Wednesday, August 14, 2002
It's been a couple of weeks since Fred Turner first put out his concept for a new twin towers but I thought I'd belatedly put my own 2c in.
Per my earlier comments on the proposals from the re-development commission, I am obviously very happy to see a design with a distinctive skyline element, and moreover one that is doubled, and most important one that both harmonizes with other elements in the area and recalls the towers. From the git-go, I'm impressed.
However, I'm concerned about two things. First, I'm worried the whole design is too Corbusian in tone. The towers are huge, sculptural forms, way out of human scale. The old WTC was both economically and aesthetically a disaster, and for all that the internal arch is beautiful and for all that the high garden concept is magnificent, we're still talking about two huge towers, very like the old WTC.
Second, I don't like the top-heaviness of the towers. For one thing, if you stood under them (not inside the arch, but outside) it would look like the towers were toppling over onto you - not good! For another, they look like they are holding up something that isn't there: they kind of flatten out against an invisible ceiling. And in general, top-heavy buildings look ugly.
The best solution to the first problem, assuming we wanted to build tall towers, would be to pay close attention to both the immediate context and the sight-lines. Per the sight-lines, the towers should be located behind a ground-level memorial park that is the terminus of the memorial promenade from the best of the re-development corp's designs. They should not be in a plaza like the old WTC, but they do need some space to give the pedestrian room to see them in their glory. The general design of the Memorial Promenade plan could be retained, but it would probably be necessary to rotate it to put the two dominant buildings - now the towers that form the arch - at the north end of the park rather than the east end. This would also require re-orienting the park, which would in turn require re-thinking its relationship to the Wintergarden. Other than that, the important thing would be to have other skyscrapers surrounding the ground-level park that harmonized with the WFC and with the towers of the arch. I'd still be worried about the scale of the towers, but at least they'd have a supporting context to a pedestrian, and not just to someone on the Brooklyn Bridge.
With respect to the second concern, I think the design can be tweaked in two ways to make it less top-heavy and draw the eyes up higher than the "ceiling" of the garden. My proposal would be the following. First, the towers should not be square at the base; they should be rectangles, deeper than they are wide. Next, the towers should taper very gently as they rise, but only on the three outer faces; the face inside the arch should rise straight. By the 80th floor or so, the towers would have narrowed to a trapezoidal shape, with the long side on the inside of the arch. At this point each tower should flare out such that the roof of each is a square, touching at the center and forming a gothic arch, as in Prof Turner's design. The outer edges of the roof garden would be directly above the base of the towers, not extending out beyond the base; the inner edge, where the two towers join, would be the top of the arch. It's tough to describe in words, but I think this would achieve several important effects. By visually leaning the towers inward towards each other, and by keeping the garden over the footprint of the tower, you avoid the visual sensation that the towers are going to fall from being top-heavy. Indeed, they would probably look a bit as if they were nodding towards each other, a far more comfortable visual sensation. And it would look less like they were holding up something invisible and more like they were holding up the top stories, which the eye would visually connect even if they were not connected physically other than at the top. The towers would look something like a dolmen, or the temple of Dendur, but on a monumental scale and with a gothic arch at the heart.
Finally, I would add a skyline element at the top of the two towers that would link them and draw the eye further upward, and provide logical placement for a communiations tower that will have to be located on the top of the building (and which you wouldn't want in a memorial garden). My suggestion would be a St. Louis-style metallic arch - possibly of golden color, per the "golden door" - with a foot on each tower and a communications tower rising from its apex. At 20 stories high, this arch would be about the same size as the architectural arch formed by the two towers below it, and would draw the eye higher, away from what would otherwise be a still relatively top-heavy structure visually. And it would echo the metallic crown and spike of the Chrysler Building, everyone's favorite skyscraper and a key symbol of New York.
[Update: perhaps that is too tall, and will look funny. Perhaps there should be a smaller, 5- or 10-story arch, on only one of the towers. This would be less a skyline element than something for the people in the garden to look up to - a building, to make them feel that they are still in a landscape, even if 1000 feet up.]
Thanks, by the way, to Joe Katzman at Winds of Change for pointing me to Turner's design proposals. (And for the plug, of course.)