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We Don’t Need Something New At Ground Zero
Rebuild the towers.


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Deroy Murdock

A team of architecture scholars is scanning U.S. landmarks with laser beams, just in case. Should terrorists demolish the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, or the U.S. Capitol, Texas Tech University’s highly detailed, reverse-engineered, digital database will make it easier to restore those structures to their rightful homes in America’s hearts and minds.

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What Texas Tech is not doing, however, is drafting alternative blueprints for an updated Lady Liberty or a more somber Capitol Dome, should Islamic extremists destroy those treasures.

In that sense, the never-ending quest to replace the Twin Towers is ceaselessly frustrating. While architects have labored mightily, with both memorable and forgettable results, the right thing to do at Ground Zero is rebuild the World Trade Center as it was the day before Osama bin Laden’s henchmen reduced it to a deadly, smoldering ruin.

Nine new designs compose “Plans in Progress,” a collection of officially selected concepts for the WTC site on display through February 2. Much of the exhibit at Manhattan’s World Financial Center, across West Street from Ground Zero, is bold, dramatic, and visionary. Some of it is concrete schlock. But none of it returns what terrorists robbed, which is why the late architect Minoru Yamasaki’s Twin Towers must rise again.

These models, architectural drawings, and computerized renderings are showcased behind glass at the WFC’s Winter Garden, a spacious, 10-story-high atrium filled with lush, Washingtonia palm trees. The Winter Garden was severely damaged beneath the rubble of the Twin Towers, yet it reopened last September 17 looking just as it did before it was wounded 53 weeks earlier.

Like the venue where they are housed, two submissions recall the way we were before al Qaeda attacked.

In addition to Sir Norman Foster’s entry (about which, more later), THINK Design’s proposed World Cultural Center features two high-rise lattice-work tubes that suspend a concert hall, outdoor amphitheater, library, and memorial center high above Gotham’s streets. A huge turbine inside each scaffold-like edifice would “harvest wind power to the Center.” This struck me as striking, but fanciful.

Also intriguing is the Great Hall, a gigantic, glass-enclosed room above Ground Zero that encompasses office space and a grand transportation hub for Lower Manhattan. “The world’s largest covered plaza,” its creators explain, is environmentally correct, too.

“Sustainable systems conserve energy and water consumption by creating a greenhouse, harvesting electricity and collecting rainwater.” Some 14 million gallons of rainwater, the architects promise, “collected and filtered from 18.5 acres of roof is [sic] used for plant irrigation and toilet flushing.” Though greener than the Audubon Society, this idea has appeal.

Peterson-Littenberg’s contribution adds a brand-new element to the blandness of the six designs rejected last July: Crowding. A model of this site looked busier than a weatherman in a tornado. Two big towers. Three medium ones. Three others, smaller than that. A ground-level amphitheater. Five low-rise buildings with rooftop gardens. Busy, busy, busy.

“It looks claustrophobic,” an onlooker whispered to a friend. “It looks tight.”

Studio Daniel Libeskind’s design is best described as chiseled. While that’s usually a nice thing in a gentleman, Libeskind proves that it can ruin real estate. His knife-like constructs may be the most angular ever conceived. They are tall, thin and jagged. At their base, smaller buildings resemble oversized chunks of rock candy — crystal clear and tough around the edges. The whole thing recalls the phrase “sharp stick in the eye.”

Like the ancient pagan observatory at Stonehenge, Libeskind’s layout is tied to the motions of the heavens. As he explains, “Each year on September 11th between the hours of 8:46 a.m., when the first airplane hit and 10:28 a.m., when the second tower collapsed, the sun will shine without shadow, in perpetual tribute to altruism and courage.”

This might be the project’s only source of favorable feng-shui.

United Architects’ total jumble features several black buildings that link at odd places, like the legs of knock-kneed giants.

The biggest failure is also, to be fair, the most original effort. Memorial Square involves two sets of vertical buildings connected by intersecting floors of horizontal office space. The result resembles the set of The Hollywood Squares. One lady saw it and spat, “This is the worst-looking thing I’ve ever seen.” She is clearly a woman of discernment.

Even my favorite scheme gets only two cheers. Sir Norman Foster created two triangular towers that climb 1,764 feet into the sky and connect at three points. Their unabashed confidence respects what was, while their truly modern look imagines what will be. Their distinctive appearance is a credit to their location.

