At last, an architectural team has given a glimmer of hope to those who want to see the Twin Towers rise again.
Herbert Belton and Ken Gardner just completed “The Plan of the People” to transform Ground Zero into a thriving commercial and transportation center. They also have crafted a tasteful and compelling memorial that recalls the 2,749 people killed there on September 11. It celebrates their lives and work without becoming an urban cemetery.
While this plan arrives two months after officials approved “Freedom Tower” by David Childs and Daniel Libeskind, nary a spoonful of soil has been scratched on that project. Legal, insurance, and financial questions cloud the Freedom Tower’s future. Americans should urge public officials to substitute the majestic Belton-Gardner proposal for the lackluster scheme now selected for construction.
Team Twin Towers — a New York non-profit that favors the World Trade Center’s restoration — endorsed the Belton/Gardner work. TTT unveiled their concept and stunning architectural models at a February 18 news conference at the Marriott Financial Center Hotel, two blocks south of where WTC Two stood for 28 years. It’s now online at www.makeNYNYagain.com.
“Herbert Belton and I created this to bring New York back to New York,” says Gardner. He is a structural engineer while Belton, formerly with Emery Roth & Sons, worked as an architect on the first WTC’s transit infrastructure. Their layout updates Minoru Yamasaki’s 1962 design. Wider windows correct a recurring complaint about the Twin Towers. A “sky hotel” operates at mid-level in one tower. Belton and Gardner suggest that some floors house luxury apartments.
The new skyscrapers feature tougher, tube-within-a-tube construction. They contain more concrete and less drywall, a light material that was pulverized on September 11. Modern fireproofing, six (up from four) broader staircases, and sensors that pinpoint stairway obstructions all promote safety.
As before, the Towers dwarf shorter, adjacent structures, namely five attractive, 12-story buildings with rooftops as gently curved as the Towers are ramrod straight. These include offices, a transit hub, and an opera house.
This plan’s memorial elements are sensitive yet imaginative. The new buildings stand 300 feet east of the Twin Towers’ footprints. Each skyscraper’s bottom five floors reappear in recovered or replicated steel. Within those lines, individuals who were killed will be named on stone tablets. Visitors can study this atrocity in an onsite museum and meditate on it inside a quiet, 12-story glass tower.
Belton and Gardner masterfully add an FDNY memorial at the top of one tower and its NYPD analog equally high in the other. They believe that since these brave souls climbed into each blazing building, those who honor their service should reach their intended destinations. Rebuilding advocates emotionally call for Belton-Gardner to become reality.
Hollywood entertainment executive Chuck Booms displays a small copper model of the Twin Towers that he acquired during a childhood trip to the WTC. Stifling tears, he recalls saying back then, “Dad, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. How could man build such a thing?” He hopes to visit the new towers’ souvenir shop and purchase a new model to
accompany the memento he bought at age 10.
TTT spokesman Jonathan Hakala says the Twin Towers were among Earth’s few “instantly recognizable” landmarks. He compares missing the chance to restore them with “allowing the Pyramids to crumble or the Great Wall of China to come tumbling down.”
Hakala says that financing anything at Ground Zero will be difficult. However, he believes it will be easier to fund something that is monumental, not mundane. He suggests congressionally-approved Liberty Bonds and private, domestic and international donations could help underwrite a new WTC.
“It was a magnificent structure to see going up,” recalls Artie Vignapiano, who was a Port Authority landscape planner as the WTC was built. “When I worked on the 74th floor of Tower One, I used to tell people, ‘You know what I get paid for? To look outside my window at the Statue of Liberty.’”
Vignapiano fled his office on September 11. Still, that horror has not slaked his desire to see the Twin Towers again. “All of the people who worked on the buildings — 10 out of 10 — want them back.”
Erecting enhanced Twin Towers “can ignite the great American renaissance,” Ken Gardner says. “I believe there will be a rallying cry for every floor that goes up…It’s going to be amazing when it starts to pierce the skyline once again and rise above the Brooklyn Bridge.”
If New York’s civic and business leaders shelve the Freedom Tower and embrace “The Plan of the People,” citizens from Gotham to the Golden Gate will exult. This winning detail of the Belton-Gardner blueprint embodies the American spirit: The new Twin Towers stretch 112 floors into the sky — two stories taller than did the beloved originals.