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Craig Whitaker: Did you see Herbert Muschamps piece in the magazine section of the New York Times? [Muschamp, the New York Times architecture critic, curated a proposal for lower Manhattan. The collaboration among almost two dozen architects imagined a string of buildings above an underground West Street.]
Kevin Lerner: What are your thoughts on that?
Whitaker: I actually thought it was irresponsible, because you cant build those buildings that way. You need to ventilate the highway. And rather than dealing with the problem at Ground Zero, they simply picked an alternative site in order to showcase the architects that Muschamp picked. It cant be built because you cant ventilate the highway, and the second fact is that the Federal Highway Administration is not going to pay for almost a mile of footings and foundations and columns for buildings that might not be built for thirty years, for developers that dont exist, for programs that havent been crafted.
Lerner: You had mentioned a similar problem in building the new PATH station.
Whitaker: In this particular instance, theres strong precedent. The Ford Foundation had commissioned Paul Rudolph to do something in a publication called the future of the city. This was at a time when the Lower Manhattan Expressway [a plan to build an east-west highway across the island, circa 19551963] was a burning issue. Rudolph proposed building housing over the highway, and of course it went nowhere because the Federal Highway Administration wasnt going to pay for a very expensive set of footings that was going to stretch the entire width of lower Manhattan.
Lerner: How would a project like this compare with the Big Dig in Boston? [An ongoing plan in Boston is burying the Central Artery and replacing it with developable land and parks.]
Whitaker: I have no idea about the buildings. The highway, the number thats being used informally is $2 billion, and that would be for something that stretches from Chambers Street down to the Battery. The Big Dig is something in the neighborhood of $15 billion.
Lerner: But that includes, in some places, supports for buildings, does it not?
Whitaker: Yeah. Exactly. What they had to do thereand this is something that would have to be thought through hereis build a temporary roadway. Thats essentially what makes projects like this so expensive, and why, by comparison, Westway was so inexpensive. [Westway, a project that was under debate in the late 1970s and early 1980s, would have replaced the West Side Highway, and in some proposals, included a depressed and partially covered section in the existing West Street right-of-way in lower Manhattan.] What you have to do is go in and build a temporary roadway, relocate traffic to that roadway. Then go in and do what you have to do, and then tear down the temporary roadway. So in many urban areas, youre actually building two roads, both of which have to be structured to carry what, in highway terminology is called HS-20 loading, you know, its a moving van, or a fully-loaded pumper truck or something like that.
Lerner: Does the public know this? Is education the first step?
Whitaker: Yeah. I think if the LMDC [Lower Manhattan Development Corporation] continues the battle of imagesand Muschamps piece was simply the latest in a flood of suggestions and ideasthen it loses, because it has to grapple with the real-world problems of money, of scheduling, of transit questions and right-of-ways that will be needed underneath the ground, with the existing leaseholders, and with the public participation process.
In the alternative, it would be better for the LMDC to break down the pieces of the redevelopment project, and begin to show the public what the consequences are of each of these decisions. For instance, there has been a considerable amount of talk about the 11 million square feet of office space and how its hampering efforts because its taking up space that could otherwise be used for housing or the memorial or parks or streets or whatever. If you do the math, its a very simple exercise. Just take 51 stories and divide it into 11 million square feet, and you get less than 5 acres out of whats an 18 acre site18 meaning 16 acres, plus two acres that you would get if you narrow the streets. If it were 65 stories, you could do it in less than four acres. Just take 11 million and divide it by 65, and divide that number by 43,560 square feet per acre. And I dont think the public completely understands that.
Weve given a lot of lip service to the lower Manhattan skyline, but I dont think that the public understands that a lot of buildings down there were built on very ordinary looking footprints, which is not necessarily an inhibitor to good architecture. The Woolworth Building, 40 Wall Street, City Services . If you were to try to find them on a map, you wouldnt be able to identify them. In fact, if you look at most great New York Buildings, they sit on very ordinary looking footprints. The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Whitney, the Guggenheim. So I think there needs to be an effort there to make the public understand that. A relatively simple stitching-together of the streets doesnt mean that were headed down the road to mediocrity. I think the public doesnt understand that were not imminently going to be building the 11 million square feet because we have office rents down there that are 25 bucks a square foot less than what it would take to build a fully tax-paying office building.
