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International Freedom Center Out at Ground Zero

Rendering of Snøhetta's Cultural Complex, which was to house the International Freedom Center.
Image © Snøhetta/ Placebo Effects

After fighting for its very existence over the past few months, the International Freedom Center (IFC) at Ground Zero has lost the battle. Yesterday New York Governor George Pataki announced in a statement that, “There remains too much opposition, too much controversy over the programming of the IFC, and we must move forward with our first priority, the creation of an inspiring memorial.”

The large museum building was designed by the Norwegian firm Snøhetta and would have been located in the northeast corner of the World Trade Center site. Its purpose was to “tell freedom’s story,” according to its mission statement. But in the last several months the IFC had been under a barrage of attacks from families and survivors of the WTC attacks, firefighters, policemen, politicians, and others who feared its exhibits would be negative toward or critical of U.S. policies, and also felt the museum would be out of place on what many consider sacred ground. Others were concerned the IFC would detract from the impact of the World Trade Center Memorial and museum, located just steps away and designed by architect Michael Arad.

On September 22, the IFC’s director and founder, Tom Bernstein submitted a new proposal, attempting to convince leaders, particularly New York Governor George Pataki, that the museum would not stir up as much controversy as feared. The proposal touted the museum’s goal of advancing freedom, and named new board members, including former Soviet political prisoner Natan Sharansky. But the effort came to no avail.

New York City’s Drawing Center, the country’s only non-profit dedicated to drawing, was also to be housed in Snohetta’s cultural complex, although they’ve reportedly been looking for space elsewhere in the city since the IFC controversy emerged several months ago and many have assumed they will not move in. Representatives of the Drawing Center had no comment on the demise of the IFC. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which heads construction on the World Trade Center site, could not be reached for comment about the Drawing Center.

In his statement, Governor Pataki pledged to move the Freedom Center elsewhere in New York, but shortly after the IFC said in its own statement “we do not believe there is a viable alternative place for the IFC at the World Trade Center site. We consider our work, therefore, to have been brought to an end."

Gretchen Dykstra, president of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, which is charged with funding the memorial, as well as the cultural center, appeared solidly behind Governor Pataki, saying “Governor Pataki has provided clear direction that the Memorial quadrant should be devoted to telling the story of September 11th.” But John C. Whitehead, Chairman of the LMDC was apparently disappointed with the outcome. “We had hoped that we would be able to reach a resolution that was agreeable to all,” he said.

Snøhetta’s cultural complex had been designed to minimize its impact, deferring to the World Trade Center Memorial. Its mostly horizontal mass was to be covered with glass prisms. Frank Gehry’s cultural complex, which will house the Joyce Theater and the Signature Theater, appears to still be moving forward, although no design has been unveiled.


Sam Lubell