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Visions of future take shape for Ground Zero

December 12,  2002 By Charisse Jones and Maria Puente USA TODAY


NEW YORK -- Seven teams that include some of the most prominent architects in the world will present their visions of how to redevelop the World Trade Center site next week. The unveiling comes five months after an initial set of six plans was scotched because of widespread criticism. Several of the new proposals for rebuilding the 16-acre site that was leveled by terrorists on Sept. 11 include constructing what would become the tallest buildings in the world. The twin towers were more than 1,300 feet tall. The current tallest buildings are the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at 1,483 feet.


Another proposal shows a glass enclosure, many stories high, encasing a public space.


The massive project is so challenging and far-reaching that it has the potential to affect fundamental ideas about architecture and the future of cities beyond New York, says Robert Ivy, an architect and editor in chief of Architectural Record, the magazine of the American Institute of Architects. ''This is the project that every architect should want,'' he says.


The plans being unveiled Wednesday will not include a specific design as a memorial for the nearly 2,800 people who died there. However, the plans will preserve the ''footprints'' where the twin towers once stood as memorial space. An international design competition for an appropriate memorial will be launched in February, development officials say.


The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agencies overseeing the redevelopment of the site, expect to announce that final plan by February. Construction on actual buildings will likely not begin before 2008.

Selecting a plan is the first crucial step in a years-long effort to rebuild at Ground Zero and remember those who died. But it also presents an opportunity to rethink the future of Lower Manhattan as a place to live, work and play. The Port Authority, which owns the site, and the LMDC must rebuild a commercial and transportation hub devastated by the terrorist attacks, even as they try to respect the feelings of those who lost loved ones at the World Trade Center. They also must meet the needs of tens of thousands who call downtown Manhattan home.


An earlier set of proposals was presented in July. But the six designs were widely criticized for giving short shrift to a memorial and being banal and unimaginative. One complaint was designers were given little room to be creative as they tried to fulfill a requirement to replace 11 million square feet of office space lost on Sept. 11.


Designers get a bit more latitude


When a call for new designs went out in August, some of the most prominent names in architecture responded, including Richard Meier, who built the Getty Center in Los Angeles and Michael Maltzan, who worked on the Museum of Modern Art in Queens, N.Y. Ultimately, the seven teams were chosen from among 407 entries from 34 nations.


The latest set of designers has been given more latitude than the first. The group can include 6.5 million to 10 million square feet of commercial space on the site, and an additional 600,000 to 1 million square feet of retail space. Any remaining space that was initially part of the site could be put nearby, redevelopment officials say.

''These will be a little more elaborate than last time,'' LMDC spokesman Matthew Higgins says. ''We're encouraging the architects to speak in their own voice and style and to make them look different, creative, inspirational.''

Ann Ferebee, director of the Institute for Urban Design in New York, says, ''I think . . . the general public wants to see some imagination, some innovation.''

The teams were not asked to design specific buildings, but their plans will show shapes to give scale and dimension.

''It will enable the public to get a good sense of how the World Trade Center site will look when it's fully realized,'' Higgins says. The plans will show, for example, how a 63-story building would look perched between an open space and a 20-story building.

Alex Garvin, representing the LMDC, and Stan Eckstut, a consultant to the Port Authority, will recommend a single plan by Jan. 31, officials say.

Silverstein Properties, owned by Larry Silverstein who holds the lease on the site's office space, and Westfield America, will be consulted as well. ''They are important stakeholders,'' Port Authority spokesman Mike Petralia says. ''Ultimately it's Silverstein that will build the buildings if he can, if the market is there.''

Silverstein in the past said he wants to build four 50-story towers. But his spokesman, Steve Solomon, says, ''Mr. Silverstein has a very open mind on all this. He's going to see what's presented. And as a group they're going to evaluate it and make their decision.''

Modifications to come with time

The selected plan, which likely would be modified over time, will show the configuration of streets and open spaces, as well as where buildings of varying heights and retails venues would go.

There will be at least one public hearing. Representatives of victims' families also will continue to be consulted. ''It's not a 'yes' or 'no' decision,'' Higgins says. ''We're not asking people to vote on which plan they like the best. We want them to judge each plan on which aspects they like the most.''

One of the most important considerations is whether a plan pays proper respect to the memorial that eventually will be placed at the site.

Representatives for the families submitted statements to the designers and development officials asking that the footprints of the towers and the surrounding area be set aside for a memorial complex that could include a museum or cultural center.

With the exception of a train station that was previously located there, ''there should be no commercial or residential or transportation infrastructure put in that area,'' says Jack Lynch, who lost his son, Michael F. Lynch, when the South Tower collapsed. ''We'll see if our perspective is reflected in their plans.''

The attacks had damaged the underground transportation network that includes subways and the PATH train to New Jersey. That can't be rebuilt until plans for what will go above ground are in place. ''Right now, progress on repairing our transportation lines is really being held up by the design process,'' says Kathryn Wylde, president of the New York City Partnership, the city's business leadership organization. ''So hopefully this is going to come to closure.''

The varying commercial and emotional interests that need to be met make rebuilding at the World Trade Center site far more complicated than repairing the Pentagon (news - web sites) and memorializing the 184 people who died there on Sept. 11, observers say.

''Here, we're starting from scratch with enormous symbolism, enormous personal loss and enormous economic values that have to be balanced,'' says Mitchell Moss of New York University's Taub Urban Research Center.

It's also far different from building the twin towers, which opened in 1970 and 1972. ''Those were built first and the businesses came,'' Petralia says.

Rebuilding Ground Zero

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