mr. Libeskind.
Thank you for the opportunity.
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