A Tale of Two Rebuilding Efforts at Ground Zero

September 8, 2009

By C.J. Hughes

Correction appended September 10, 2009

A glance at the World Trade Center site from Greenwich Street tells a lot about progress there: Eight years after the Twin Towers fell, a 10-foot-tall, barbed-wire fence still surrounds the 16-acre void in the heart of Lower Manhattan. 

Squabbles over designs and funding have caused severe construction delays. With the exception of the SOM-designed 7 WTC, a 52-story tower completed in 2006, the only discernible progress has happened below street level, on a museum and memorial planned for the site.

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Farthest along is the memorial, whose pools, ringed by plaques with victims’ names, will feature inward-falling cascades. Designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, the memorial had 75 percent of its steel installed and 15 percent of its concrete poured by August, according to Joe Daniels, president of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. He insists that the memorial is on track to open in 2011, in time for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, although some have publicly questioned whether that deadline is feasible.

Similar headway is being made on the 120,000-square-foot museum, which will sit below the pools and feature exhibits like the “last beam standing,” a 40-foot-tall remnant that recently was lowered in place. The museum was designed by Steven Davis, FAIA, of Davis Brody Bond Aedas, the firm that also is the architect of record for the memorial. Snøhetta, a Norwegian firm, has designed an adjacent pavilion. All are supposed to open in 2012.

Since Daniels has completed fundraising for the $700 million project, he’s now raising $25 million for the museum’s endowment, among other uses. “The progress on site has been tremendous,” he adds, “so we’re in pretty good shape.”

The developers associated with the site’s other half can’t claim comparable progress.

Although a six-story section of One World Trade Center now stands, the planned 102-story skyscraper from David Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, is famously off-schedule and over-budget. Last fall, recognizing the delays, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the entire WTC site, recalibrated the skyscraper’s construction time line. It should now be finished by 2013.

More significantly, an impasse shows no sign of easing between the Port Authority and developer Larry Silverstein, who is set to build three adjacent towers, designed by Lord Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Fumihiko Maki. Silverstein says the agency must guarantee $3 billion in financing for two of the towers; the agency says Silverstein must pony up a good chunk of money first.

Also stalled is Tower 5, from Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, which requires the removal of the damaged Deutsche Bank building. Similarly, a transit hub from Santiago Calatrava awaits groundbreaking after being scaled back last year. Even less clear is the fate of a Frank Gehry-designed arts center.

Most of the people associated with these projects did not return phone calls for comment. But Arad, for one, praised the steady pace of memorial construction, which he called gratifying. “It’s very important that the project be completed on time,” Arad says. “I think the 10-year anniversary will be an intense moment of reflection for everybody in this country.” 

Correction: The original story incorrectly stated that the museum will be 30,000 square feet and was designed by the late J. Max Bond, Jr., who was a partner at Davis Brody Bond Aedas. In fact, the museum will be 120,000 square feet and was designed by Steven Davis, also a partner at Davis Brody Bond Aedas.

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