Architecture You Won't See at Ground Zero

Night view of two people looking up at skyscrapers over the 911 National Memorial reflecting pool
People Look Up From the National 9/11 Memorial. Photo by Gary Hershorn / Corbis News / Getty Images
01
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Libeskind's Vertical World Gardens

Architect Daniel Libeskind Presents His Vertical World Gardens Design for the Redevelopment of the WTC Site, December 2002
Architect Daniel Libeskind Presents His Vertical World Gardens Design for the Redevelopment of the WTC Site, December 2002. Photo by Christie Johnson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images (cropped)

For very large, high-profile architectural projects—like rebuilding lower Manhattan after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—competitions are commonplace, but not everyone wins. Architecture is filled with losers.

After months of setting requirements and criteria for redevelopment, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporations (LMDC) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) opened the urban planning doors to the world in the summer of 2002. Over 400 submissions were whittled down to seven teams, then two, then Studio Libeskind's Master Plan was chosen in February 2003.

What follows are the plans of the losers—a look at what might have been, had these teams won. And whatever happened to that controversial mosque? It's a long story.

  Memory Foundations by Studio Libeskind:

Daniel Libeskind won the Master Plan competition to rebuild what people were calling Ground Zero, but he still lost some of what he designed. Back in 2002, Daniel Libeskind's thematic Memory Foundations slide presentation included a plan for a "Vertical World Garden" skyscraper:

" The sky will be home again to a towering spire of 1776 feet high, the 'Gardens of the World'. Why gardens? Because gardens are a constant affirmation of life. A skyscraper rises above its predecessors, reasserting the pre-eminence of freedom and beauty, restoring the spiritual peak to the city, creating an icon that speaks of our vitality in the face of danger and our optimism in the aftermath of tragedy."

Libeskind had the requisite passion and symbolism to win the Master Plan competition, but the skyscraper was never built—corporate architect David Childs redesigned "Freedom Tower" without a focus on the gardens, and the building's architectural height will forever be controversial. Who decides the height of a building? That's another story.

So, Libeskind won the competition, but the architect did not build a World Gardens skyscraper, as he had planned.

Sources: Summary Report on the Selected Design for the World Trade Center Site (PDF); Team Studio Daniel Libeskind Introduction, New World Trade Center Site Design Slide Presentation, December 2002, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation;[accessed September 5, 2014]

02
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Futuristic Skyscraper by United Architects

Computer Drawing of Skyscrapers/urban Plan by United Architects Presented December 2002 for WTC Site Redevelopment
Computer Drawing of Skyscrapers/urban Plan by United Architects Presented December 2002 for WTC Site Redevelopment. Photo by LMDC Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images (cropped)

Visit Lower Manhattan and you will not see this skyscraper. Looking more like a transformer toy, one expects the skyscraper to change itself into a monster robot to protect all of New York City.

The 2002 slide presentation of United Architects' master plan invoked the "sacred space" of the Byzantine Hagia Sophia—a photo of "filtered light" beamed into the ancient site's cavernous interior. The very next slide shows "a curtain of protective united towers" as a modern sacred space. Whew! What a leap!

"In the sacred space of the memorial, immense arches tower over the plaza," the United Team explained. The multi-level, multi-use "City in the Sky" would, somehow, "attract businesses back from the suburbs into Lower Manhattan." On every fifth floor, office workers could enjoy the "vertical sky gardens."

The United team designed vertical skyscrapers connected by horizontal pathways, as did two other design teams. United called their design one building with five units, which provide horizontal as well as independent vertical egress. A clearing in a forest of towers AND a city in the sky—perhaps this building was trying to be too much.

The United Architects team included: Foreign Office Architects Ltd. (FOA), Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera-Polo; Greg Lynn FORM; Imaginary Forces NYC, who describe the design as "five interconnected towers that enclose a cathedral-like space"; Kevin Kennon Architect; Reiser + Umemoto (RUR), Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto; and UNStudio, Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos

United Architects lost the competition to Studio Libeskind, and this futuristic skyscraper was never built.

