An Unexpected Unity, continued

Robert D. Yaro, Practice Professor of City and Regional Planning at GSFA, who, as president of the Regional Plan Association in New York, was highly involved in the debate over the site, says Libeskind is the master of symbolism in architecture, and that the idea for the memorial area was “brilliant” in its combination of symbolism and functionality. The focal point of Libeskind’s design concept is the slurry wall, originally constructed to hold back the Hudson River when the foundations for the Twin Towers were dug—and now all that is left of the buildings. This grim and utilitarian barrier had a profound effect on Daniel Libeskind the first time he went to the site:

“The great slurry walls are the most dramatic elements which survived the attack, an engineering wonder constructed on bedrock foundations and designed to hold back the Hudson River. The foundations withstood the unimaginable trauma of the destruction and stand as eloquent as the Constitution itself asserting the durability of Democracy and the value of individual life.”

This somber remnant of concrete and steel seems to have touched everyone who sees it, critics and the general public alike. The remaining wall fragment is “our unasked-for Stonehenge, the inanimate hero of the attack” says the photographer Joel Meyerowitz, writing in a New York Times op-ed. Gary Hack sees its starkness as preserving the memory of what happened there. Others have explored the meaning of going down into the earth for a memorial as “reminiscent of ancient catacombs.” The wall represents brute strength, the idea of endurance, of man’s ingenuity, and more. Critic Ada Louise Huxtable likens the remnant to the ruins of past civilization, and invokes the term “archaic survival.” Libeskind himself says it “speaks of our vitality in the face of danger and our optimism in the aftermath of tragedy … the memorial will lead us down into reflection, meditation.”

Libeskind demonstrated his flexibility in accommodating his vision to necessity when, during the last stage of the competition, he altered the design for the sacrosanct slurry wall after its stability was questioned. In fact, says Gary Hack, “it was a miracle” that it withstood the pressure from the river without structural support of the towers, and the wall must continue to keep the river from the site.

So the wall will be visible for 30 feet down, instead of the originally planned 70 feet. Parking garages for tourist buses will be placed below the 30 foot level, and their ceilings will help buttress the wall, along with other surface bracing. The original design depth of 70 feet will be retained in a much smaller space, 40 by 200 feet, so visitors can still descend. Glass will likely cover the exposed section of the wall, and Hack thinks this will enhance its effect, making it seem “even more precious,” while allowing for climate control and dramatic night lighting.

In the aftermath of 9/11, it seemed that just about every New Yorker had an opinion about the memorial and restoration of the site—and was eager to share it. The many public meetings that were held were often contentious, but it was clear that people wanted a new marker in the skyline that included the destroyed antenna, says Mark Ginsberg GAr’85, an architect with Curtis+Ginsberg in New York. Libeskind was chosen in part because he combined both requirements in his 1,776 feet high tower, Ginsberg believes. He also revised his original tower to add a developer-friendly restaurant.

The people who lived or worked downtown had long seen the World Trade Center as a barrier that separated neighborhoods and cut off the waterfront. Libeskind’s plan was to re-create the old neighborhood, to restore the old street connections, and to “re-integrate” the site and the waterfront amenities. Ginsberg, an executive committee member of the pro bono New York New Visions, says that Libeskind’s concept was also “phaseable,” which is a help to the New York real estate market, which has 14 million square feet sitting empty now.

previous page | continued

In the “wedge of light” area, on every September 11th no shadow will fall from 8:46 a.m. (when the first plane hit) until 10:48 a.m. (when the second tower fell).



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2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 04/28/03