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Going Up the Ground Zero Supertower
September 11, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 3 comments
 

When you think of 9/11, odds are the images of the flames and rubble of that day aren't too far from your mind. As TV references, they're about as indelible as the moon walk or the Kennedy assassination.

For the 12th anniversary of that fateful day, the PBS series Nova will help nudge that memory in a positive direction, by going inside the new tower rising there, 1 World Trade Center. The documentary, Ground Zero Supertower, airs on the anniversary: September 11 at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings).

One of the after-effects of this hour-long look at the remaking of Ground Zero is that, eventually, we will have to collectively look at the new monument there – the tallest building in Western hemisphere – as a replacement for the twin towers that once stood in its place. With that in mind, we always will be looking at three buildings: the new one, and the two ghosts that live on in our memory.

Ground Zero Supertower is mostly a paint-by-the-numbers visit to the disaster of 9/11 and the construction challenges of the new tower there.  We learn about the damage and repair to the foundation of the site. We learn about new super-strength concrete that makes up its reinforced core, the building's new-tech shatterproof glass and the extra-wide exit stairs that can allow the building to be emptied more quickly.

Which is all sort of a sobering, indirect way of understanding that this building can withstand the direct hit of a hurtling jetliner, which the original towers could not.

Still, as we well know the images of the twin towers falling, their replacement – the massive, tapering 1 World Trade Center – is considerably less known in media. Its design, construction techniques and its progress have been almost anonymous to other than construction professionals.

In that regard, Ground Zero Supertower is an uplifting experience. It's a monumental construction project. There are dizzying images of the 800-ton spire being installed at the crown (above, right), bringing the tower to almost 1800 feet in height. And for those who have not seen the memorials on site yet, even on video, there is time well spent there – two excavated rectangles where the towers once stood, edged with cascading water to reflecting pools at the bottom. Below that, underground, nestles the 9/11 museum dedicated to the victims of that day.

Conspicuously absent from the documentary is Daniel Libeskind, the architect and author who won the original competition for the World Trade Center master plan, and creator of the design of the then-called Freedom Tower, where 1 World Trade center now stands.

Perhaps it's old news, going back to 2004, when Libeskind was essentially dismissed (voluntarily or involuntarily, depending upon who's telling the story) from a collaboration with architect David Childs on the new tower. Childs is developer and World Trade Center lease-holder Larry Silverstein's architect. From early on, Libeskind's design was not considered seriously by the development team. There was even a documentary filmed at the time, tracking the slow decapitation of Libeskind from the tower's design team.

As it was, one could even agree with criticism at the time that Libeskind's aggressively abstract cladding and massing scheme, and its asymmetrical corner spire meant to echo the raised arm on the Statue of Liberty, were lively ideas – but not ones that would carry well into the future as a public monument.

Whether you agree or disagree with that, the sacking of Libeskind's design remains an ugly chapter in the redesign of the World Trade Center, and Ground Zero Supertower sidesteps it. From the sound of it, you would think it was Childs' building all along, and that Libeskind never existed.

In that sense, the new twin towers are really Libeskind's ghost building, and Childs' replacement – a commanding neo-obelisk that is assuredly a more classical and conservative public monument than Libeskind's ambitious and freewheeling one.

Aside from all that, Ground Zero Supertower is a worthy journey into the remaking of a place that was once a painful scar into a new beginning. As Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker, says at the start of the documentary, "Going back into the sky is really important, because that was something that was taken away, and I think it's appropriate to put it back, to show that the city goes on, and is more powerful than the forces that attacked it."

 
 
 
 
 
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3 Comments
 
 
Jeffrey Evans
No mention made either about the Sandy flooding, 15-30 feet in the 1 WTC site and 5-7 feet in the Museum site. Bomb proofing is no defense against flooding. The building may be designed to withstand another 9/11 style attack from the air, or a 1993 style truck bombing, but another attack, if and when it comes, won't be like those. Fighting the last war. Again.
Sep 14, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Paul Schatz
I too cannot fathom why anyone would want to work in the new tower. Having visited the site of the federal building in Oklahoma City, I found that the memorial that replaced the destroyed building to be a remarkable tribute to those who lost their lives. In my youth I often visited the neighborhood that later became the world Trade Center. It was a bustling and seedy waterfront area with surplus shops. I enjoyed slurping Manhattan clam chowder alongside dock workers in the local luncheonettes. Anyhow, I too hope that the new building enjoys a long and prosperous and safe life. I just would not be able to occupy it daily.
Sep 12, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Eileen
As a New Yorker, living fairly close to the WTC site, and an employee of the now closed St. Vincent's Hospital (closest medical/trauma ctr. to the WTC), I am very apprehensive about this new building. I always felt the people crying out for a "taller, better, bigger" building were not actually people that live in NYC. When I discuss this with family & friends, I can't find a single person that would work in this building. New Yorkers that I know & speak with would much rather have had the entire area made into a park with reflecting pools, shade trees, benches and appropriate signage to remember these victims.

I might note I never like the old WTC buildings. Having been in them several times they made me very uneasy. A friend who was a architect rented space in one when they first opened, and couldn't wait for his lease to expire so he could get out. He didn't feel they were properly constructed.

I hate to be the party pooper, and I wish this building nothing but success.
Sep 11, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
Eileen: Within a couple of weeks of 9/11, I said to a colleague, "they should build those buildings back, exactly as they were". He said, "who would rent it?" –EG
Sep 11, 2013
 
 
 
 
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