A few weeks ago, I traveled downtown to see and explore the empty site of the World Trade Centers—now commonly referred to as Ground Zero. I heard that they had built a viewing platform near the site but discovered a situation of disorder and ambiguity. The pit (a description that remains accurate eight years after-the-fact) is entirely wrapped in chain link fence and canvas, blocking all but slivers of activity from sight. Signs led me around the construction to the Battery Park City sky-walk where views were tangential at best.
In the end, the thing that affected me most during my brief visit to Ground Zero was not the site itself. Rather, I was moved by the actions of a silent Asian woman selling an ensemble of books and brochures with charged images of the twin towers before their collapse. Bold letters across each cover spelled out a single, marketable word: T R A G E D Y.
After this first scattered and unnerving encounter with ground zero, I jumped at the opportunity to visit the site—and hear about its future—from two Cornell architecture alumni in a more organized format. A trip was arranged by Stephanie Goto for all interested students at the AAP in NYC program. We gathered at the newly constructed WTC 7 where we met Osamu Sassa, an architect who works with the Japanese firm of Fumihiko Maki.
Mr. Sassa brought us up to the tenth floor of Tower 7 where the World Trade Center design teams have been pooled together. From the higher vantage point, we were able to see and delineate the newly formed footprints of towers, museum, and memorial. In the Image above (click to enlarge), it is possible to see the new “spine” crossing what was once a mega-block. This is the nascent Greenwich Street which will eventually be flanked on the left by towers and on the right by the park and memorial fountains. The far right of the image shows the initial steel members of the Freedom Tower, which is expected to rise over the next four years to the symbolic height of 1,776 ft.
Turning away from this panorama, we focused in on Maki’s design of Tower 4. Mr. Sassa explained its sculptural qualities, its engagement with the ground plane, and its subtle reflection of the adjacent memorial. The building is undeniably simple—but in the thoughtful and precise manner characteristic of Japanese design. This simplicity may prove to be Tower 4’s saving grace as construction begins under financial pressure; the more complex buildings of Richard Rogers and Norman Foster appear to be on hold.
Many of the architects, engineers, and consultants who had been working collaboratively on the tenth floor of Tower 7 have retreated back to their own turf to weather the economic storm. While construction teams work furiously to build massive foundations, no one is completely sure what will appear above. If lending remains tight, towers face a literal (and figurative) chopping block.
More information regarding the World Trade Center site can be found online at wtc.com