Thursday, July 18, 2002

Six Plans for Ground Zero

Six preliminary plans for the World Trade Center site are now on display at Federal Hall on Wall Street and online at and, not surprisingly, they please no one.

Except me. I like two of them. They're the ones bearing the hauntingly evocative names Concept 5 and Concept 6.

Both of these site plans call for a relatively small open space memorial flanked by mid-sized office towers. Concept 6 includes a broad and elegant boulevard reminiscent of upper Park Avenue leading from Ground Zero to Battery Park. I like the dignified squares that mark the footprints of the toppled trade towers. There is also a quiet cul de sac for tiny St. Nicholas church, the original of which was vaporized under 200 stories of prime office space.

There are no building designs in these plans, but Concepts 5 and 6 lend themselves to a dignified traditional look that will stand the test of time better than some abstract modern statement.

Faced with such a (literally) monumental decision, New York architecture esthetes naturally turn to Herbert Muschamp for guidance. Muschamp, as I have noted here before, is the pretentious gas bag who passes judgement on architecture and the sweaty proles who have to live with it from the pages of The New York Times.

The plans "have little to recommend them" sniffs Muschamp, presumably while adjusting his monocle. They demonstrate "little besides a breathtaking determination to think small.”

The Duke of Muschamp complains that the designs are inappropriate for such an historic site. Too commercial says he. He also adds this absurd observation:

"Nor will you find any sign of recognition that ground zero has become a tragic symbol of the troubled relationship between the United States and the rest of the world.”

Well, thank God for that.

Personally I would much prefer a smoking, glow-in-the-dark crater in downtown Mecca to symbolize the troubled relationship between radical Islam and the United States.

Muschamp seems undecided about which of the plans he hates most. He says two of them "reflect the New Urbanist retro theme park approach" but doesn't say which ones they are. In the end he disqualifies the lot of them because “all six plans emanate from the underlying ideology of privatization.” Presumably, this privatization nonsense would leave an irreparable scar Manhattan's Financial District.

Imagine that . . . the private sector having a say in urban design? Good heavens no!

Of course, what has Muschamp truly bothered about the redevelopment plans is that no one has consulted him.

Even in the New York Times it's unusual for a reporter to devote half a news story to the news that he wasn't involved in the news story. As usual Muschamp drones on for another 700 words or so about the shortsightedness of everyone but him before ending his article in a characteristically petulant huff.

But enough about that bore, the plan that I like best of all is the one proposed by the firm Franck Lohsen McCrery. The FLC plan calls for a dignified and reverential square with a traditional memorial and a grand railway terminal bordering a sunken lawn. The firm recommends buildings that are "majestic and vigorous" in the style of the early 20th century "celebrating American pluck at its best.”

This is what people have in mind when they imagine a fitting replacement for the fallen towers. No recognition of American failure. Far from it. A rededication to the very things that make medieval Islamists blind with fury and the rest of the world green with envy: defiance, confidence, competence, and unshakable optimism.

That's what will eventually be built on the site of Ground Zero and Herbert Muschamp ain't gonna like it one bit.

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