Commentary for the Phase I Site Plan Options

By Louis Epstein
R.D. 13,Carmel,New York 10512

The six draft plans submitted for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site have common elements and common problems...the refinement of the planning process involves the application of common remedies.

A complication is that the very nature of the shortcomings of the six Phase I plans obscures the real problems with them by drawing reactions that stem entirely from the execution and not from the elements themselves,which may be adjusted unwisely as a result.

The Port Authority is partly to blame because of its inappropriate resort to market-driven timidity...pledging to construct office space on the site only in stages and in response to market demand. This half-hearted effort to replace lost buildings whose awe-inspiring gigantism made them world-famous icons,and which were the product of a laudable boldness far more important now as a response to terror than it was in the 1960s,is what has endangered the perfectly reasonable effort to replace the complete inventory of office space destroyed on September 11th.A misconception has been fanned in the media (notably in newspapers engaged in the building of speculative office structures that would find landmark towers downtown difficult competition) that the amount of office space itself in the World Trade Center site rebuilding plans has been condemned by the public...but in fact it is the fragmented way that the six plans deploy the space that has created a "false negative".

Recall that the feeling that the site was too crowded was only the third most popular complaint about the plans offered at the Listening to the City II event in July...the number one complaint was very different:

"Schemes are not ambitious enough--the buildings
are too short;`Nothing here is truly monumental';
`Looks like Albany'."

Remember also that 57% of those at the July event,and 71% of those in the online dialogues later,considered it "very important" to add a major icon to the skyline...on the latter occasion,not only did 60% of those responding want new towers as tall or taller,but two thirds of that large majority specifically wanted new towers to be taller.

Nor is this confined to those participating in the planning comment process...the New York Post has conducted a poll showing that about half of New Yorkers want the Twin Towers restored,and other polls have showed higher numbers.

Nor can we forget that the June 2001 report Preparing for the Future:A Commercial Development Strategy for New York City forecast a need for 60 million square feet of new office space in the city by 2020...three months before 11 million square feet of Lower Manhattan's best space was destroyed and added to the shortage. Can economic revitalization be provided by plans that presume hard times are permanent?

If any one of the six Phase I plans had offered the option of deploying the 11 million square feet of office space in two 130-story towers of 5.5 million square feet each,the crowdedness complaints would never have gotten off the ground,and the attempts now underway to prepare plans with so little office space that the public demand for very tall towers could not possibly be met would not have started.

The site plans,of course,have been named and marketed with a strong emphasis on the memorial...while it may raise strong opposition to question the wisdom of this course of action,it would be a shame to set in stone,literally,mistakes repented long thereafter.

Right after any catastrophe the world is awash with anguished cries that the world has changed forever,and then slowly people get on with life and see how much has stayed the same.Though some things can never be restored,on the whole life heals.New generations do not bear forever the scars of the old...the long-term future of a memorial must be considered.

The Preliminary Blueprint for the Future of Lower Manhattan released months ago made the naive prophesy that the memorial on the World Trade Center site would be an absolutely enormous tourist attraction whose attendant traffic would be an important reason for expanding lower Manhattan transportation infrastructure.But the tourist traffic for a memorial on the site can not be judged,in terms of its impact on the infrastructure,against a base of must be judged against the traffic that existed before September 11th...fifty thousand workers and almost three times that many tourists coming to the World Trade Center every day...apart from those who came to shop in the retail areas.

Further,the future must be borne in mind.While great interest may be shown in the early years of a memorial's operation,it can not be assumed that this memorial will be immune to the general fate of other memorials as time wears on after the events they commemorate.It is only five years since Diana Princess of Wales,one of the best known people in the world, died in an accident that saturated news headlines of the day.But now the memorials that have been constructed draw rather little traffic, and the planning for others has slowed to a crawl.

