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U.S.: Polish-Born American Architect Wins World Trade Center Design Competition

  • Nikola Krastev

Officials in New York on 27 February announced the winner in the competition to redesign the World Trade Center site. A project by the studio of Polish-born American Daniel Libeskind was selected. Libeskind's vision promises to blend the memory of the victims of the 11 September 2001 attacks with the economic needs of New York City. RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev reports from New York that the project still has a long way to go before it is realized.

New York, 28 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Officials in New York this week selected the design of the studio of Polish-born American Daniel Libeskind to rebuild the World Trade Center site.

Libeskind's project promises to balance the need to memorialize the victims of the 11 September attacks with a desire to revitalize lower Manhattan, the part of New York where the Twin Towers once stood.

The project would again place the world's tallest building -- at about 530 meters -- in New York. The building's projected height in feet -- 1,776 -- is no accident. It is the year the United States became an independent country.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the Studio Daniel Libeskind design at an announcement ceremony this week: "In redeveloping the [World Trade Center] site we have three objectives: to pointedly recall for all time what happened on [11 September 2001]; to remake [the site] as a center of global culture and commerce; and to integrate it into a revitalized Lower Manhattan. With the selection of a team from Studio Daniel Libeskind we have accomplished all three objectives."

Libeskind, a Polish-born American, grew up in a section of New York known as The Bronx. He later studied architecture at New York's Cooper Union School.

Now based in Berlin, he is best known perhaps for designing the titanium-covered, zig-zag-shaped Holocaust museum in the German capital.

Libeskind spoke at the award ceremony in New York and told of his first impressions of the city's striking skyline.

"And when I came to America I saw [Manhattan's skyline]. And it was the overwhelming, special quality of that skyline, but it was more for an immigrant - it was what America stood for, what the freedoms of America represented to someone coming from Eastern Europe," Libeskind said.

In addition to a spire-capped skyscraper, Libeskind's design would leave exposed a large pit of the former World Trade Center site. John Whitehead, the chairman of the group that selected Libeskind's project, said the two extremes captured both the city's soaring ambitions and the need to remember the victims of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

"From the beginning Studio Daniel Libeskind, his 'memory-foundations' plan, resonated with the public. Libeskind's plan succeeds both when it rises into the sky and when it descends into the ground. In doing so it captures the soaring optimism of our city and honors the eternal spirit of our fallen heroes. Studio Libeskind's plan presents the most compelling vision for the future of the World Trade Center. It prepares an abundant and appropriate space for the memorial competition," Whitehead said.

Despite its purported virtues, Libeskind's proposal was not without controversy.

Jack Zuccon, an architect with the New York-based Craig Whitaker Architects firm, tells RFE/RL that incorporating the open pit where fires burned for weeks after 11 September has generated controversy:

"Well, I mean the pit, the whole controversy about the pit how it was 70 feet below ground and now the city wants it to be only 20 or 30 [feet], so they'll put transportation [there]. And the residents on the other side are concerned because they feel that the pit is going to cut them off from the rest of the city. And if you think about it, also many corporate institutions have told them they don't want to look down at a 70-foot hole. It's not in their interest to rent office space in buildings overlooking a large hole. So it's very controversial."

The design choice is just the start of what promises to be a drawn-out process. The final look of the site is far from clear. New York plans to hold a separate contest for a memorial complex, and will announce a winner on the second anniversary of the attacks.

Another question mark is who will develop the site. U.S. businessman Larry Silverstein holds the lease for the WTC site for the next 97 years. His input to the design and realization effort will be important.

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