Jul 302002
Authors: Ben Koerselman

How does one fill a void created in the middle of a city by a disaster that even 10 months on still seems incomprehensible? That’s the problem facing officials in New York City as they try to come up with a plan to rebuild the 16-acre World Trade Center site.

Six preliminary designs unveiled a couple of weeks ago seemed to lack any sort of vision or architectural panache. Each of the plans called for a series of office towers between 30 and 80 stories tall surrounding a memorial park, and each were summarily rejected by the residents of New York and most of the rest of America.

To be fair to the plans designers, they were only trying to appease the huge number of people with interests in the sites future. In order to please the current leaseholders of the site each plan retained the 11 million square feet for offices, and 600,000 square feet of retail space that made up the original. In a nod to Gov. Pataki and the victim’s families each plan (for the most part) kept the new development from infringing on the “footprints” of the two towers. Additionally, each plan called for the creation of a large memorial park at its center.

Unfortunately, all of these requirements led to the uninspired designs put before the public, and the designers have been sent back to the drawing board.

Meanwhile, several more designs have been popping up on the Internet – some visionary, some beautiful, some retched and some a little bit odd (vote on your favorite at buildthetowers.org).

All of this planning and designing seems a bit premature to me. In a rush to rebuild something on the hallowed ground of the World Trade Center complex, designers may not have to meditate on an appropriate architectural masterpiece to capture the American mood following Sept. 11.

To discuss rebuilding on a site still referred to as “ground zero” in many a news report or water cooler conversation seems rushed at best, and inappropriate at worst.

It took years for an appropriate memorial to be designed and built at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing. Now, a quiet reflection pool shares space with rows of chairs (one for each victim) and an on-site museum offers visitors the chance to learn more about the victims and even listen to a recording of the bombing.

Like other powerful memorials (the Vietnam Wall comes to mind), the Oklahoma City bombing memorial allows each individual visitor a chance to reflect on the tragedy in their own way.

Such a fate may never befall the World Trade Center site, with its need to mix office and retail space with some kind of memorial to the worst terrorist act in United States history.

A quiet, reflective place may never be able to exist amongst the 24-hour hustle and bustle of New York City. But before we lock ourselves into a design that pleases nobody, a national conversation needs to take place on whether this country is ready for a new World Trade Center, regardless of the form.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the attacks, we need to ask ourselves whether this nation is still in mourning, or whether we are ready to rebuild on ground where thousands lost their lives.

One thing is certain, the official designs that have been proposed do not meet our shared requirements for the site. We do not want just another complex of office towers, jumbled together to meet square footage requirements. Instead we want a powerful architectural message that captures the full magnitude of what happened on Sept. 11.

So far the official designs have not come close.

-Ben Koerselman is editor in chief of the Collegian. He can be reached at bkoersel@aol.com

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