The Winter Garden is a 200-foot-long, 125-foot-high glass-enclosed room in the middle of the World Financial Center, a cluster of high-rise office buildings and shops in Lower Manhattan, across the street from the site where the World Trade Center once stood. It had been severely damaged in the terrorist attack that destroyed the trade center on September 11, 2001, and when it was restored the following year its reopening was taken as a welcome symbol of the renewal of the area. The Winter Garden is one of the few large, indoor public rooms that Lower Manhattan has. It is not a typical public space for New York. It has a dozen palm trees, a grand, formal staircase, and a view to the Hudson River. Most of the time, it functions like an indoor version of a public square, where visitors and shoppers and office workers mill around under the architect Cesar Pelli's spectacular arched glass ceiling or sit reading newspapers and sipping coffee on metal benches.
On the morning of Wednesday, December 18, 2002, the Winter Garden was closed to the public. The benches were organized into rows, and a few hundred folding chairs had been added to them in an attempt to make the space function in the manner of an auditorium. A makeshift stage was set up at the west end, and temporary partitions and large video screens were placed in front of the glass wall that normally offers a view toward the river. Platforms for video cameras had been squeezed in and around the palm trees, and there was a lectern, plus lots of microphones and bright television lights. All of the seats were filled, and those that were not occupied by politicians, civic leaders, and architects were taken by journalists from newspapers, magazines, and television stations around the world.
At about ten o'clock, a distinguished-looking eighty-year-old man with white hair stepped to the podium. His name was John C. Whitehead, and he had been, at various times in his career, chairman of the investment-banking firm Goldman Sachs, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and deputy secretary of state of the United States. Here, he was speaking in his latest role, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which had been established in the fall of 2001 by the governor of New York, George Pataki, to oversee reconstruction of the trade-center site. The LMDC had gotten off to an uncertain start, and it had been through a particularly bruising period the previous summer, when it had unveiled a set of preliminary studies for the site that were universally panned by the public as dreary and unimaginative. The fiasco had a positive effect, however: it stimulated the LMDC to become more ambitious and to think of the rebuilding less as a commercial venture and more as a symbolic act, as a chance to show vision. By the middle of August, the agency had settled on a plan to revive its reputation. It issued a call to architects from around the world to submit their qualifications to craft a design for the site, in the hope of enticing some of the leading architects of the world. Nine hundred architects responded, from every continent except Antarctica. Many of them joined forces to create special partnerships for this project, so the LMDC actually had 406 teams to evaluate. The LMDC spent several weeks reviewing the submissions with the help of a panel of advisers and winnowed the pack down to seven teams, eliminating not only hundreds of unknowns but several of the most prominent architects in the world, including Robert A. M. Stern, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Santiago Calatrava, Eric Owen Moss, and Bernard Tschumi. At the end of September, a little more than one year after the terrorist attack, the LMDC announced the seven teams, gave them each forty thousand dollars, and sent them off to spend the next few weeks designing something that it hoped would give the public the sense of vision it had found lacking in the preliminary studies.
The early studies had been done by the firm of Beyer Blinder Belle, a solid, middle-level professional firm that was best known for preservation projects such as the restoration of Grand Central Terminal, with some contributions by Peterson/Littenberg, a small, respected firm of architects and urban designers that had been serving as a consultant to the LMDC. This time around, the names were more recognizable. Richard Meier, Charles Gwathmey, Peter Eisenman, and Steven Holl, four of the best-known architects in the city, if not the nation, joined forces as one team. Lord Norman Foster, the celebrated British architect known for his skyscrapers, was another of the participants. The eminent corporate firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill headed another team, and Rafael Viñoly led another, which became known as THINK. An exceptionally
talented group of younger architects known for their work with
computers-Greg Lynn, Ben van Berkel, Jesse Reiser, and Kevin Kennon-formed another group, United Architects. Daniel Libeskind, a largely academic architect who had received international acclaim for his Jewish Museum in Berlin, also participated, his firm the only one other than Lord Foster's to enter the competition without a partner. And Peterson/Littenberg, eager to distance themselves from the dreary work of Beyer Blinder Belle, had, after the other six teams were chosen, convinced the LMDC to allow them to submit an entry as well.
On December 18, the designs were ready to be unveiled, and the Winter Garden was the natural place to do it, just beside Ground Zero and possessed of a sense of grandeur befitting what had become a genuine media event. The LMDC called the work by the seven teams its Innovative Design Study, to distinguish it from the not-very-innovative study of the previous summer, but most people called it the World Trade Center competition or the Ground Zero competition, and the very word competition seemed to heighten public interest further. In the weeks leading up to December 18, this had become an architectural event like none other. New Yorkers had been obsessed for more than a year with the question of what would be built on the site, and the notion that some of the world's most famous architects were now competing against one another for the job only heightened the excitement. The unveiling of their designs had begun to feel more like a sports event than a cultural one: big names in architecture competing against one another for the right to decide what would go up on the most intensely watched site in the world. At stake was a prize much bigger than anything the architectural world usually gets to think about. Even though there would be no instant winner-the LMDC planned to take several weeks to evaluate the designs and then would narrow the field further-public interest was so great that NY1 News, the local all-news channel, broadcast the Winter Garden news conference live. With seven architectural firms making presentations, the whole event was expected to take three and a half hours, itself an extraordinary amount of time for any live news event, let alone one that more resembled a lecture in an architecture school than a presentation to political figures and the public. An advance minute-by-minute schedule was printed that set every participant's time and limited each architect to twenty minutes. When John Whitehead began his remarks-scheduled to start at 10:00 a.m. and conclude by 10:03-he tried to set an august tone, opening the proceedings not as if he was introducing a bunch of architects presenting some models but more as if he were addressing the United Nations.
