Commentary for the Phase I Request for Proposals for the Redevelopment of the World Trade Center Site,Adjacent Areas,and Related Infrastructure

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

The redevelopment of the World Trade Center is perhaps unprecedented in the annals of redevelopment projects in the amount of attention the world will pay to the decisions made.

The tasks confronting those entrusted with making these decisions is not helped by the conflicting issues of relief for individuals distressed by the events of September 11th and of the rebuilding project itself... while it would be best that these things were separately appropriated for and separately administered,no denial of the disruption of life suffered by those from Chinatown and the Lower East Side who pressed their cases at the May 23rd hearing is intended by this submission's exclusive focus on the matters of design and construction.

One can not in the contemplation of this awesome project escape hearing a wise saying that has been variously attributed in slight variations to the architect Daniel Hudson Burnham,to Victor Hugo,and even to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

"Let us dream no small dreams,for they have not the power to stir the souls of men."

Just what classifies a dream as small can vary with the circumstances, but for this time and place,to be appropriate a dream must be large indeed.

In 1908,the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad erected twin high-rise office buildings on adjacent blocks,at 30 and 50 Church Street... they were the largest office buildings in the world at that time.

Across Church Street at the same time was built the Singer Building, then the world's tallest building...since torn down for the even taller building that now houses the offices of your corporation.

The Hudson Terminal Buildings stood until they were torn down and their blocks combined to construct the World Trade Center...again twin high-rises,again the largest office buildings in the world. And once more the world's tallest building graced the west side of Downtown.

On September 11th 2001 ten murderous men caused the loss of thousands of lives in order to fulfill their dream that the World Trade Center Towers should no longer stand.

Before us,with the eyes of the world upon us,is the decision whether to grant those killers' wishes that gigantic landmark twin towers no longer dominate the skyline of Lower Manhattan.

We know there are things we can control and things we can not. The Hudson Terminal Buildings were no longer the world's largest office structures by the time the Equitable Building was completed; the World Trade Center towers no longer the world's tallest when the Sears Tower was topped out.

But that there not be twin buildings on that site that,when constructed, were the world's largest office buildings,for the first time in nearly a century,would be our decision to ensure the lasting legacy of the killers,should we let history record that we thus bowed to their will.

Let us turn a deaf ear to the voices of fear and maintain our will to aspire,to dream on a scale grand by the measure of what has stood there before...let us recognize that our mission is how best to restore the Twin Towers,and what else to build,not merely what to build.

It is within this context of demonstrating that we have in no way been humbled or "cut down to size" by their killers that we are able to do proper honor to those whose lives were taken by the attacks.Nothing in the process of restoring the fallen structures can make us forget them; rather we are remembering them by carrying on in their place.

A purpose-built memorial structure and open memorial space will of course be on the site,with the new Towers standing over them as guardians and as evidence it was the killers and not the victims who died in vain. Within and atop the new Towers should be commemorations of the rescue workers and of those who died who worked on each floor.

If there is to be no overlap at all...even one corner footing of one new tower being in the place of a corner footing of an old one would make a very important statement that the killers have no right to decide that we may not build on that land...between the locations of the old and new Twin Towers,that the new towers be not one inch shorter than the old becomes even more important.

The task before the architects and planners in constructing worthy successors to the old Twin Towers is clear...a great challenge to which we must rise,to honor the fallen and inspire the future.

Though previous planning documents asserted that the demand for office space in the World Trade Center area would never fully recover, lately there have been reports that condemnation of land on surrounding blocks may be attempted in order to provide sufficient space as part of the redevelopment.

Clearly it is better to provide all the needed space within the new Twin Towers,to leave the most land over for other purposes and cause as little disruption as possible to the surrounding community.The claimed interest in a diverse economy for the area would be sadly counteracted by the spread of many office buildings of a uniformly average height for the district.

Even if there is not the demand for as much additional office space as would be contained in new Twin Towers,it does not mean that they would go the most modern and flexible space available in the district,they would likely draw in tenants who would vacate older buildings that might then be converted to other purposes.

Recall that at the time the Port Authority signed the lease with Silverstein Properties the World Trade Center was near capacity despite the asking rents having doubled in the past five years... whatever the cycles of the business,new towers,especially if they were the only large-scale new construction in the area,would be bound to fill up.And were it possible for some high floors with breathtaking views to be allocated to residential use they would not go empty either.

There is no question that a rentable 110th floor would find tenants, or be a widely visited tourist attraction.Building to 21st century specifications,an engineering marvel would draw interest from the entire world.Buildings of a size surpassed by scores of others in Manhattan could never do this...tourists to the site would be interested only in the past disaster and not in the buildings themselves,except their status as mute evidence of the killers' success.

