October 23, 2003
Visions for Tower Clash at Trade Center Site
By DAVID W. DUNLAP
The architects David M. Childs, left, and Daniel Libeskind, center, with Larry A. Silverstein at the trade center site in July.
Only 10 months before groundbreaking is expected to take place for the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site, the master planner of the site and the architect for the tower's developer, who are supposed to be collaborating, have reached an impasse on how the skyscraper should look.
Although the version being designed by David M. Childs, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, for the developer, Larry A. Silverstein, has not been seen publicly, it is stylistically quite different from the widely publicized images of the Freedom Tower drawn up by Studio Daniel Libeskind as part of its master plan.
Mr. Libeskind has called for an asymmetrical composition: a slender, antenna-topped spire rising along the western edge of an office tower, abstractly complementing the Statue of Liberty on the skyline. Mr. Childs has proposed a more monolithic and symmetrical structure that would twist and taper as it rose, culminating in antennas surrounded by an open framework.
The differences are more than cosmetic. Without an agreed-upon aesthetic approach, there can be no detailed drawings. Without drawings, there can be no construction. So the pressure to find common ground is enormous, particularly since Gov. George E. Pataki has set Sept. 11, 2006, as the deadline for the topping off, or structural completion, of the Freedom Tower.
Asked whose vision would prevail, those involved answered yesterday that the collaborative effort would resume and that Mr. Libeskind and Mr. Childs would pick up again after an uneasy meeting four days ago.
"Every artistic collaboration in history had its fits and starts, but they are ultimately judged on what they produced," said Matthew Higgins, chief operating officer of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is planning the site with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
"In this case," Mr. Higgins said, "we are confident that Libeskind and Childs will design a Freedom Tower that will make our entire nation proud." He said the corporation was not even considering the prospect that the two architects would fail in a collaborative effort.
Mr. Libeskind said he had tremendous respect for Mr. Childs's ability. "We both have strong opinions about design," he said. "Nothing worthwhile was ever created without some conflict, and what emerges from a collaboration should be even greater than the sum of its parts."
Employees of Studio Daniel Libeskind, at 2 Rector Street, are working in the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill office at 14 Wall Street. "Sometimes we shoot quickly ahead and sometimes it slows down," Mr. Childs said. "We're proceeding toward what we both believe will be a magnificent end result."
And Mr. Silverstein, while acknowledging that there were issues between the architects that "need to be worked through," said yesterday that he still expected the collaboration would produce an exceptional tower.
But these public pleasantries do not change the fundamentally awkward arrangement — by no means unique to the trade center site — that arises when prominent architects are compelled to work together, one of them on a master plan for a complex, one of them on a building design within the complex.
Complicating matters is that while the Port Authority owns the 16-acre site, Mr. Silverstein is the long-term leaseholder. So the redevelopment process has long reflected the tension between the needs of the public and those of a commercial landlord who is expected to have at least $3.5 billion in insurance proceeds with which to finance reconstruction.
Mr. Libeskind's master plan for the site was chosen in February by the Port Authority and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation after an international competition that, at one point, included Skidmore. Seen around the world, the Libeskind concept, called Memory Foundations, showed an array of towers around the memorial area, rising to a 1,776-foot skyscraper at the northwest corner of the site, which Governor Pataki named the Freedom Tower.
In May, Mr. Silverstein said Mr. Libeskind would not actually design the Freedom Tower, though he promised that it would "reflect the spirit of Dan's site plan." Instead, he chose Mr. Childs, with whom he was already working on the 7 World Trade Center office building project across Vesey Street.
Two months later, the development corporation announced a "historic collaboration" on the tower between the Skidmore firm, which was to serve as "design architect and project manager," and the Libeskind studio, which was to be the "collaborating architect during the concept and schematic design phases" and a "full member of the project team."
What must be resolved, however, is the vital issue of whether the tower is meant to be a hybrid of distinctive ideas or a Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design that will be critiqued by Studio Daniel Libeskind.
A revised version of the Memory Foundations plan that was presented last month continued to show an asymmetrical, angular Freedom Tower with a side spire rising to a pinnacle.
Asked at the time whether the completed building would resemble his model, Mr. Libeskind replied, "Well, I'm an optimist."
Mr. Childs and Mr. Libeskind appeared together three weeks ago with three more architects whom Mr. Silverstein has brought into the project: Norman Foster, Fumihiko Maki and Jean Nouvel. "This is not an assault on Danny's talent," Mr. Childs said that afternoon, noting that the master plan always anticipated the participation of a number of architects.
This week, as efforts were going on behind the scenes to smooth over the differences between the architects, Mr. Libeskind gave a lecture about the design process at the National Building Museum in Washington.
"Look, I come from a Hasidic background," he said on Tuesday night. "I know forced marriages and they always worked for a long time."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company