Learning From the World Trade Center Wrangles – The Wall Street Journal

Daniel Libeskind | The Wall Street Journal 

Washington, take heed: Loud, fractious argument can lead to fruitful compromise.

New Yorkers have earned their reputation for being opinionated and argumentative. But my experience as the architect overseeing the rebuilding at the World Trade Center site suggests that we have a lot to teach non-New Yorkers about how to confront one another productively and resolve differences. It is a lesson that might be particularly useful in Washington these days.

On Wednesday, New York will mark the completion of 4 World Trade Center, the first tower to reopen at the World Trade Center site since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The building, developed by Larry Silverstein and designed by Fumihiko Maki, is shaped to be the first in a ring of skyscrapers, referring to the torch of Lady Liberty. With the tower's reflective surfaces, it will highlight the other key elements of the site's master plan: the light and trees of the memorial park directly across the street and the cascading waterfalls in the original WTC towers' footprints, lined with the engraved names of all those who perished that day.

Just as important as these design elements is the signal that the tower's opening sends. The WTC site has emerged from 12 years of contention and construction to become what we all hoped it would be: a place that will show the world everything that is great about cities, especially New York.

Those of us who worked on the site's master plan passionately debated what should be built at the World Trade Center site. The fundamental focus was always to commemorate those who were lost, but there were heated disagreements about what kind of memorial it should be and how much space it should occupy.

There was a consensus that any plan must undo the mistakes that were made in the design of the old World Trade Center, which was cut off from the surrounding neighborhoods, obliterating historic streets. But there was controversy over how to deal with the offices and stores in the new design. How much space should be dedicated to commercial use? And how could we make sure that the dignity and sanctity of the memorial was not sacrificed? At the same time, there was the additional, compelling dimension of various security requirements. The master plan had to be robust enough to tackle all these considerations successfully.

Some people felt that introducing arts and culture into the site should be the priority in the aftermath of the tragedy. Others argued that the emphasis should be to quickly rebuild tall towers—either as a show of defiance or to restore the commerce that has defined the lower tip of Manhattan throughout the city's history. Once again, a consensus had to be reached.

While the debate was typical New York—loud and fractious, with sharply competing priorities and visions—it ended with compromise.

In designing "Memory Foundations," the formal name for the site's master plan, I tried to listen to these competing voices. It was critical that the site strike a proper balance between the tragedy that had changed so many lives and the need to foster a vibrant, working neighborhood.

Ultimately, half of the 16-acre site is dedicated to the public space defined by the memorial. The rest has been set aside for sustainable, high-tech office towers, a historic street grid, a reinvigorated streetscape with aboveground retail and refurbished underground transit concourses. We even found room for two major new public facilities: an iconic transportation station and a performing arts center.

This dynamism is becoming visible with the opening on Wednesday of a 200-foot stretch of street and sidewalk on Greenwich Street, a stretch that hasn't existed since the original Twin Towers were built in the 1960s. Next year, the Memorial Museum will open, with underground galleries that reveal the slurry wall that withstood the terrorist attack and will forever remain as a testament to the strength of our foundations. One World Trade will open in 2014 as well, soaring to the symbolic height of 1,776 feet, standing for the American Declaration of Independence.

In Washington, it seems compromise has become a dirty word. But as the experience rebuilding the World Trade Center shows, when we collaborate and reconcile opposing points of view, we can realize a vision that is greater than what any one of us could have imagined on our own.

Mr. Libeskind is an architect.


News: 11.14.2013