Source: Team United Architects' Introduction, New World Trade Center Site Design Slide Presentation, December 2002, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation [accessed September 5, 2014]

03
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High-Tech Twins by Sir Norman Foster

Part of the Proposed Design by Architects Foster and Partners Presented December 2002
Part of the Proposed Design by Architects Foster and Partners Presented December 2002. Photo by LMDC Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images (cropped)

When you visit Lower Manhattan in New York, you won't see these Twin Towers. They were to be "the most secure, the greenest and the tallest in the world," and, had Sir Norman Foster won the design competition in 2002-2003, the NYC skyline may have looked something like this.

Unlike the original Twin Towers, Foster's Towers touch in three places—or, as Sir Norman puts it, "kiss at three points." With a focus on safety, the coupled design allows routes of egress from one tower to another.

In 2006 Foster completed the Hearst Tower in Midtown Manhattan. Much smaller, and atop a 1928 concrete steam engine of a building, the 2006 Hearst Tower is visually designed with similar triangulation and with a tree-filled atrium to purify and ventilate interiors. It's said that on 9/11 Foster was presenting this design to the Hearst Corporation, so we know what he was thinking when the 9/11 competition arose.

Foster's design was a favorite with the general public, but Daniel Libeskind became the Master Planner of the World Trade Center site.

Sources: Team Foster and Partners' Introduction, New World Trade Center Site Design Slide Presentation, December 2002, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; "Norman Foster's New Hearst Tower Rises From Its 1928 Base," by Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times, June 9, 2006 [accessed September 5, 2014]

04
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Memorial Square by Meier, Eisenman, Gwathmey/Siegel, & Holl

Rendering of massive skyscrapers attached horizontally, an urban design for WTC site, Dec. 2002
Part of Proposed Design by Meier, Eisenman, Gwathmey Siegel, and Holl Architects, December 2002. Photo by LMDC Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images (cropped)

Some of the biggest names in architecture grouped together in 2002 to submit an urban plan proposed to reinvent the World Trade Center site. Richard Meier & Partners Architects, Peter Eisenman Architects, Charles Gwathmey (1938-2009), Robert Siegel, and Steven Holl may be popular individually, but as a team they came up on the short end of success.

Their overarching idea was a good one—to create a great urban plaza in the tradition of Rockefeller Center. They would call it Memorial Square, and it would extend to the Hudson River.

Although many people liked the idea of "reflecting pools, trees and other natural elements to define the memorial space," others thought the plan's skyscrapers to be much too "massive" and out of place in the skyline of Lower Manhattan.

If this team had won, today you would be critiquing these two buildings standing at right angles—one looking like a fireman's ladder and the other like a tic-tac-toe board.

Source: "The Public Dialogue: Innovative Design Study" (PDF), February 27, 2003, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation [accessed September 6, 2014]

05
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Promenade to Battery Park by Peterson/Littenberg

Map of Proposed Design by Peterson/Littenberg Architecture, Presented December 2002. Battery Park, South of the WTC Site, Is on the Left.
Map of Proposed Design by Peterson/Littenberg Architecture, Presented December 2002. Battery Park, South of the WTC Site, Is on the Left. Photo by LMDC Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images (cropped / rotated)

There is no pedestrian promenade from Ground Zero to Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, and there probably never will be.

In December 2002, the team of Steven K. Peterson and Barbara Littenberg proposed creating a new district in New York City—the Garden, "an intimate backyard for the city." An interesting concept of their master plan was the Memorial Boulevard:

" At each end of the boulevard is a twin memorial marker standing in a circle, one at the end of Liberty Street, one at Battery Place, so that they can be seen from several blocks back into the city."

The tall buildings of the Peterson/Littenberg plan would have been at the edges of the garden area, "to form a circular void in the center of the site preserving the astounding sense of empty space which was revealed on 9/11...."

The public seemed to like the understated peacefulness inherent in the Peterson/Littenberg master plan. But Daniel Libeskind became the Master Planner of the World Trade Center site, and we're wondering if commercialism swayed the court of public opinion.

If we want to walk to Battery Park from the WTC site, we'll have to hit the streets.

