There's Not Enough "Vision" at Ground Zero

Question: How do you feel about the progress on One World Trade Center?

Paul Goldberger: I'm disappointed in where things are at Ground Zero right now.  I think it's sad, on the other hand, I do think the people involved are trying reasonably hard, under the circumstances.  But there's really not a great deal of vision there.  It begins really right back the morning of September 12th when Governor Pataki, who had the most authority in this situation, made the decision to keep everybody in place who was a player in this situation, the Port Authority, which owned the World Trade Center, the developer, Larry Silverstein, who had leased the Twin Towers.  And most importantly, to keep the program in place.  The program—by program, I mean the functions of the buildings.  So, you know, the World Trade Center was 10 million square feet of office space plus some retail and some other commercial space, that’s what was transferred into the new project with the addition of a memorial and some cultural facilities and the, the prescription that it be in a different physical format, obviously, not 210-story towers again, but spread out around the site in a different way. 

But you know, we never really looked into completely different uses for the site.  We never really thought from point zero, we might say, about what the ideal thing to do there would be.  Instead we took a program that goes back to the original World Trade Center in the early '60s, and it was never really that effective or successful for most of its life, and decided to replicate it. 

And then came all the complex political things that flowed from that, so it’s taken an inordinately long time, it's cost a huge amount of money, and we still don’t really have anything that I think the world can look at and say, "This is a great achievement that shows us that the United States has come back from this thing in a noble way." The office building that’s going up is sort of okay, but it's not, I don’t think going to be a distinguished or particularly beautiful building.  It’s not the... it doesn’t show all that we are capable of in terms of architecture. 

Similarly, the other office buildings that have been planned for the site, most of which are on hold now because of the economy, are better than the average piece of junk on Third Avenue, that’s true, but that’s not a very ringing endorsement. 

And then for this site that is so critical to the eyes of the world, where we had the opportunity to show the world that we could do something that was bold and visionary, we have really not succeeded at doing that. 

I think a great tower would have had a place there.  Either a pure tower, just as a symbol, like the Eiffel Tower of the 21st Century, we might say. Or, remembering that the United States is, after all, the birthplace of the skyscraper—a building form that we’ve now given to the world that is now common all around the world—what better place, if we’re looking to show the world that in fact we have not been defeated by this attack, than to come back to this place, in this country, in this time and build the most advanced skyscraper we could possibly imagine.  The one that will bring the art of skyscraper design forward yet again. 

And instead, we are not doing that.  We’re doing a building that is not that different from a lot of commercial buildings built everywhere, and in fact, not as good as many of them.  It’s going to be very tall, it’ll have a little more flair to it than the old Twin Towers did, but, you know, it’s not what it might have been.

Recorded on June 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman

A great tower would have had a place at the World Trade Center site. But instead we're doing a building that is "not that different from a lot of commercial buildings built everywhere, and in fact, not as good as many of them."

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