Starting Over at Ground Zero

Why a Spanish architect is the man to design an American icon


It has to be faced. The current plan for the restoring the World Trade Center site in New York City is just plain ugly. Now is the time to stop it.

First, Daniel Libeskind must go. He is the architect in charge of the site plan which is problematic enough, but he also tried to push through his half-baked notion of a building that somehow mirrored the pose of the Statue of Liberty holding her torch aloft. And he was going to decorate it with wind turbines that would no doubt break down and look pathetic.

Once Libeskind has been sent packing, the horrible Skidmore, Owings, Merrill design for the Freedom Tower must be tossed into the garbage. The concept of constructing the tower on a 200-foot tall base consisting of a blank reinforced concrete wall covered in steel and titanium represents a massive a failure of imagination. The notion is that such a bastion will protect the building against truck bombs. But look, the goal of any future terrorist would be to knock down the Freedom Tower, not just muss it up. After all, they wouldn't want to be seen as mere second-rate Osama bin Laden wannabes.

Fortunately, we don't have to worry much about another hijacked airplane being crashed into the new Freedom Tower. Why not? It's not because of the super duper security bestowed on us by the Transportation Security Agency, but because I believe that no American airline passengers will ever allow their planes to be commandeered again. Passengers would jump would-be hijackers even faster than the heroes on United Flight 93 did.

So the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) and other powers-that-be need to challenge a new architect to come up some more ingenious design that would enable the building to withstand a blast from a tractor trailer full of explosives. That should be possible without putting up the moral equivalent of the Orthanc Tower in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Even the original Twin Towers in 1993 withstood the blast of a 1300 pound bomb in a Ryder van parked in their basement.

The current version of the Freedom Tower would be a grim structure to which people will go to toil and will flee as soon as the workday ends. The design includes no shopping, no restaurants, no street life, nothing at all to invite the rest of the world to visit and linger in downtown Manhattan. The terrorists have indeed won if we believe that we must live and work inside hideous fortresses.

Fortunately, I don't believe that the LMDC has far to look to find the right architect to restore Manhattan's injured skyline and cityscape. I nominate Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava has already been selected to design the glorious new PATH train commuter hub at the WTC site. While nearly every other aspect of the reconstruction of the WTC site remains controversial, Calatrava's PATH station design has gained near universal applause.

Calatrava makes concrete soar, fly, dance, and play. Noted for his innovative and elegant bridges, transportation hubs, and public buildings like opera houses and museums, Calatrava is now planning inspired skyscrapers. For example, in New York City, he has already designed an 835 foot residential tower just a few blocks from the WTC site at 80 South Street. In Chicago, Calatrava recently unveiled his plan for a 2000 foot residential tower, which would be the tallest building in the United States. The powers-that-be in New York should give Calatrava a chance to do for the whole WTC site what he has already done for the site's $2 billion transportation hub.

There is still time to fix the architectural mistakes of the past four years at the World Trade Center site. The victims of the 9/11 atrocities, the residents of New York City, and the citizens of the United States deserve better than lowest common denominator design by committee. By destroying the Twin Towers, radical Islamist criminals made them symbols of freedom. Whatever new buildings rise from the WTC site must be commercially practical, but they should also stand as a rebuke to the enemies of liberty everywhere. Terrorists can blow up one set of buildings, but free people should respond by boldly raising from the ashes structures even more magnificent than the ones that were destroyed.