"The original World Trade Center was more than a set of buildings. It stood for global commerce over global conflict," he said. "These teams have produced world-class work that embraces and extends the ethos of the original World Trade Center. Underlying these diverse plans is the common theme of rebirth. Beyond the powerful aesthetic statement that these designs make, they also convey powerful messages-they must speak to our children and our children's children about who we are and what we stand for."
Whitehead was followed by a series of officials: Louis Tomson, the first president of the LMDC; Joseph Seymour, the executive director of the Port Authority; and Roland Betts, a well-connected member of the LMDC's board who had played a major role in thinking up the architectural competition in the first place. Betts was a close friend of President George W. Bush, and he had already helped to focus the president's attention on New York's rebuilding needs. Now, he saw his mission as delivering a major piece of architecture as a symbol of the renewed city.
Betts began his remarks with a reference to his longtime friend. "I would like to thank President Bush for his concise counsel to me, 'Do something that will make people proud,' " Betts said. He looked at the architects assembled in the front row. "It's as if Rembrandt and da Vinci and Matisse and Jasper Johns were all drawn to the same task," he said. "What is it that we want to say about our city? What is the new face of the new New York that we want to present to the world? We know that within the next twelve hours, billions of people will see these images." Betts concluded by calling the designs "visions for an anxious world," and he said, "This day belongs to the visionaries."
It was left to Alexander Garvin, a Yale professor of city planning who had been serving as the LMDC's vice president of design and planning and who had managed the competition that Betts had helped to conceive, to introduce the architects. Garvin did it with the panache of a Broadway impresario. He had determined, pretty much at the last minute, the order of the presentations, and he decided to start off the proceedings with an architect whose work had interested him from the beginning, Daniel Libeskind. Libeskind almost had not been in the competition at all. Garvin had wanted him to serve on the advisory panel he was putting together to help the LMDC narrow down the submissions and figure out just who should be invited to produce the master plan, but Garvin had insisted that panel members commit to coming to New York for a series of meetings in September, and Libeskind was tied up on the dates that Garvin had selected. Almost as an afterthought, Libeskind said that if he could not be part of the panel, maybe he would just put his name in for consideration for the competition itself. So he did.
Libeskind is short and memorable in appearance. He usually dresses all in black, sometimes with the accent of a red scarf, and he wears heavy, squarish, black-rimmed eyeglasses and black cowboy boots. It is an odd combination for an architect who was born in Poland and grew up in the Bronx, but Libeskind has never been a particularly easy figure to pigeonhole. His work over the previous few years had straddled academic architecture and intense, real-world politics. His most important buildings-the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which was finished in 1999, and the addition to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which had not yet begun construction-each took years of lobbying to win approval.
Libeskind went up to the lectern. His first words were not about architecture at all. "I believe this is about a day that altered all of our lives," he said. And then he went on to describe his own arrival in the United States forty-three years earlier. "I arrived by ship to New York as a teenager, an immigrant, and like millions of others before me, my first sight was the Statue of Liberty and the amazing skyline of Manhattan," Libeskind said. "I have never forgotten that sight or what it stands for."
He went on to describe his proposal, which he called Memory Foundations. Libeskind's design had one particularly striking element: he wanted to expose the slurry wall, the concrete retaining wall that had served as a portion of the original World Trade Center foundation and kept the Hudson River out of the trade center's basement, as a monument. Libeskind described it as "the great slurry wall, the most dramatic element which survived the attack, an engineering wonder constructed on bedrock foundations and designed to hold back the Hudson River. The foundations withstood the unimaginable trauma of this destruction and stand as eloquent as the Constitution itelf asserting the durability of democracy and the value of individual life."
It was a clever idea, not only because the wall could serve the purpose of a ruin but also because exposing the wall meant that the whole area facing it, the "footprints" of the twin towers, would have to be below street level, and it seemed somehow right that people who came to mourn and to honor would step down into the earth. Going down to the footprints seemed to connect to an almost visceral feeling. "We need to journey down into Ground Zero, onto the bedrock foundation, a procession with deliberation into the deep indelible footprints of tower one and tower two," Libeskind told the audience.
Libeskind wanted to place cultural facilities, such as a museum of September 11, in glass buildings around the footprints that he designed in his characteristic angular manner, like crystalline forms. For the rest of the sixteen-acre site he suggested a mix of office buildings, public plazas, and retail stores, as well as a train station that would unify the various subway and transit lines in the area. And at the northwest corner of the site he proposed what he called, at first, the Gardens of the World, a 1,776-foot spire that would contain hanging gardens and would be tied to a seventy-story office building that would help to provide its structural support.
Libeskind did not talk about square footage or economics, and he barely used an architectural term in his presentation. He talked about commemoration, memory, mourning, and renewal, and he did it with the zeal of a preacher. "Life victorious," were his final words, to sustained applause. Libeskind told the audience very little about how his architecture would directly achieve the emotional goals he sought, but his rhetoric-he wanted to call one of his plazas the Wedge of Light, and another, the Park of Heroes-
suggested that he knew far better than most architects how to communicate with a traumatized public.
Libeskind was followed by the one architect who might be considered more suave in presentation manner than he was, Lord Foster. Foster's style was completely different from Libeskind's, however. Instead of an earnest appeal to the emotions, Foster delivered crisp, self-assured professionalism. Everything about Foster's manner, like his buildings, seemed to embody sleekness and confidence. He stepped to the podium clad in a black turtleneck, and, unlike Libeskind, he spoke without notes.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Up from Zero by Paul Goldberger. Copyright © 2004 by Paul Goldberger. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.