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Libeskind Design Chosen for Rebuilding at Ground Zero

February 27, 2003

Libeskind Design Chosen for Rebuilding at Ground Zero


In the end, it was not so much about architecture, about solemn memorial pits or soaring gardens in the sky. Instead, the decision announced yesterday to choose Daniel Libeskind's design for the World Trade Center site revolved mainly around politics, economics and engineering, people close to the selection process said.

Almost immediately after the decision was announced, civic groups, downtown business leaders and others began debating the details that will be needed to put the plan into effect.

Many of those details also played a part in the selection of Mr. Libeskind. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg focused on economics at a briefing on the two finalist plans for the site, favoring the street life that the Libeskind plan would create, including a vibrant public plaza that would form a new crossroads of commerce and culture on the site, said people who attended a briefing for the mayor and others.

Officials from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which oversaw the design competition, acted like engineers as they made their choice, according to those close to the process. They cast doubt on whether the latticework towers proposed by the losing architectural team, called Think, could be built at all and, if so, at what cost, said people who attended the briefing, given by the architects for Mr. Bloomberg, Gov. George E. Pataki and a committee overseeing the site plan selection.

Mr. Pataki was keenly attuned to the politics behind the choice, several participants in the process said.

The governor has long said that the memorial was the most important element of the designs, and he has listened closely to the desires of family members of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001. Family members told him that the Libeskind memorial sent the message that those victims would be remembered by a symbol of strength - the slurry wall - rather than by what they characterized as a pair of skeletal towers that recalled how their loved ones had died, said the participants in the meetings.

Referring to the latticework towers designed by the Think team, led by Rafael ViĀnoly and Frederic Schwartz, Roland W. Betts, a development corporation director who was chairman of the steering committee, said, ''Many people looked at the ViĀnoly towers as something that would be a magnet, as an inspiration, for the city and the country and so on, that would propel tourism and commercial development.

''That's how I saw it. What I didn't realize was that other people saw it as the skeletons of the original towers and a constant reminder of the attack and of death.'' Between those two points of view, Mr. Betts said, ''there is not a lot of middle ground.''

The plan is more significant for its placement of elements on the site than it is for the imagined commercial buildings rising toward the sky. The choice was made by Mr. Bloomberg and, even more so, by Mr. Pataki, who has wielded the most power over the rebuilding process from the beginning.

The governor said yesterday that the task now is ''to make sure that the plan you see will become a reality.'' Many people doubted that officials from the state, the city, the Port Authority and dozens of city, state and federal governmental entities could cooperate to the degree necessary to create an inspiring plan, Mr. Pataki said. But they did, he said, allowing Mr. Libeskind to create ''an inspiring symbol that will reach into the sky and that will let the world know that the terrorists have failed.''

Mr. Pataki did not mention the Think team's design in his public remarks. But Lisa Stoll, a spokeswoman, said yesterday that he believed that the ViĀnoly plan would also have been ''a tremendous symbol of New York's resilience.''

For 15 months, public officials, civic groups, family members and the general public have debated, often heatedly, the merits of a dozen different schemes for the rebuilding of the trade center.

But yesterday, once the decision was made, many of the vestiges of anger and passion disappeared, and a vast majority of those who followed the process said they wanted to get on with the business of rebuilding.

As if to illustrate that spirit, just before the presentation of the winning design began yesterday at the Winter Garden, the sparkling glass atrium adjacent to the trade center site, Larry A. Silverstein, the developer who holds the lease rights to the World Trade Center's commercial space, approached Mr. Libeskind.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Silverstein railed against the plans and said that he had the right to choose what would be built on the site. Yesterday, however, Mr. Silverstein clasped Mr. Libeskind on the shoulder and gave him a firm handshake, saying, ''Congratulations.''

William C. Rudin, the chairman of the Association for a Better New York, a civic group, said that although his organization had written a letter to rebuilding officials supporting the Think design, he was eager to see the Libeskind design succeed.

''The central thing now is to start implementing the transportation components and moving forward with the broader vision for downtown,'' Mr. Rudin said. ''If government does their job in creating those amenities, then I think this design will help create a very exciting rebirth of Lower Manhattan.''

And while various civic groups, architecture forums and public advocates have decried the lack of clarity about who was driving the decisions around the trade center, it would be hard to argue that the public did not have a chance to influence the debate.

''In response to the public comment, the process itself changed,'' Mr. Bloomberg said, with an entirely new design study begun after the public rejected six early proposals for the rebuilding.

''It has been open and competitive. ''It has been intensely debated. It is a subject everyone has strong opinions about. In other words, it has perfectly embodied the vitality and dynamism of New York.''

The debates are not over, however. Madelyn Wils, the chairwoman of Community Board 1, which encompasses the trade center site, and who is also a director of the development corporation, said the Libeskind plan ''has got a lot of great stuff, but it needs a lot of work.''

''I don't look at this as anything close to a final plan,'' Ms. Wils said, adding that many downtown residents would like to see better connections between the site and neighborhoods to the south and west.

Many family members have also expressed worry about a bus parking area proposed for the space beneath the memorial, where floors will be built across the lower part of the pit to shore up the slurry walls that hold back the underground waters of the Hudson River. The concern is that the parking area will be a safety hazard, that a bus could be used to deliver a bomb to the memorial site.

Port Authority officials estimate that the memorial will generate the need for parking up to 160 buses daily, and they have dismissed the safety concern, pledging a vigorous screening program. But they say they are not wedded to the idea of bus parking and could easily do without it. City officials and downtown residents have pushed for the underground parking, however, saying they don't want tourist buses clogging the streets.

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