Tower Design Overshadows Complications
By HERBERT MUSCHAMP
Published: December 20, 2003
The surprise of yesterday's unveiling is that in its present form Freedom Tower is much closer to being a piece of architecture than the public had any right to expect. The forced collaboration between David M. Childs, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and Daniel Libeskind might have brought out the worst instincts of each, resulting in a corporate gloss on the apocalypse. Instead, the architects have come close to transcending what's left of their battered selves. With some shrewd editing, the design could become one of the noblest skyscrapers ever realized in New York.
The building's strongest feature is the adaptability of its structural system to different site conditions. That is why it makes no sense to parse the design for signs of which architect won this or lost that. The design we see, in its entirety, takes its cue from Mr. Libeskind's incomplete master plan. The building's irregular contours are precisely determined by the size, shape and location specified by that plan. If these specifications were to be changed, so would the architectural expression. I'd call that win-win so far.
The second major strength is the balance that the design almost achieves between delicacy and toughness. The glass skin and the cable structure create an ethereal quality that one might have thought impossible, given the prospect of fortress architecture that rose up in the aftermath of 9/11. Yet the rigor of the structure is tough, exactly as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Eiffel Tower are tough. Freedom Tower's structure is derived from bridge design, like that of the Eiffel Tower. The span connects heaven and earth.