Breaking up the superblock
David Childs on his redesign for the World Trade Center site
By The Art Newspaper. Web only
Published online: 08 September 2011
Before the horrible events of September 2001, Larry Silverstein had hired me to make improvements to the architecture of the World Trade Center. I was about to show him my ideas when 9/11 happened. He called me 24 hours later and asked me to design a new centre. Before I would agree, I wanted him to follow a strategy of commissioning multiple architects to design all of the various buildings on the site, because it was far too big for a single architect and would better fit the spirit of New York City.
I also told him that we needed to transform the superblock and reinstate the street grid, to bring back pedestrians to the site. Silverstein agreed, and during the next week I told him that Greenwich Street is the traditional line between the hard land of Manhattan and the Hudson River, so it and the historic Fulton Street must go through the site. These would be the entrances to the site and would give the area a vestibule of space. I also told him to fight the real-estate people who would want an underground mall, and Silverstein agreed to all these ideas.
Some of the plans were conditioned by the insurance company’s demand that the Trade Center complex have precisely the same amount of space, but I had several options regarding where to place buildings and the transportation hub. Essentially, bringing the street grid in and breaking up the original superblock were my major contributions to the master plan.
Many people did not want to build anything on the site, but I remembered London and Berlin after the second world war and thought we should rebuild it. I did not want to keep the master plan of the superblock. I accepted the spiral plan of buildings presented by Daniel Libeskind as it read strongly and because we had to keep the footprint of the original buildings as a memorial, and the spiral would enclose it.
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