Source: Slide 3 and Slide 13 and slide 20, New World Trade Center Site Design Slide Presentation, December 2002, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation [accessed September 6, 2014]

06
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Sky Garden Design by SOM and SANAA

Proposed Sky Garden Design by SOM/SANAA for New York's World Trade Center Site, Seen Dec. 2002
Proposed Sky Garden Design by SOM/SANAA for New York's World Trade Center Site, Seen Dec. 2002. Photo by LMDC Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images (cropped)

The SOM/SANAA Team's 2002 slide presentation was called "A Proposal for a Vertical City in Lower Manhattan." The plan was to densify and stratify space, and construct multiple towers in such a way that power would be generated and given back to New York City. The series of skyscrapers, built over a number of years as need arose, would eventually form a "trans-horizon for the resurrected global city."

" It is a real space that extends itself horizontally rather than vertically and symbolically reaches beyond the confines of the city to all the surrounding horizons. At this vertical plateau the buildings act together both as a public space for contemplation and observation, and as an interactive transmitter and receiver for communication, information and media exchange."

But nobody will see this dream city.

Several days after the December 2002 presentation, one of the team's most prolific and established members, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), withdrew from the competition, ostensibly to work more closely with their established client Silverstein Properties Inc., a developer of the WTC site. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation eliminated the entire submission from the competition, abandoning the work of the other team members, including the Pritzker Laureates Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates (SANAA).

Sources: Slide 2 and SOM Team's Introduction, New World Trade Center Site Design Slide Presentation, December 2002, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; "One team dropped from NYC competition" by Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2003 [accessed September 6, 2014]

07
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THINK's World Cultural Towers

The THINK Team's World Cultural Center design for Lower Manhattan, presented Dec. 2002
Proposed Design for a World Cultural Center by Architects THINK Team, Presented December 2002. Photo by LMDC Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images (cropped)

Just think—Lower Manhattan could have been the cultural capital of the world.

"The World Trade Center is reborn as the World Cultural Center," declared the THINK team in their presentation as finalists in the competition to rebuild Ground Zero. In their master plan, the "new" Twin Towers of New York's Financial District would become Towers of Culture.

" The Towers emerge from large glass reflecting pools that bring natural light to the retail and transit concourse. Two large-scale turbines harvest wind to power the elevators of the Center that will serve 8.5 million visitors a year."

The principal designers for the 2002 THINK team included the future 2014 Pritzker Laureate Shigeru Ban, as well as Frederic Schwartz (1951-2014), Ken Smith Landscape Architect, and Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly. The team submitted three proposals.

THINK and Studio Libeskind were the last two contenders after the December 2002 presentation. Ultimately, the Libeskind master plan was chosen, but we could have been looking at a different skyline had the THINK team won.

Source: THINK Team's Slide Show, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation [accessed September 5, 2014]

08
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Park51 - Whatever Happened to the Ground Zero Mosque?

51 Park Place, Site of the Mosque Near Ground Zero
51 Park Place, Site of the Mosque Near Ground Zero. Photo by Chris Hondros / Getty Images News / Getty Images (cropped)

The Master Plans aren't the only designs you won't be seeing in Lower Manhattan. Back in 2010, plans for Park51—what became known as the Ground Zero Mosque—called for a bright, white modernist building with airy lattice walls. Star-like patterns in the lattice suggested Islamic design motifs, even though the proposed building at 51 Park Place was not intended to be a mosque. The irregular honeycomb was the work of lead designer Fady Stefan working with Michel Abboud, founder of the architectural firm SOMA.

"We wanted the building to be able find its roots into what makes Islamic architecture culturally recognizable as Islamic, without necessarily being religious," the architect told interviewer Alex Padalka, for ENR New York. The design would architecturally grow from the sunlight-catching south-facing façade of the building. "It was going back to the very essence to what makes Islamic architecture recognizable, and if you go back to history there's a single motif, the Mashrabiya, the sun screen really, using abstract representations, very elaborate arabesques, and turn that motif into some sort of a map...."

Building upon the designs of ancient civilizations was nothing new. Abboud said "we're so aware it's been done before, by other architects, namely by Jean Nouvel...." Yet, a vocal, outraged public was insulted—not only with the design, but with the whole notion of what was perceived as an Islamic mosque being built so near where foreign-born terrorists decimated the city.

