Published  02/02/2003

Zeroing Ground Zero

In early March, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation will publicly announce the winner of the two finalists shortlisted to provide designs for the reconstruction of the 11 million square feet of office space destroyed on 11 September 2001.

The two contenders are Team Think (led by Rafael Vinoly, but including Buro Happold and ARUP) and Studio Libeskind. Team Think has been 'on site' since shortly after the tragedy; its pair of massively elegant open towers are lower than the rival scheme, that of Daniel Libeskind. Daniel, although a New Yorker and notably street wise given the gang he is opposing, is in the lion's den here.

His small but highly influential Studio Libeskind is still based in Berlin, and currently awaiting successful funding for the 'Spiral' gallery for London's Victoria and Albert Museum. Daniel Libeskind's own project for Lower Manhattan is, however, more particular to context and siting. The concept driving the scheme is (natural for a New Yorker) commemoration and memorabilia. In the dramatically tall summit tower, there is a defiance, a lack of vulnerability which is the opposite stance to that of Think Tank.

Their scheme exudes transparency, deliberate lack of targetable mass, and will stand off dramatically at night. But Libeskind's scheme recognises the fact of the past atrocity, and yet confidently expresses an optimism about the future. It is at street and podium level that Libeskind will demonstrate his prowess, as well as reaching commemoratively for the sky. Libeskind is no stranger to the atrocity zone, having established in Berlin that objects from the past need not dominate memories.

It is, rather, the subtle social and cultural patterns of groups who once populated a city quarter that, uniquely, he will recall with a sublimely integrated group of buildings. Perhaps, in the end, it is the 'twin towers' obsession that describes Think Tank's project, one which Libeskind successfully and dramatically leads New York away from while reinforcing the city’s grain and its networks.

Odds on Libeskind. As for the Foster proposal, it failed to get through from the semi-final of six schemes: although another gherkin in the sky may thrill Londoners, it seems Foster did have the last word before going, saying that the New York project should celebrate life. Both the finalists' schemes do offer that, whatever else comes in between.

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