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August 1, 2003

[1] Celebrated Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has been chosen to design the $2 billion transportation terminal at Ground Zero. Intended as a kind of Grand Central Terminal downtown, the station will link a rebuilt PATH station with 14 subway lines. In choosing Calatrava, who has designed grand terminals in Portugal and Spain, as well as the main sports stadium for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the Port Authority in effect nixed the idea of putting the proposed 1,776-foot tower atop the terminal, as developer Larry Silverstein had preferred.

Also yesterday, Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff wrote on behalf of the Bloomberg administration in strong opposition to Silverstein's attempt to change the proposed site of the world's tallest tower from the northwest corner of Ground Zero.

These and several other rebuilding developments this week, the Times reports, make it clear that, after months of disagreements over Daniel Libeskind's design for the site of the World Trade Center, it is Libeskind's vision that is emerging as the consensus choice, and the one that is likely to be built "in substantially recognizable form." [2] At Ground Zero, an Architectural Void No Longer By HERBERT MUSCHAMP

The site plan represents the destruction of Sept. 11. Now the architecture will provide the creative response. That's the implicit message in the selection of Santiago Calatrava to design a permanent replacement for the PATH station that was destroyed by the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. At last, the controversial plan developed by Daniel Libeskind for the site begins to make sense. From it, great things might grow.

Mr. Calatrava, 52, is the world's greatest living poet of transportation architecture. A native of Spain, Mr. Calatrava trained as both an engineer and an architect. He is best known as a designer of bridges, train stations and airports, masterworks of our time. Long before the word "infrastructure" had entered the lexicon of contemporary architecture, Mr. Calatrava had taken this genre of design to the level of genius. Though his main office is in Zurich, in recent years Mr. Calatrava has been living part time in New York. His first American project, a time capsule designed for The New York Times, is displayed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The Milwaukee Art Museum addition, his first major public building in this country, opened last year to critical acclaim. Mr. Calatrava is also well known in New York as the architect of a project as yet unrealized: a new transept and spire for the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights.

Admirers have long detected a spiritual dimension in Mr. Calatrava's secular work, particularly in Spain. The Communications Tower and City of Science complex, designed for Valencia, has the tripartite arrangement of a Gothic cathedral. The Montjuic Communications Tower in Barcelona gestures skyward like a waving hand, as if to consecrate the air through which electronic messages pass. Inevitably, with its taut cables suspended from a single inclined pylon overhead, the Alamillo Bridge in Seville sparks images of celestial harps. Some structural engineers have criticized Mr. Calatrava for including expressive forms not strictly required by functional needs. That is like attacking an apple for not being an orange. Twentieth-century functionalism is only one of the cultural strains on which Mr. Calatrava has drawn. His sources also include geometry, human anatomy, animal skeletons and other natural forms. Kinesthetics, the perception of movement, is also central to his work. It harks back to a time when expressive form in architecture stood for exuberance and generosity, not a failure to economize.

The choice of Mr. Calatrava is the clearest sign yet that the rebuilding of ground zero will be an achievement of cosmopolitan dimensions. The city has come far from the time, just more than a year ago, when it had entrusted the design process to a local group of insiders bereft of a vision adequate to the historical challenge before them. It is doubly amazing that this sign of serious intent should be issued by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an agency whose architectural standards in recent years have slipped comfortably downhill.

Some New Yorkers who have been following recent developments at ground zero may find themselves secretly hoping that there will be fireworks between Mr. Calatrava and Mr. Libeskind. They may get their wish. In the past several months, Mr. Libeskind seems to have forgotten that he was retained not to design buildings, but to assist the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in preparing a master plan for the 16-acre site. The corporation appears to have forgotten this, too. It seems that the louder Mr. Libeskind has voiced his demands, the more control he has been awarded over the design of buildings planned for the site. And the state agency has yet to produce an actual master plan.

In his presentation to the agency last December, Mr. Libeskind called for "great architects" to help realize his vision. A client would not, in any case, hire a designer of Mr. Calatrava's stature simply to execute the ideas of an architect who has given some New Yorkers cause to fear that he may have difficulty distinguishing sunlight from shade. With architects of the quality of Mr. Calatrava, many New Yorkers will find it easier to appreciate the value of Mr. Libeskind's original inclusive approach. A stylized re-creation of the shock waves felt around the world on 9/11, the Libeskind plan has aroused opposition on the grounds that it would inflict a perpetually open wound on Lower Manhattan. The wound would serve a constructive purpose, however, if it were surrounded by unmistakable signs of the city's resilience. Memory Foundations: that is the name of the proposal Mr. Libeskind submitted last year, and it is a good one. There is much to be remembered on this site, much life along with death. And we must learn to see this project literally as a re-membering, a putting together of pieces that have been violently torn apart.

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