It is our chance,and our responsibility,to show the lessons we have learned,and that terror of being targeted is not one of them.The investigative process into the collapse of the old Towers will help us make the new ones better.

The functional design of Minoru Yamasaki was a remarkable achievement that deserves to be used as a baseline,alterations from it needing to be justified as improvements,but we must not shrink from admitting that it can be improved upon.

The concentration of escape routes in a single elevator core with drywall construction used because of masonry cracks caused by vacuums from high speed elevators is certainly something that needs to be reexamined.

The reinforcement of the elevator core can be coupled with the latest advances in elevator management in improving allocation of the central space.When the old towers were constructed the very idea of express elevators was demand management systems can further increase efficiency by dynamically rerouting elevators from lobbies.

Outside the elevator core it would be a useful compromise to the Yamasaki column-free design to add four hardened concrete stairwell corners between the corners of the elevator core and the corners of the building...each containing two stairwells either side by side or on top of each other in a double helix arrangement.

This would increase the number of escape routes in case of disaster from three to eleven,with the chance that all could be inaccessible greatly reduced.The stairwell cores could also provide additional bracing points for support of the floors,and because each contained two stairwells it would be easy for one of them to be designated for the use of emergency personnel once it was determined that both in that core were intact.

Fire containment and suppression technology could also be improved; the flaws in the fireproofing of the beams in the old towers have been noted,and could be improved along with any improvements in the beams themselves indicated by the last generation's improvements in materials technology.

Different kinds of fire can best be extinguished by water,by foam, or by fluorocarbon suppressants...a sprinkler system should be both robust and redundant in order to respond reliably and flexibly.

It is not unreasonable to contemplate a floor of each tower being given over to fire and rescue personnel,with a station of the redundant management controls of the building's safety systems there. What community of tens of thousands does not keep fire personnel on duty,and how would buildings of this size not be such a community?

If the 80th floor of a 120-story building were a staffed and equipped fire and rescue station,no floor would be more than forty away from rescue either from that station or the ground.And of course the issue of rooftop helicopter evacuations needs to be contemplated.

Besides a floor being used as a fire station,there can be "firezone" barriers at other floors in efforts to make it harder for fires to spread up or down...again,a challenge that we must conquer.What is built here must stand out and be impressive.

The loss of commercially usable space thanks to expanding safety measures should not diminish the usable scale of the buildings to less than the former Towers...the new ones should not represent a retreat in any dimension,whether number of floors,highest occupied floor,roofline,net square footage,or any other the context of September 11th,such retreat is a victory for those who attacked.Rather,we should expand beyond the old limits.

Financing a project of momumental size may be daunting,but it is the very immensity of the concept that is likely to broaden its appeal in terms of raising funds that may be necessary to do the job right. This is a project on which no expense should be spared and no option unexplored to do the best job possible.

The management of the old superblock is another thing by which we will be judged,whether we maintain the open spaces of the plaza or revert to the cramped streets crowded with traffic.Flexible siting of buildings and memorials would be enhanced if the superblock were kept intact south of Fulton Street,with non-office buildings,whether for the arts or other commerce,on the blocks north of Fulton on either side of Greenwich.

It may be desired for the new Towers to be wider than the old as well as taller,and this would be much harder if plans were constrained by the old blocks...and the concerns of the families of the dead for the memorials to be set back from traffic,and of general building security for buildings to be set back from traffic, need to be attended to.

A streetcar line...more efficient than buses and cheaper than new subways...could be constructed along Fulton Street,crossing West Street on a bridge with pedestrian lanes.The Battery Park City side of the bridge could be its western terminus,or it could go further west to a ferry terminal,while extending east to the Fish Market.

Stations along the streetcar line could offer transfers to other modes of transportation,and if the line were successful it could prove the first phase of the proposed "Liberty Loop" line.

The station at Greenwich and Fulton Streets could serve as a gateway to the retail mall beneath the Towers and to the rest of the area; another streetcar line could possibly go up Greenwich Street from there, in the initial phase up to Chambers Street and possibly eventually going uptown,leaving street level for the course of a rehabilitated "High Line",to meet the westward extensions of the subway system in the Javits Center area.

The PATH station can be relocated to the former Hudson Terminal area and enhanced with direct connections there to the 1/9/N/R trains, and "people mover" tunnels connecting from there to the 2/3/4/5/ A/C/J/M/Z lines from that station.A station of the Fulton Street streetcar line could also be part of the connections between Church Street and Broadway.

Before us lies the opportunity to rise from the ashes of September 11th and create a Lower Manhattan more vital than ever before. We do this only if we maintain our resolve,and show that we will not yield one inch to those who committed the mass slaughter.

Our plans must center on the new Towers and proceed beyond them with the undaunted spirit that they represent.

June 24,2002