However, at ground level, Foster offers a funeral.

He builds high, dark walls around the footprints of the Twin Towers. He calls these monoliths “the Voids.” Visitors can walk around these sunken squares from below ground and look up. “From the Voids, you can only see clouds & sky — no buildings or trees. No life,” Foster explains. At each building’s peak, he adds: “The top is public. You can see forever…but looking down, you can never see life in the Voids.”

G-R-I-M!

Nevertheless, Foster writes: “Our plans meet the needs for remembrance, reconciliation and renaissance. The memorial will be a lasting reminder of the value of human life.”

Will the fake Norman Foster please sit down?

Were the WTC site a brand-new development, I would combine Foster’s impressive towers with the upbeat Great Hall at sidewalk level. (In contrast to Foster’s tearjerker, THINK’s architects elegantly enclose each footprint in even more glass.)

Of course, these 16 acres are not brand-new, but the home of the late, great Twin Towers and the five other buildings (all gone) that
constituted the World Trade Center. They should be resurrected, as before.

If its brave passengers had not steered it into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Muslim mass murderers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 likely would have crashed it into the U.S. Capitol. Imagine that the ensuing carnage wiped out the 44 onboard plus 75 members of Congress, 100 staffers, and 200 tourists. Would anyone call for a new Capitol? Would the bereaved demand large holes in those drawings to preserve the footprints of the Senate and House chambers in honor of the more than 400 killed on Capitol Hill? Not likely.

An exact replica of America’s beautiful, beloved Capitol building already would be well under construction. Eventually, something indistinguishable from the original would occupy the same space, much as the portion of the Pentagon incinerated on September 11 reappeared just as it was, save for internal structural improvements.

Critics offer two chief arguments against giving the Twin Towers the same respect.

First, “No one wants to work in skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan after seeing the 9/11 atrocity in person or on TV.” That excuse vanished with the arrival of five proposals higher than the 1,368-foot Twin Towers. These even surpass Malaysia’s 1,483-foot Petronas Towers, earth’s tallest buildings. If it’s okay to build higher than the WTC, surely it’s all right to reinstate the Twin Towers.

Moreover, a CBS News/New York Times survey asked 1,008 New Yorkers if they “would be willing to work on one of the higher floors of a new building at the World Trade Center site?” Thirty-nine percent of respondents said yes in results published last September 29. (Margin of error: +/- 3 percentage points.)

Jonathan Hakala of Team Twin Towers, a pro-WTC restoration group, extrapolated this statistic across New York City’s pool of 4.2 million civilian laborers. He calculates that “more than 1.6 million people are willing to work on the higher floors.” He adds: “If you take the entire New York metropolitan area [including New Jersey and Long Island], more than 3 million people would be willing to work on the higher floors. And that’s enough people to fill the top half of more than 200 new towers.”

Hakala, who still grieves over the loss of his beloved office on the 77th floor of Tower One, suggests that authorities “hold a worldwide auction for space above the 85th floors” of reconstituted Twin Towers. “Such an auction will almost certainly be heavily oversubscribed. There will be overwhelming demand from people and businesses, and this will send a powerful message supporting safer, taller towers.”

The second anti-Twin-Tower argument is that “Tall buildings invite attacks, so something lower profile is in order.” This notion is a non-starter. It is not the job of urban planners and architects to hide from al Qaeda. It is the duty of the Pentagon and CIA to locate and exterminate these vermin.

For their part, the Twin Towers, even when they were alive, were more than office buildings. The U.S. Capitol represents American democracy in the eyes of the world, while the Statue of Liberty has attracted freedom-hungry immigrants to these shores since 1886. The World Trade Center was an icon of equal significance.

Many agree that the Twin Towers were majestic, magnificent, and soaring in their simplicity. Others never warmed to them and complained that they were cold and intimidating.

But Americans all appreciate that the Twin Towers were an engineering marvel that instantly became internationally recognized as the apotheosis of U.S. industrial and financial prowess. American enterprise never stood more proudly than at the World Trade Center. That is exactly why Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi slammed jumbo jets into them. And — safety enhancements and a stirring memorial aside — that is precisely why the Twin Towers must rise again, just as they were on September 10, 2001, right down to the last butter knife at Windows on the World.

— Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.



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