‘Majestic’ oaks for memorial
By Josh Rogers
A forest of oak trees will fill the World Trade Center memorial plaza under new details of the design unveiled Thursday.
Michael Arad, Peter Walker and Max Bond, the memorial’s architects, made adjustments to the design so pedestrians could enter the plaza from all four streets and they left an area where visitors could touch the World Trade Center bedrock and slurry wall and see many of the remnants of the boxbeam columns that supported the Twin Towers, answering a concern of many of the relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 attack.
The initial reactions to the adjustments from residents who saw the changes were also positive. Jordan Gruzen, an architect and longtime resident of Battery Park City, said he likes that there is no longer a wall on West St. blocking access from his neighborhood. “It softens it with the stairs,” he said.
The Port Authority, owners of the site, agreed to requests from the city and Community Board 1 to move the truck and tour bus access ramp from the north side of Liberty St. to the south making entry to the memorial easier.
Walker, a California based landscape architect, said he chose oaks, because “it’s a majestic tree. It’s also relatively pest-free…. Oaks have a long life span and they are built sturdily. Sycamores tend to move around.”
The oaks will form a canopy with the lowest branches about 20 feet high. The spring green leaves will thicken to provide shade through the summer and on Sept. 11, and will turn to red and brown through the fall before dropping to let in light through the winter.
In April, designers will select about 300 oak samplings and later trim them and grow them in a place in or near New York City to prepare for the climate, Walker said. The trees will grow for three years before being transplanted to the memorial before it’s expected opening on the eighth anniversary of the attack, Sept. 11, 2009, when he hopes the canopy will be about 18 feet high and the tree tops 40 feet. They should grow to be between 50 and 60 feet high. About 15 percent of the trees will be other varieties, although those have not yet been selected, Walker said.
Memorial construction on the Reflecting Absence design of two sunken reflecting pools where the towers stood is expected to begin in 2006.
Walker said the street level forest would surround the reflecting pools and hopefully draw some people who live and work in the neighborhood in addition to relatives and tourists.
It will be “a little more refined, a little more quiet than your average park,” Walker said. “We want people to feel welcome — if you come in to have your lunch, read a book, bring your girlfriend, that’s fine.”
Arad, who conceived the design idea, said, “This plaza belongs both to the memorial and to the city.”
He thinks the most powerful moment for visitors will be when they descend the ramp and see the victims’ names, the falling water and the empty pool and experience — as he described it after the presentation — “the vast magnitude of the destruction, the vastness of the space and the thousands of names.”
His original idea, selected as one of eight finalists by a 13-member jury in a design competition organized by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, included a cultural building along West St. and a small number of trees. Jurors asked Arad to spruce up the design and he turned to Walker to redesign the plaza before it was picked in January.
There was still a wall along West St. to the dismay of some jurors, but Arad and his partners worked with the L.M.D.C. and the Port Authority to make adjustments to compensate for the different street level heights and the infrastructure underground.
One of the models at the presentation showed a tunnel under West St. adjacent to the memorial, but officials said no decision has been made yet on the contentious tunnel question. A spokesperson for the L.M.D.C. interrupted to prevent Arad from saying whether he thought a tunnel was a good idea or not.
Gruzen, the Battery Park City architect, said he disagrees with many of his neighbors and he was glad to see the tunnel in one model.
“I think they’re thinking about construction over the next two, three years,” Gruzen said of neighbors wary of a tunnel. “I don’t think they’re looking at the long-term.”
He said it would make it easier to cross the street near the memorial.
One reason given for the tunnel is it will take some of the traffic effects away from the memorial, the same reason Arad once gave for proposing a cultural building.
John Dellaportas, the leader of a coalition to prevent the tunnel, said the memorial is not a good reason for building the tunnel, pointing out that 9/11 relatives seldom mention it. Even if it makes the area safer right near the memorial, Dellaportas said it would undoubtedly make it less safe near the entrance and exit ramps.
“Whenever we hear from family members, they are never asking for it…. Overall for the community, it will be less safe for Battery Park City residents,” he said.
Family members at the presentation did seem pleased with the adjustments to the memorial.
“These people listened to what we were saying,” said Charles Wolf, whose wife was killed in her office at Marsh & McClennan.
The Coalition of 9/11 Families, which has been much more critical of the memorial, released a statement praising many of the changes, including preserving many of the boxbeam columns and improving the access area to bedrock. The coalition is hoping the design is refined further to expand the access to the south tower, where the PATH train tracks will run. They also are asking for a change away from the proposal to list the names randomly.
There was no mention of the random name listing at the presentation and officials are apparently open to considering other ideas in the future.
Anthony Gardner, a coalition leader whose brother was killed Sept. 11, said Kevin Rampe, L.M.D.C. president and a director on the new memorial foundation, clarified recent comments to Downtown Express about the name listing.
Rampe said on Dec. 1: “They’re negotiating with themselves if they’re negotiating…. I think we put that issue to bed a long time ago.”
According to Gardner and Wolf, who attended the same meeting for family leaders Dec. 15, Rampe indicated that when he said there were no negotiations happening about the names, he meant currently, and that the issue could be discussed in the future.
Wolf said he is not sure if he wants names to be listed with co-workers, as many relatives of firefighters and office workers have proposed, but he does want some sense of order, such as groupings by building, floor and flight number. The names of every victim who died in Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. or at the W.T.C. either in 2001 or in the 1993 bombing will be listed around the falling water.
There will be some sort of name locator in the underground memorial center. Visitors will be able to descend ramps around the falling water or they could take a ramp directly to the bottom of the pool 30 feet below street level and the bedrock area 70 feet below. The slurry wall will be exposed to the sky from bedrock at the northwest corner of the memorial and there will be a clear street level area at the southwest corner near Liberty and West Sts. Standing room will be available for about 10,000 people, or seats for about 5,000 for the public ceremonies every Sept. 11.
Both Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Mike Bloomberg praised the design at the presentation in Battery Park City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. A 3-dimensional model will be on display at the World Financial Center Winter Garden within a day or two.
Bloomberg said even before Arad’s design was selected it was his favorite. “This is the only one that, to me, stood out,” the mayor said. “I didn’t have a say in the selction, but it was the one that was chosen.”