Commemorating 9/11 USA

What’s going on at Ground Zero?

City and State officials, victims’ groups, developers, and the site’s owner have been fighting over plans for the World Trade Center for the last five years

Demolition crews clearing rubble at Ground Zero after the attacks. The photo is from Joel Meyerowitz’s new book "Aftermath" (Phaidon Press)

NEW YORK. Slow and decidedly unsteady progress is being made at the World Trade Center site, where the fifth anniversary of the 11 September attacks will be commemorated with a solemn morning observance. In the intervening years since the terrorist assault, political infighting by city and state officials, victims’ groups, developer Larry Silverstein, and the site’s owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has led to numerous construction delays. The recent announcement that the city/state agency overseeing the rebuilding efforts, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), will disband later this year has left many wondering what else could go wrong.

Construction began on the controversial Freedom Tower in April 2006 after a public battle between architect Daniel Libeskind and developer Mr Silverstein delayed building. Libeskind’s master plan calls for a 1,776 foot tower to symbolise US independence with a spire that mirrors the raised torch of the Statue of Liberty. A redesign of the building by Mr Silverstein’s handpicked architect David Childs of Skidmore Owings and Merrill left out much of Libeskind’s original symbolic content, yet the architect’s ideas were eventually reintroduced into the final architectural plans with the backing of New York Governor George Pataki.

Official designs for office towers two, three and four on the memorial quadrant are to be unveiled on 7 September. The long-awaited plans by architects Lord Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Fumihiko Maki will provide a diversity of building styles at the site. No architect has yet been named for a fifth residential tower operated by the Port Authority.

Space for art and culture at Ground Zero remains a contentious issue. The World Trade Center Memorial and Museum resumed construction in August 2006 after design modifications demanded by Governor Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg brought expenditures down from a hefty $1 billion to $510m. The revised plan reduces the Memorial and Museum from 150,000 to 120,000 sq. ft, and resolves several underground safety issues by creating one main security entrance through the visitor centre.

The memorial, designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, retains many of the original elements including waterfalls that empty into two voids where the twin towers once stood. It is scheduled to open on 11 September 2009.

Plans for the Performing Arts Center designed by Frank Gehry are currently on hold until after the WTC Memorial Foundation completes its fundraising campaign for the memorial and museum. To date, the foundation has brought in $131m and is $170m shy of its final goal. Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff has gone on record asserting that the city itself may take over the development and capital campaign for the Performing Arts Center. However, a spokesperson for the WTC Memorial Foundation told The Art Newspaper that no formal discussions have taken place. The LMDC has allocated $50m for the arts building, which is estimated to cost around $200m and will house the Signature Theater Company and Joyce Theater Foundation.

Previous plans for a culture centre adjacent to the memorial were scrapped last summer when the Drawing Center pulled out of the development over criticism of its future exhibition content, and the International Freedom Center was banished from the site by Governor Pataki over similar concerns.

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