The events of September 11th 2001 are not about to be forgotten in five years,certainly...but will structures built to commemorate them still be seen as a wise use of space when the events recede from living memory? Consider the passage of seventy years,and what has happened to New York memorials in the past.

In 1885,Ulysses S. Grant,general and President,died and was buried in New York...his mausoleum on Riverside Drive was once a leading tourist attraction...but it was virtually deserted,something to blink at while driving by,in 1955.

On June 15th 1904,the paddlewheel steamer General Slocum burned in the East River,causing the death of over a thousand people including hundreds of children.The city of New York was wracked with rage and grief.Memorials were built,including Tompkins Square Park,near the site of a church where many of the dead had worshipped.But what was Tompkins Square Park in the 1970s?...a dog-walking backwater by day and a drug-ridden crime scene by night.

A tourist attraction maintaining a steady audience for seventy years is hard to find...though a fine example would be the observation deck of the Empire State Building,a valued destination for its own sake, not for an event it commemorates that ever fewer will remember.

And this brings us back to another truth we must realize...the most attractively designed memorial in the world will still depend for its urban context on the height of the office buildings constructed on the site.Tall towers,no shorter than the old,make the memorial a testament to those who died,showing that their killers' will was not allowed to prevail.Any site plan without such towers will place the memorial in the context of the killers' aim having been achieved and their victims having died in vain.

It is also important that a memorial constructed be cognizant of the time and place...that it primarily concern itself with those who died there on September 11th 2001 while making separate commemoration of those who died at the Pentagon and Shanksville. Treating all the dead identically dilutes the impact of the events linked to the location and to some extent violates the meaning of the other locations.

Where locations and the memorial are concerned,one must consider the very contentious issue of the "footprints" of the old towers.While those active in the public comment process have been generally in favor of leaving them undeveloped,this is not an attitude mirrored among the public at large...the Quinnipiac Poll showed almost even division on the issue with a large number of undecided people.The passions of a few must not be allowed to appear as if the voice of all.

There is a full spectrum of opinion on this issue...for every person who thinks they are "sacred ground" never to be touched,there is a person who thinks that leaving the land Osama bin Laden ordered cleared as empty as he demanded constitutes an outrageous disgrace to America, for every person who feels the heartfelt pleas of outspoken survivors should be respected in the planning process there is a person who feels that ruling the footprints out of all construction is an inappropriate limit.(It should not be construed that all survivors want the footprints empty...I have read an emotional narrative by one young man who was in one tower on September 11th 2001 and escaped,while his uncle who was in the other tower did not,who feels the footprints-as-sacred-ground idea is nonsense).

Thus,planning options on this area should be kept open.Intelligent compromise should be explored...though the hardline advocates of a giant memorial are not inclined to admit of any compromise,to those who see empty footprints as kissing the feet of the killers and implicitly endorsing the act that emptied them,granting the killers' wish and refusing any end to the victims' worst nightmare,even one corner footing of a new tower,sunk permanently into the bedrock in a place that the terrorists desired never again be home to a symbol of American pride,sends an indispensable message that can be sent no other way.

The integration of the design of the entire site has been expressed as a concern from many perspectives.The six site plans presented have suffered from a virtual inability to be viewed as a whole...if the buildings were on them were not all shown in white amid the surrounding buildings of other colors,one would have a hard time realizing where the boundaries of the entire site were.

One obstacle stands in the way of many important improvements in planning for the obstructs integrated site design, it lends plans the appearance of unattractive crowdedness, it reduces flexibility in siting structures,it risks the security of structures,and it blocks any sensible compromise on the footprints:
Each and every plan's single-minded,short-sighted determination to extend Greenwich Street completely through the site.

If Greenwich Street were not extended south of Fulton Street, many problems would disappear.It would be much easier to have buildings set well back from streets,thus harder to approach with truck bombs or other direct attacks,and have them part of an undivided layout that included purpose-built memorial structures as well as structures carrying on in the tradition of the site that was attacked and rises again as a very important memorial to those who perished.

