|Periphally related story:|
|21st-Century Plans, but Along 18th-Century Paths
By DAVID W. DUNLAP April 11, 2002
rom a new Freedom Park to a sunken West Street to a transit hub that would link PATH, the subway and regional rail service, a host of principles have now been laid out to guide the downtown reconstruction.
Presented with an opportunity that no one wanted but almost everyone wants to exploit, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation announced on Wednesday that one of its goals would be to "restore all or a portion of the street grid and reintegrate the former World Trade Center site to the rest of downtown." But planning isn't as simple as having a grand idea or good intentions. And the fabric of downtown is not blank. As a practical matter, its future will rest on details as small and tangible as how many transformer vaults can be squeezed together in a single block.
While public attention in recent months has focused on big questions should the entire site be set aside as a memorial? should the towers themselves be replicated? planners, architects and engineers have tried to figure out how to recreate a long-lost segment of Greenwich Street between Barclay and Vesey Streets. This was the site of 7 World Trade Center, the 47-story tower owned by
Larry A. Silverstein that was destroyed Sept. 11.
The tentative solution would require some expensive contortions and compromises
in the design of the building that is to replace 7 World Trade Center. It begins to
suggest how difficult the larger reconstruction process will be, even when there is
general agreement on a principle, as there seems to be about reopening
Greenwich Street, at least as a pedestrian and view corridor.
Things are moving faster on the 7 World Trade Center site than elsewhere in part
because the Consolidated Edison Company had its Trade Center Substation there,
with 10 transformers through which many Lower Manhattan customers received
power. Con Ed says it must restore at least four of the lost transformers by the
summer of 2003. That has contributed a sense of urgency to the search for a solution, beyond the
economic interest that Mr. Silverstein has in rebuilding.
IT is a measure of Lower Manhattan's complexity that a 21st-century office tower should be shaped by an 18th-century roadbed. Greenwich Street, the route from New York to the village of Greenwich, ran uninterrupted from Battery Place almost to West 14th Street until a five-block stretch was cut out in 1966 to create the World Trade Center site.
Parts of Washington, Fulton, Dey and Cortlandt Streets were also closed, turning 14 city blocks into two superblocks. At the time, urban planners were keen to replace the downtown crazy-quilt street pattern, which they saw as a straitjacket, with broad plazas from which enormous buildings could rise.
On the smaller trade center superblock, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey built the Con Ed substation. Twenty years later, Mr. Silverstein added his tower directly over the substation.
Seven World Trade Center was a formidable obstacle, physically and visually, between TriBeCa and Lower Manhattan.
In its absence, you can see from Barclay Street all the way to 1 Bankers Trust
Plaza at Liberty Street and, farther down, to the old Electric Bond and Share
Building at 2 Rector Street. Between them is a sliver of light, a slice of sky, an
intimation of the harbor beyond.
Given that compelling view, and the general repudiation of the superblock concept
in recent decades, it is not surprising that recreating the Greenwich Street right of
way was among the first objectives of planners.
But opening that 60-foot-wide swath is not easy. It leaves a plot only 170 feet
wide, barely enough to fit five transformers abreast. Con Ed says it must have
space for 10 transformer vaults. Each transformer distributes up to about 80
megawatts of power and requires a 32-by-40-foot enclosure. Because they weigh
almost 150 tons apiece, transformers are generally installed on the ground floor.
The ground floor must also accommodate an office lobby, a core with nearly 30
elevators and truck loading docks. To find room, the architects at Skidmore,
Owings & Merrill proposed to squeeze them like a sandwich between two banks of
They could only achieve this layout by expanding the building area 22 feet farther
south than the site occupied by 7 World Trade Center (although the planned tower
would line up with its Vesey Street neighbors). The question of who owned the
22-foot strip and how it could be acquired further vexed the process.
WHAT has tentatively emerged is a parallelogram-shaped building that would rise
736 feet, about 10 stories taller than 7 World Trade Center. Because the floors
would be smaller, the new tower would have 300,000 square feet of space less
than Mr. Silverstein planned to rebuild.
Those unused development rights would almost certainly affect the future of
surrounding blocks. So will the architectural gesture of hewing to the line of
Greenwich Street, which may make its extension southward through the main
trade center site seem almost irresistible.
"Greenwich Street is not only symbolically important, but it is an important first
step," said Amanda M. Burden, chairwoman of the City Planning Commission. "It's
about beginning to interconnect the totally disconnected elements of Lower Manhattan".