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Redesigned Freedom Tower Will Be Sleeker, Safer

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Images Courtesy Skidmore, Owings and Merrill/ Dbox

After having about six weeks to rethink its plans, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill today unveiled an uncoiled, slenderer, and safer design of the 1,776-foot-tall World Trade Center Freedom Tower. The tower’s original design, the centerpiece of redevelopment at Ground Zero, had been ordered back to the drawing board by New York Governor George Pataki on May 4, after the New York Police Department noted it was particularly concerned about the building’s vulnerability to truck bombs. The new tower is much more reminiscent of the original Twin Towers and other New York landmarks like the Empire State Building.

Most of the tower’s design changes stem from the need to set the building back from West street, to its west, to limit vehicular access. The new tower will be set back about 90 feet from that street, 65 feet farther than the proposed location of the original Freedom Tower. To accommodate this setback, the structure will be built on a 200-foot-by-200-foot square footprint, instead of the original plan’s parallelogram-shaped base. The tower will no longer twist, but will be chamfered back from its corners, creating eight tall isosceles triangles. Maintaining the original building’s torque with a square base would have been awkward, notes SOM spokesperson Elizabeth Kubany. The newly-situated building will also be about 20 percent slimmer than the original iteration, with a 40,000-square-foot ground-floor plan versus the original 50,000 square feet. Because its amount of office space will remain the same, the thinner tower will have 69 office floors versus 60 in the original plan. Above these will sit an observation deck and a restaurant, and finally a 400-foot spire centered over the building, and now secured by a system of structurally-redundant guy cables. The new spire’s design, still in development, will be created through a collaboration with several engineers and artists. The spire’s design, says lead designer David Childs, FAIA, is meant to evoke the torch of the Statue of Liberty. Its centering was necessitated for cable support, and because of the strict requirements of the Metropolitan Television Alliance (MTVA). The original design’s system of latticework cables and wind turbines has been removed. While security played the biggest role in such design changes, many speculate that aesthetic and monetary concerns were also instrumental. . It is unclear how the changes will affect the cost of the new building.

Another key security enhancement for the building is its new 2.5- to 3-foot-thick concrete base, which will cover 80 feet of lobby space and 120 feet of mechanical and exhaust systems. To enliven and minimize what could be a bunker-like aesthetic here, the base will be sheathed in a gridded pattern of titanium and stainless steel whichChilds says will allow the light to glitter off its surface. Clerestory windows at the base’s apex will allow some natural light into the open lobby, notes SOM principal Jeffrey Holmes. To connect the newly-set-back tower with the street life around it, the building will have entrances on all four sides, and will include landscaping by Peter Walker, who is also working with Michael Arad on the World Trade Center Memorial. It remains unclear whether nearby Fulton and Vesey Streets will be open to vehicular traffic. Like the original Freedom Tower, the building will contain a concrete core throughout, although that core will now be slightly narrower. Low-iron glass will clad the rest of the building, like the original scheme, but it will be thicker.

New York Governor Pataki, who admitted that he had never heard of the word “chamfered” before the redesign process, said that he liked the new Freedom Tower better than the old one, noting it “simpler and yet more elegant.” He was joined on stage by World Trade Center master planner Daniel Libeskind, who, despite his initial battles with Childs, praised the architect’s new design as not only better than the first iteration, but very close to his original vision of a “slender, crystalline tower.” The new plan, points out Holmes, took advantage of a master plan and design guidelines that, while not formally released, had been further developed. Hence while Libeskind did not work directly on this project’s design, his guidelines, says Holmes, played a larger role.

The new Freedom Tower design is more reminiscent of other New York skyscrapers than the first, particularly icons like the original twin towers, the Empire State Building, and the Chrysler building. The building’s massive, centered antenna recalls not only the spires of the Empire State and Chrysler, but the World Trade Center’s original North Tower. Its footprint will be similar in size to the original towers’, while the height of the occupied space—1,362 feet at the observation deck and 1,368 feet at a glass parapet, will equal the heights of the original twin towers.

“The height evokes a powerful memory,” notes Jeffrey Holmes, a senior partner at SOM. Holmes notes that the height match wasn’t intentional, but was quickly discovered, and pinpointed, as the height of the tower increased. He notes that the design’s other similarities to the Twin Towers and other local landmarks were “not a starting point,” but that the firm is very “conscious of the engagement of that history.”

Construction of the Freedom Tower is expected to begin in early 2006, with a topping out by 2009. The building is expected to be ready for tenants by 2009.

Sam Lubell