The natural division between the large Fulton/Church/Liberty/West Street superblock and the blocks north of Fulton on either side of Greenwich would make it logical for buildings for other purposes, be they opera houses or bus terminals,to be on those blocks apart from the office towers and memorial structures.

While the recent plan announcements for the transportation improvements appear to take these off the table in terms of helping them be integrated into the site plan,I repeat again my advocacy of a water-to-water streetcar line on Fulton Street that would cross West Street on a bridge,somewhat more convenient to the disabled than the proposed all-pedestrian connection to the World Financial Center ferry terminal.

In terms of forcing the railroad tracks out of the footprint areas,as demanded by some extreme advocates,I hope that this proposal is not taken seriously...allowing killers to determine our urban planning has rarely been taken to such lengths.

The issue of neighborhood character has to be viewed very carefully. Certain members of the urban-planning community have engaged in an unseemly effort to capitalize on the horrific slaughter of September 11th to remake the city in their preferred image,designing what they consider utopian plans though before the attacks they would never have been considered,and they would disrespect the victims by turning the area into one they would never have recognized.

Among these insensitive proposals are those that force housing onto the site,though it has been a commercial area since long before the Hudson Terminal Buildings,themselves the world's largest office towers in their day,were torn down to make way for the World Trade Center.Let the population issues of lower Manhattan take their own course...if this location is developed with highly competitive office space,other office buildings may well seek residential conversion.There is no need for the government force majeure involved in this planning process to force things along.

Likewise,there are those who sit in their ivory towers and see a need to bury West Street to "connect Battery Park City to the rest of Lower Manhattan"...many Battery Park City residents taking part in the recent online Listening to the City dialogues were passionate in their defense of their relative seclusion from the rest of the area as a defining characteristic of their neighborhood,and opposition to the disruption caused by burying West Street and the likely greater difficulty in reaching hospitals that would result.

The urban-planning-zealot desire to restore the former street grid, running traffic through where there was open space,is largely retrograde and forgets that those who live in the area typically walk places; I have addressed this error already.The urban-planning-zealot desire to "create a 24/7 community" is a clear case of eradicating diversity in the name of promoting it...the City that Never Sleeps should not have to become the City Where There is Noplace That One Can Rest. Let the Financial District be the Financial District,with the characteristics that this implies.

The proper planning for the World Trade Center site,as in its former incarnations with the Hudson Terminal Buildings and Twin Towers as its dominant structures,needs tall towers as uniting icons. These towers can inspire the world as symbolic reclamation of what was taken from us by the killers,showing that we will not be "cut down to size" or "terrorized" out of aspiring to the skies...that the dreams of those who died will be reclaimed for new generations to carry on in their footsteps.They alone can make a memorial a symbol of the terrorists' defeat rather than of their victory. They can bring new life to the economy of Lower Manhattan,as workplaces for large numbers that embody the latest and greatest achievements of American construction,safety,and design.

Like their predecessors on the site they should be the largest office high-rises in the world at the time of their construction; under no circumstances whatsoever should they be any shorter than 1368 feet tall to the roof,or with an occupied human space limit of less than 1355 feet.For them to have fewer than 110 stories would be inappropriate.

It may be noted that the Union Square/MTR Tower (see below) has a roofline hundreds of feet taller than the Twin Towers but eight fewer floors,and with a similar height-to-floor ratio new towers of even 99 stories would be over 1500 feet...but an "asterisk" caused by falling short of the former towers by any measure would be a sad relapse into the timidity that has caused all the problems so far. Indeed,the former design is to be praised for its more efficient use of vertical space.

Preferably they should be taller,ideally following the WTC Towers in being the world's tallest at the time of completion.That they may be dethroned as the originals were should not be a discouragement for aiming high.