The Developer's Dream:

Park51, originally to be called Cordoba House, was a project of Soho Properties, a New York real estate company owned by American Sharif El-Gamal. According to this developer, the Park51 Community Center would have included four floors of athletic facilities with a pool and a fitness center; a child-care center and playground; a restaurant and culinary school; artist studios and exhibition space; an auditorium; a 9/11 memorial; meditation space for people of "all faiths and of no faith" and a Muslim prayer hall in the basement.

It took until July 2009 for El-Gamal to find and purchase property on Park Place in Lower Manhattan. He also signed a long-term lease for a couple of adjoining buildings. These properties gave his Soho Properties real estate group four buildings on a side street near the developing Ground Zero—prime real estate for his plan to build condos in two of the buildings. He wanted to give the other buildings "to the community to build a mosque and a smaller community center." He interchanged the words "prayer space" and "mosque," which turned out not to be a tactical move.

Plans to build an Islamic cultural center and "mosque" near Ground Zero stirred impassioned arguments before and after the renderings appeared in 2010. During the pro and con debate, few people discussed the notion that the first New York World Trade Center site in 1973 incorporated Islamic design elements long before the September 11 terrorist attacks. Back in December 2001, architect Laurie Kerr made us aware that Japanese-American architect Minoru Yamasaki had worked with the Saudi royal family on several projects, borrowing ideas from the Muslim holy city of Mecca when he designed the Twin Towers' lattice façade. Islamic details of the original Twin Towers included (1) repeating pointed arches; (2) a vast courtyard isolated from the urban bustle; Nd (3) two enormous, perfectly square towers. With this history, developer Sharif El-Gamal was blindsided by the Park51 protests.

Plans for Park51:

Even with support from the Mayor of NYC and the President of the United States, the protests continued after the first designs were unveiled in 2010. In January 2011 Soho Properties tried to compartmentalize discord by legally separating the Park51 organization from the PrayerSpace entity. By September 2011, programs had began in the rehabilitated buildings, as Sharif El-Gamal acquired funding and settled a lease dispute.

In 2014 Soho Properties seemed back on track. Pritzker Laureate Jean Nouvel was enlisted to further the project—now planned as a three-story museum—and the lease dispute was resolved by Soho purchasing 51 Park Place outright. The PrayerSpace moved and demolition netting was up. This building will come down, and a new Nouvel-designed museum will go up. The local Tribeca Citizen says "...given the history of the project, there remain doubts that it’ll ever happen."

They may be right. Bloomberg reported in September 2015 that El-Gamal has turned his attention to nearby 45 Park Place. His Soho Properties will be developing a 70-story, 667-foot condominium tower—similar to all the residential skyscrapers popping up over Manhattan.

Sources for Park51: soho properties website; Michel Abboud: Designer of Park51 by Alex Padalka, For New York Construction, December 1, 2010; The Mosque to Commerce by Laurie Kerr, Slate, Dec. 28 2001; Transcript, "The Man Behind the Mosque," produced and directed by Dan Reed, Frontline, September 27, 2011; "Park51 Community Center Fact Sheet/Timeline (PDF), Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding; ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Furor a Faint Memory at Park51 Opening by Mark Jacobson, New York magazine, September 22, 2011; New Plans for the Park51 Space, Tribeca Citizen, April 30, 2014 [accessed February 27, 2015]; Luxe Condos at 'Ground Zero Mosque' Site Aim High on Pricing by Oshrat Carmiel , Bloomberg Business, September 25, 2105 [accessed January 4, 2015] Park51, SOMA website; Transcript, "The Man Behind the Mosque," produced and directed by Dan Reed, Frontline, September 27, 2011 [accessed February 27, 2015]

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Craven, Jackie. "Architecture You Won't See at Ground Zero." ThoughtCo, Feb. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/buildings-you-wont-see-ground-zero-178530. Craven, Jackie. (2017, February 25). Architecture You Won't See at Ground Zero. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/buildings-you-wont-see-ground-zero-178530 Craven, Jackie. "Architecture You Won't See at Ground Zero." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/buildings-you-wont-see-ground-zero-178530 (accessed November 20, 2017).