I also dont think that the public really understands the size of the acreage down there. A good part of the debate about the memorial has also centered on how big it should be, rather than what its context should be. At Rockefeller Center, the skating rink is less than three quarters of an acre. And even if you add the allée going in from Fifth Avenue, its a little more than three quarters of an acre. If you were to look at Gramercy Park, which is one of my favorites, its a little more than an acre and a half. So how you surround the memorial is far more important than the size of it. And nobodys looked, at how in the two footprint alternative, that unless theres a drastic change, the southern border of the memorial would be a small parking lot, the Deutsche Bank, which is one of the ugliest buildings in lower Manhattan, and on the next block to the east, Burger King. Is that an appropriate way to frame the memorial? I dont think so.
The question of where the PATH [Port Authority Trans-Hudson] train goes has enormous implications for transit patterns in lower Manhattan. I believe, but I dont have the evidence, that its better to move the station to Church Street. But this is the kind of question that can be put in very quantifiable terms. A lot of transportation planning depends on numbers: minutes saved can be equated with dollars saved, versus the cost of providing the solution that saves the dollars. In other words, it may be, in the end, cheaper, in terms of access into lower Manhattan, to move the station. There are very good arguments that can be made for keeping the station where it is. Its much cheaper. And at the same time, you can encourage retail by surrounding the station in the middle of the World Trade Center site with stores. Everyone who passes in and out of the station becomes a shopper or a browser past the store, where you might but something. None of this has really been brought before the public in any kind of a systematic way.
Lerner: What sort of system do you suggest?
Whitaker: I think you take each of these pieces and you prepare a critical path, much the way you would in a complicated construction process: What do we have to decide today? Well, very soon, you have to make the decision on the PATH station. It will influence the columns; itll influence the location of commercial space above it. The public needs to have a full-scale presentation on what these alternatives are, if in fact the publics going to be involved, and then the decision makers are going to have to make a decision. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, on highway projects, for instance, youre required to do this anyway. Youre required to come before the public with alternatives and explore the environmental and aesthetic and economic consequences of each of these decisions before you make a choice.
Lerner: Who is the public? Who needs to be involved in this?
Whitaker: I think its somewhat sui generis, its whoever decides to be involved. But clearly with something of this symbolic import, thousands of people have said they want to be involved, and it becomes a messy process. Do we take a vote? No, of course we dont. We have hired politicians to make these decisions. But they make the decisions after listening to the public debate. But were not having a public debate on any of these issues. The question of producing residential real estate in lower Manhattan is a laudable goal, but I dont know where the soft sites are; I dont know how much one would be willing to pay.
For instance, the Deutsche Bank. I have a fellow that I work with regularly, and think very highly of, who put out a number of 400 bucks a square foot to buy and develop real estate in lower Manhattan. The Deutsche Bank at 1.2 million square feet, youre looking at a purchase price of $480 million, less what it costs to get the mold out of the building. Its almost a half a billion dollars. Is that an appropriate public expense? Well, Im from Missouri; youd have to show me. I think we could have one whole component on residential. I think we could have one whole component on shaping the skyline. In Switzerland, youre required to build a mock outline of a building out of bamboo. Theres no reason we couldnt be studying each of the buildings thats being proposed in lower Manhattan by using computers and film or photographs so that people can see them.
I dont think the public understands the relationship between the size of a building footprint and elevator service and height. Its often more profitable for a developer to buildIm making these numbers upsay 72 stories than 75 stories. I dont think that the public understands that this is how buildings get built over time. I dont think the public understands how a typical office building is structured as a financial deal: you have to have an anchor tenant. You need to go to the bank and borrow on the rest.
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