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Fumihiko Maki's 4 World Trade Center Opens

By Fred A. Bernstein
November 15, 2013
Photo courtesy Silverstein Properties
Fumihiko Maki's 4 World Trade Center tower is complete.

Larry Silverstein, the octogenarian developer, has emerged as a hero of Ground Zero reconstruction. His 7 World Trade Center, designed by David Childs, with assists from the glass-master James Carpenter and the artist Jenny Holzer, is a crystalline gem, far more satisfying than 1 World Trade Center, the 1,776-foot tower that is meant to be the centerpiece of the rebuilt 16 acres in lower Manhattan. (Silverstein hasn’t been involved in that building, also designed by Childs, since 2006.)

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Now Silverstein has completed 4 World Trade Center, by the Tokyo-based architect Fumihko Maki. While not as perfectly prismatic as SOM’s Tower 7, it is an estimable building, in part because it nearly disappears. Not only are its facades made of reflective glass, but the back wall of its vast lobby, 47 feet high and nearly a block wide, is made of black granite with highly polished surface that provides a mirror image of the September 11 Memorial and Cesar Pelli’s World Financial Center. From outside, you’re looking at reflections, and from inside, you’re still looking at reflections. It’s hard to think of another building that so fully erases itself—an admirable act of restraint by Maki, a Pritzker Prize-winner.

That’s not to say that the lobby isn’t spectacular. It’s a dramatically proportioned space with precious few interruptions, save for the fascinating kinetic sculpture Sky Memory by Kozo Nishino, cantilevered overhead. Perpendicular to the black granite wall are three elevator corridors, their walls and ceilings made ofanigre wood (with hundreds of square feet of veneer cut from a single tree), their floors made out of gray granite honed to resemble bark. They terminate at elegant video screens on which scenes of nature create the illusion that there’s some kind of paradise beyond. The overall feeling is serene, which is remarkable given the setting.

The lobby also offers access, via stairs and escalators, to the Trade Center’s concourse level. Indeed, from Tower 4, it will be possible to head north under Tower 3—designed by Richard Rogers, but not yet built—to the World Trade Center transit hub, Santiago Calatrava’s magnum opus. A spokesman for Silverstein says that, because the building occupies the southeast corner of the Trade Center site, adjacent to much of the Financial District, up to 40 percent of people entering the hub are projected to arrive through Tower 4. To take advantage of that traffic pattern, the building’s entrances on Church Street, the thoroughfare just east of the building, lead to a retail atrium with escalators and stairs that descend to the concourse.

Upstairs in 2.3-million-square-foot, 980-foot-tall building, are the kind of column-free office floors tenants demand these days. (The building’s structural engineer is Leslie E. Robertson Associates, the firm that engineered the original Twin Towers.) So far, half the building has been rented, but only the lower half, and “only” to the Port Authority and the City; there are still no commercial tenants. Which makes it all the more gratifying that, in what must have been a disappointment to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York’s City Council last week abandoned plans to rezone sections of midtown Manhattan, near Grand Central Station, to allow for larger buildings. The idea was to help the city compete with the office jungles of Shanghai and London’s Canary Wharf.

But that’s what the World Trade Center, including Maki’s Tower 4, Rogers' Tower 3, and Norman Foster’s Tower 2 (the site of which is now filled with mechanical equipment for the transportation hub) is for. Why devote much of the 16-acre Trade Center site—hallowed ground to some—to office buildings, if those buildings will stand empty? Hudson Yards, the west midtown development that is projected to contain some 13 million square feet, is competition enough. Besides, after 12 years, the World Trade Center site is ready to come back to life.

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