March 3, 2003
Notes from Robert Ivy, FAIA, Editor in chief
While I was crossing the Brooklyn Bridge in the profound
quiet of the early morning, the lights of the city were out.
Directly ahead lay the void where the World Trade Center towers
had stood. In the darkness, New York seemed organic, incomplete,
poised for conception.
I was beating the dawn into the city to join the media throng
that would gather later in the day for the announcement of
an architectural team for the WTC site. Already the drums
were beating the news: Studio Libeskind had been selected.
In a few hours, crowds would converge just across the way
from my car at the World Financial Center to hear the formal
pronouncement, but already the word was out.
How vastly different the trip across that same bridge had
been on September 11, when we had escaped the collapsing towers,
an event that tore the veil from our innocence. In the smoldering
weeks and months that followed, tumbling events seemed to
be propelling us all toward the mundane, when all along we
knew the defining, historic imperative before us: this was
the existential moment, the time to act and declare who we
Every day has brought new drama, complicating the scenario
and obscuring the goal. What do the fractious interest groups
say? How can the surviving families be accommodated? What
to do with the demands for office space, when so little is
needed now? Which project does Herbert Muschamp favor? Where,
please, is the governor in all of this? Whos on first?
Events roiled like smoke and threatened to consume us. Yet
here I drove on February 27, toward a city that had made up
its mind. The decision was foreshadowed in December, when
seven teams of architects presented their visions for the
future of the southwest quadrant of lower Manhattan. As soon
as he spoke and the images jumped across the screen, Daniel
Libeskind had captured the moment.
With the passion of an émigré, the confidence
of a showman, and the architecture to back it up, he kicked
off the presentations with a singular ideato save the
original foundation wall that remained. Surrounding and surmounting
this historic shard were crystalline forms rising to a dizzying
height, yet asymmetrical and modulated against the prickly
skyline of lower Manhattan. The project rose and fell with
the citys own rhythms, kicking in with its own powerful
lyricism. It dropped to bedrock and reached for the stars:
Libeskinds project fit the city.
Nearly universal critical acclaim ensued, including a powerful
endorsement from Ada Louise Huxtable and an editorial in the
New York Times; this magazine backed the scheme as well. More
especially, the Libeskind plan struck a nerve with ordinary
people. How amazing to hear friends outside the architectural
inner circle debating its merits, comparing Libeskind to Think,
probing, doubting, but hooked.
Daniel and his wife Nina pursued the successful decision
with an enthusiastic singleness of purpose that betrayed force
and commitment. Both qualities will be required in the future,
as commercial and political interests gather like stormclouds.
We owe all of the teams a profound debt for taking personal
and professional risks, for committing extensive resources,
and for caring as strongly as they did. In hindsight, their
actions were heroic, accompanied by limited compensation and
an uncertain chance for execution. While the Think team must
be both exhausted and disappointed, their actions advanced
and heightened the debate. We were all elevated by the poetry
of the twin towers they proposed, and intrigued.
Ultimately, Libeskind and Think, Norman Foster and SOM all
joined in the rejuvenation of New York. By envisioning what
we might become, and arguing strongly for their ideas, they
lifted us all to a fresh, new placea prospect for viewing
our city as it might become. While the final decision might
have been miscast as a competition, the only true winners
were New Yorkers themselves, who embraced design, and architecture,
in a strong new way.
We rumbled off the bridge and headed toward the lights.