Months after the 9/11 attacks, Governor Pataki established the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation as an official commission to oversee the rebuilding process of ground zero. After years of vetoing design after design, they opened the floor for an international competition to see who had the best idea of what to do with the barren World Trade Center space. While Daniel Libeskind’s striking design exuding emotion, power, and spirit won over the committees, there were other powers at play.
Though the World Trade Center is mostly owned by the Port Authority, real estate developer Larry Silverstein holds a monstrous 99-year lease on the property. Not to be over-powered, Silverstein found it his “absolute right” to choose his own architect for the rebuilding of the towers and he picked David Childs from Skidmore Owings and Merrill to “collaborate” with Libeskind. Suddenly Libeskind was reassigned from architect to “master site planner” as lines were erased and redrawn in a frenzy that leaked to the press as a messy battles of egos while the World Trade Center site sat untouched.
Libeskind’s original design was enormously heartfelt and full of symbolism. The main tower, dubbed the Freedom Tower until Port Authority nixed the name in 2009, was a twisting, angular glass structure that stood 1,776 feet tall. The exact height (1776) was chosen to coincide with the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The spire on top of the building reached out on one side to mirror the Statue of Liberty’s arm, a visual Libeskind remembers himself as he arrived in New York on boat from Poland as a child. The tower included a 70 foot pit exposing the undisturbed bedrock beneath the buildings and an elevated promenade circling the structure. The plan also included five smaller skyscrapers surrounding the tower and a plaza called the “Wedge of Light” which would align with the sun on the anniversary of the attacks each year.
While time ticked by, and the public, politicians, and developers grew angry, Libeskind was forced to compromise his vision and work out a final plan with Childs. The current design, which will be completed in 2013, will be the tallest building in the United States. The diagonal edges have been traded in for a more boxed shape and the surrounding towers have been axed in favor of a larger spire on top of the building. The pit has risen 40 feet and removed the bedrock and there will be no “Wedge of Light” or promenade. Nearly all but the building’s height has been changed from Libeskind’s design, leaving him responsible for about 4 percent of the estimated square footage.
Regardless of the changes, Libeskind is remarkably serene about the ordeal, saying recently: “In the end, the public will see the symbolism of the site. Of course, compromises had to be made, but a master plan is not about a few lines drawn on paper. It’s about an idea.” Idealistic to the end, he adds, “I think when it’s built, people will forget the squabbles.” Though his design will not come to fruition in total, he has been undoubtedly catapulted into the spotlight with an aesthetic that is hard to forget.