does tomorrow hold for the World Trade Center site?
Not tomorrow in the sense of future decades. But
tomorrow in the sense of Friday, Oct. 11. And the days
that follow that.
Wrangling over long-range master planning —
commercial space, commuter rail links, the memorial
itself — has obscured the reality that the trade
center site is being rebuilt now, without town hall
meetings, architectural competitions or much public
It is not an easy debate to have. Just raising the
subject shatters a soft-edged communal fiction to the
effect that ground zero, hallowed by horror and silent
since the last steel column was removed in May, awaits
a distant fate.
In fact, it's a construction zone.
Dozens of new steel columns, sprouting like a grove
of birch trees, presage a new PATH station. Subway
trains already cross the subterranean acreage every
few minutes, giving riders an ever-so-brief glimpse of
daylight as they pass through. A 13-foot viewing wall
of galvanized steel grates, with memorial and
historical panels, has opened the site somewhat to
Though these efforts are deemed temporary, there is
no telling how permanently temporary they may become.
In other words, what is being constructed at this
moment will be the physical reality experienced for
years by hundreds of thousands of visitors and workers
in Lower Manhattan.
"If we started to take stock of what's there
right now, it's revealing itself," said Michael
Fishman, vice president for urban design at the Sam
Schwartz Company, transportation and planning
consultants. "People are looking for a vision to
descend and it's been there all the time."
What concerns Mr. Fishman and Mr. Schwartz is that
today's planning decisions are foreclosing
possibilities and ignoring the topography of the site,
where daylight reaches 70 feet into the earth.
For instance, what if glass-brick walls or
skylights had been used along the exposed portion of
the 1 and 9 tracks? "To shed light in a subway in
Manhattan, that's unheard of," Mr. Schwartz said.
(Daylight is now fleetingly visible on the east side
of the tracks.)
Yet imagine that same jolt of sunshine from the
perspective of a rider who lost a husband or daughter
or friend on Sept. 11 and you can understand why
officials would just as soon change the subject.
IN any case, no design alternatives were explored in
rebuilding the enclosure for the 1 and 9 tracks and
the shell of the Cortlandt Street station. "All
we planned to put in there was just a subway
box," said Mark Groce, spokesman for New York
Restoration, necessity, economy and speed are the
rubrics under which construction can proceed at all in
this political tinderbox. In the case of visible
structures, the additional watchword is
"temporary," to convey the message that no
one is out to make an architectural statement.
Ordinarily, the development of a $224 million,
five-track, three-platform station, to be used by
50,000 commuters daily, would call for some bold
aesthetic gesture. But the engineering division of the
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the
authority's chief architect, Robert I. Davidson, have
taken a diffident tack.
"It's a temporary, minimalist approach,"
said Carla Bonacci, senior program manager for the
World Trade Center PATH terminal. "The idea is to
get people to the street, where they need to be; not
to dwell in the station."
The most visible part of the station will be a
canopy at Fulton and Church Streets to shelter the
main stairway from rain and snow. It is shown in
renderings as an S-curve airfoil shape, but Ms.
Bonacci said this would not be the final design.
"The idea," she said, "is to give it a
street presence to convey the idea that it's a train
station, but to be simple and elegant."
At track level, the Port Authority plans to install
vinyl mesh screens that will block views from the
trains into the site, Ms. Bonacci said, out of respect
for the "memory of what happened" and as a
Visibility is a deeply sensitive planning issue at
the site of something so monstrous.
"Viewing wall" is almost a misnomer for
the high fence on Church Street, designed by Port
Authority architects working with Voorsanger &
Associates, Severud Associates and Pentagram. It
stands so far from the edge of the pit that it offers
few glimpses below grade, only a more contemplative
vista across the site to the World Financial Center.
On the other side of the chasm is the rebuilt
Winter Garden. Its new eastern facade of glass invites
thoughts of a pedestrian bridge or walkway across the
trade center site from Church Street. Neighborhood
leaders are even talking — gingerly — about the
possibility of creating some interim retail space like
a farmers' market.
But it may be that the PATH station, subway tunnel
and viewing wall are the only things built on the site
for the foreseeable future, given the exquisite
Bartholomew Voorsanger, an architect who was
involved in the collection of artifacts from the
attack and in the design of the viewing wall, likened
the site to a griddle on which drops of water almost
"You have no idea how white-hot the intensity
of feelings is," he said, "until you start
sprinkling ideas on it and it explodes."