A few "signposts into the heavens" as possible goals:

1380 feet...structural tip of the Chin Mao Tower in Shanghai, which actually has only 88 stories but got itself listed ahead of the WTC in world rankings because of its spire. [Yes,you usually see it spelled "Jin Mao"].
1411 feet...height of the Tehran Telecommunications Tower, tallest structure(not a building) in Iran (and the Moslem world).
1430 feet...occupied human space limit of the Sears Tower. [the OHSL is the highest indoor level that someone can actually go up to].
1437 feet...OHSL of the Taipei Financial Center now under construction.
1450-1454 feet...rooflines of the Sears Tower[tallest in USA] from the main and side entrances.
1465 feet...OHSL of the CN Tower in Toronto...its "Sky Pod" observatory is the world's tallest,on a clear day one can see Rochester across Lake Ontario.
1470 feet...roofline of the Taipei Financial Center.
1472 feet...former antenna top of the Empire State Building during the years its antenna was tallest.
1488 feet...structural tip of the Petronas Towers(tallest in world until the TFC is completed...but like Chin Mao, only 88 stories).
[structural tip is the highest protrusion above the roof in a building that has them,being part of the building rather than an attachment like an antenna].
1535 feet...height of the Oriental Pear Tower,tallest structure in the People's Republic of China.
1575 feet...roofline of MTR Tower/Union Square,now under construction in Hong Kong.[OHSL and observation deck levels not released yet].
1667 feet...structural tip of the Taipei Financial Center(spire).
1725-1728 feet...different listed antenna heights for old World Trade Center,new tower with antenna must be no shorter by this measure.
1729 feet...reputed latest antenna height of the Sears Tower.
1772 feet...height of the Ostankino Tower,tallest structure in Russia.
1776 obvious suggestion for USA-patriotic reasons of a height for the new WTC.
1792 feet...the New York Stock Exchange was founded in 1792 and Donald Trump once proposed a building of this height for might be appropriate if the NYSE moved to the site,just as 1784 feet might be appropriate if the Bank of New York were anchor tenant.
1815-21 feet...figures cited for the structural tip AND antenna top of the CN Tower,presently or recently the world's tallest self-supporting structure.(I'm not sure if the new WTC would take over that title if only its antenna rose higher).
1831 feet...the height of a self-supporting broadcast tower at or near completion in Indonesia.
2000 feet...rumored height of a broadcast tower that,thanks entirely to lack of commitment to building a tall antenna at the World Trade Center site,is likely to be built in New Jersey,probably with an observation deck threatening the enduring tourist value of new towers on the WTC site...this market should be reclaimed at once.
2001 feet...suggested by some as symbolizing the year of the attacks.
2002 feet...suggested by others as symbolizing our moving beyond the year of the attacks.
2063 feet...the tallest structure now in existence,a broadcast antenna held in place by guy wires near Fargo,North Dakota.
2120 feet and some inches...the tallest structure ever built, a Polish broadcast antenna that collapsed in the 1980s.
2819 feet...One foot for every victim,a height to antenna top suggested by Christopher Beau of
3000 feet...noted by Guinness Book in the 1970s as unquestionably feasible from an engineering standpoint.
5280 feet...Frank Lloyd Wright's legendary "Mile High Tower" concept, which some say could be built now.

If the builders only dare commit to ONE superskyscraper at the site, it is essential that it be well above the lower end of this range. And perhaps another will join it afterward.

Architecture of the new Towers should be strongly reminiscent of the old but not should be able to look at a photo of the skyline and tell the old Twin Towers from the new,just as one can date other pictures of the Twins by the surrounding buildings.

A design competition,subject to the above specifications, should be opened that will result in engineering marvels that will inspire the world.Those who died September 11th deserve nothing less as a legacy.While I have my own specific thoughts on a site design,including extensive memorial aspects, I withhold them for the time being;my place at this time is to urge proper modification of what has been presented in earlier site plans and proposed as specifications for new ones.

We must move the planning process onto the right road. One that returns our presence and pride to their place in the skies.

August 30,2002