The new face of the World Trade Center site

September 11th has created a number of heroes in America’s psyche – police officers, firefighters, soldiers, rescue workers, etc. However, a recovering nation is now turning its eyes to a new breed of hero: the architect.

With the January unveiling of Spanish architect Santigo Calatrava’s transportation hub design, the tripartite site plan for the World Trade Center location was completed. The site will consist of the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower (along with other smaller towers), transportation center and memorial “footprints” of the former Twin Towers.

The Freedom Tower, a concept created by Daniel Libeskind, will have 70 floors of occupancy and 2.6 million square feet of space for commercial use, which will be for sale when the building is completed, in 2009.

The tower will also house wind turbines, which will be used to generate some of the building’s power.

The structure will be 1,500 feet tall, but a 276-foot spire will bring the building to the symbolic height of 1,776 feet. However, a broadcast antenna will bring the total height to over 2,000 feet.

Above the office space, an indoor observation deck will look out over the city, a restaurant will be above that and event space will top the building.

The concept for the edifice, with a parallelogram base and twisting sides, is meant to be reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty.

Charles Gargano, the vice chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said the tower will cost an estimated $1.5 billion dollars, or $1 million per 500 square feet.

The Freedom Tower will be the crowning jewel of the World Trade Center complex with surrounding buildings, like those in the previous model, which have yet to be completely planned.

The memorial, designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, will consist of two large recessed reflecting pools in the footprints of the former Twin Towers surrounded by a grove of trees. The pools will be fed by a continuous stream of water, and visitors can descend into the memorial via the surrounding ramps, escaping the bustle of the city to ruminate upon the immense void left by the former structures. The names of the victims of both the 2001 and 1993 tragedies will be arranged randomly around the pools, to echo the arbitrary brutality of the attacks.

As early as next year, construction could begin on the $2 billion transportation center. Calatrava said the inspiration for the design is a child releasing a bird.

A rib-arched roof will be covered by two wing-shaped structures of glass and steel, rising 150 feet. The themes of the new World Trade Center site, Calatrava said at a news conference, are “a new world, life, flight and hope.”

The roof will retract to allow light into the mezzanine and about 60 feet underground to the track platforms for the Port Authority Trans-Hudson subway lines to New Jersey.

Pedestrian tunnels will link the station with 14 New York City subway lines and nearby ferry service. Construction should be complete by 2009.

However, these designs are not perfect, and leave room for plaudits and criticism.

While the twisting design of the Freedom Tower, inspiring the ascent of progress and human triumph, is suited for the spirit of the project, it may be argued that planning the proportions to be reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty takes away from the structure, making it less original.

Although tipping your hat to freedom in the face of adversity is a welcome gesture, the proximity of the two structures will prevent any real connection between the two. In this case, innovation – not imitation – should be the best form of flattery.

Also, by making only 70 stories of occupiable space when more are possible, there is an admission of defeat and fear.

While the wind turbines are a green alternative to power the building, the difference is somewhat negligible. In the face of what else could be made of the space they are a poor cover for the truth that potential buyers are still edgy and nervous. If we do not feel that freedom will overcome and good will triumph as we proclaim, why are we building these edifices?

Aesthetically, with the skeleton continuing around the turbines, the building will look unfinished even after completion. The design may also be said to have its vision truncated, since the concepts have been so compromised with the number of people involved in the design. Libeskind, although the progenitor of the concept, will not have control over his own idea; the whole of the new World Trade Center will be made from a hodgepodge of architectural opinions.

The memorial center, by recreating the enormity of the buildings and the loss experienced in both attacks, has captured the great void left in the wake of the attack.

In the most superficial sense, the pools represent the architectural loss of the twin towers. On a deeper level, though, their size does justice to not only the loss of life, but the loss of confidence, of security and the cavalier attitude with which many Americans viewed their place in the world.

By placing them next to the new structures, it shows that we can remember without forgetting, and real recovery begins not with the rubble clean-up but by breaking ground on a new vision.

Those who would argue that the memorial does not resemble a typical memorial enough should remember that this was not a typical situation. In addition, a simple description of a memorial is never as powerful as the real thing. A large wall of alternating heights is hardly an apt description of the Vietnam Memorial. A memorial is a symbol that needs to be experienced.

However, by putting in trees, a demand made by the committee, there is a sense that as these great memorials are scaled down and hidden from the city, their impact lessened.

The uncompromised design of the transportation hub is reflected in the design’s great innovation and beauty. Calatrava’s belief in mankind and great heights of progress combines movement with architecture, creating a seamless synthesis between human achievement and nature.

The aesthetic nature of the building is in fact the concept itself, so that it is the structure that is beautiful. The expression can be found in the architecture, and this artistic medium is allowed to keep its vision, without being hidden or covered by laboring heavy design or immobile, imposing structures.

While initial plans are promising, the eyes of the world are upon these architects. Only time will determine the outcome of this ambitious project and the fate of these new heroes.