JOHN GALLAGHER: Symbol of hope rises above chaos
Ugly design process results in impressive Freedom Tower plan
January 3, 2004
BY JOHN GALLAGHER
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
NEW YORK -- The admonition against watching laws and sausages being made sometimes applies to architecture, too.
Certainly the clash of egos that has resulted in the proposal for Freedom Tower, to rise in lower Manhattan on the site of the destroyed World Trade Center, has been nobody's idea of an ideal creative process.
Among other problems, the two main architects feuded for months, and the proposed design was finished, if that's the word, only days before its unveiling just before Christmas.
The surprise is that something so good came out of a process so benighted. The preliminary designs for Freedom Tower capture the aspirations of architecture like few new buildings in recent years. With its soaring pinnacle and its seemingly pliable yet evocative silhouette, Freedom Tower promises to be more than a rental office building -- its basic use, after all.
So far, we've seen only the most basic geometry and silhouette of the building, and a slight suggestion of the faceted facade. So much of what makes good architecture lies in the details -- the texture of the exterior, the treatment around windows and doors -- so the final verdict on Freedom Tower must await refinement of the design.
Not everyone will be satisfied, and indeed many people believe the site should be left open, as a raw wound in lower Manhattan, or perhaps landscaped as a public park. But standing on the rim of the pit during my recent visit, neither idea seemed appropriate.
New York is among the most vital cities in the world, and today, more than two years after the attacks, the streets around the World Trade Center site once again teem with life. A train station reopened recently in the pit, in what had been the basement of the World Trade Center, and on its walls it carries quotations extolling the vibrancy of this city. Among them: "If you're bored in New York, it's your own fault."
So to leave this gaping wound in lower Manhattan, or to force a quietude on it in the form of a landscaped greensward, seems as futile as trying to stifle a little boy's wiggling during church. New York's surging life force will grow and retake this site. The only question is how.
JOHN GALLAGHER is the architecture critic for the Free Press