Anniversary of Disaster
by Tess Taylor
As the first anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center site approached, the air in New York was strangely expectant. Hot, balmy days recalled the weather of September 2001, as if inaugurating a season of remembrance.
New York City is overflowing with occasions for remembering. Local newspapers and magazines devote special sections to the week's events and memorial exhibits. September 11, 2002 also reminds us of the ongoing conflicting approaches to rebuilding, as New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp unveiled a series of schemes proposed by top-name architects.
These schemes include sculptural towers designed by Guy Nordenson on land adjacent to the former towers, a memorial by Maya Lin, a cultural facility by Steven Holl, a school by Richard Meier, a transit hub by Rafael Viñoly, housing by Charles Gwathmey, and much more.
Muschamp's initiative is intended as a direct response to heavy dissatisfaction over the six concept plans offered in July by the architecture and planning firm Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners for their client, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC). Muschamp joined other critics and citizen groups in criticizing the proposals for lacking imagination.
After a year of intensive media coverage of the unsexy details of planning, New Yorkers have made it clear that they wanted a role in the process and inspiring architecture as its result. Although it's uncertain whether Muschamp's selection of all-stars will be the best answer to the LMDC's selection of big-firm insiders, the gesture alone serves to counterbalance the earlier proposals.
The process appears to have recently become somewhat more inclusive, and by extension, more daring, seemingly as a result of public and media outcry. By mid-August, the LMDC and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey changed course in their planning process by opening up the next phase to an international competition for selecting five teams to proceed with a design study. New York New Visions, a coalition of design professionals formed to provide design advice in the wake of the attacks, will assist development officials in selecting the teams.
Some dimensions of the planning process remain unchanged. There are still guidelines for open space, a memorial, and the use of sustainable energy. There is still a transit hub planned to alleviate the former congestion at the site. However, the scope of the playing field for design has been dramatically opened.
LMDC president Lou Thomson believes the new approach responds to a public desire for more planning options. "At Listening to the City and other public forums throughout the last several months," he says, "we vowed to incorporate public input into the planning process. The invaluable public input we received is helping to shape the future of downtown. Involving additional design teams and allowing greater flexibility in the program will ensure that a variety of bold options will be introduced during this second phase."
If all goes as currently planned, by this time next year, the LMDC will have chosen a design for a new World Trade Center. Perhaps it will be a scheme that reflects the best of New York. Meanwhile, on this anniversary, we are reflecting on who and what was lost, and on what is yet to come.
Tess Taylor is a frequent contributor to Metropolis and former chapter editor of Oculus. She lives in Brooklyn.