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Take Five: Where Were You?

By Robert Ivy, FAIA

AIA EVP/Chief Executive Officer

For previous generations, those words have had different meanings. For my parents, it was the day Franklin Roosevelt died, or perhaps VE day. Until recently, for my crowd, it referred to the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963. For all of us reading this column, however, the event that united us, galvanized a generation, and marked our lives forever was September 11, 2001. Although the terrorist attack also greatly affected Washington, DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, much of the focus—then and now—has been on New York City.

In confronting this assault on our nation’s security and our very values represented by the bombed-out 16 acres that remained in the heart of lower Manhattan, architecture took on a central role. Rebuilding would be our act of defiance, our answer to madness and hate, our memorial to the thousands who perished with the collapse of the twin towers and the bravery of those who sought to rescue and comfort the hurt and wounded. Although the planning process was often difficult to follow, people from all walks of life debated the relative value of architectural and planning schemes and recited the names of well-known architects with ease. Architecture came to the fore.

Ten years on, millions of visitors have made the pilgrimage to Ground Zero, where they wept quietly, left small memorials, or unloaded their own silent grief into a shared pool. Many wondered what was transpiring across the barricades that separated the crowds from the thousands of workers. What would finally emerge in this sacred space?

The master plan articulated by architect Daniel Libeskind, FAIA, in the white-hot glare of publicity has held in part, though no major building yet bears his name. The Freedom Tower, designed by David Childs, FAIA, and now called Number One World Trade Center (by the New York office of SOM), is rising about a floor per week, currently at the 75 floor mark as of this writing, and bound to double in height. Three other towers by a trio of great names (Lords Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, and Fumihiko Maki), developed by Silverstein Properties, now form a palisade on the margin. Snohetta’s cultural center bumps up with a contemporary presence as does Santiago Calatrava’s soaring transportation hub.

An eight-acre memorial park anchors the visible building activity. Originally conceived by Michael Arad, AIA, working with Gary Handel in association with landscape architect Peter Walker, FASLA, large twin voids reflect the absence of the original twin towers, underscored by cascading water, which lines the edges of the pools. Underground, a museum by Davis Brody Bond Aedes will offer remembrance and artifacts of the attack that took 2,980 lives.

The regeneration of the site, while incomplete, has spurred renewed interest in lower Manhattan. Already, redevelopment of adjacent properties into mixed use sites (near the river, dense, textured, layered with history and meaning) is taking place.

The AIA has been witness to these events and party to the solutions. Every major architect has an explicit relationship to our organization, and most have been the recipient of significant institute honors, including four Gold Medals. The local component, the New York chapter, particularly through its New York New Visions program, has led the efforts to reconstitute the fabric of lower Manhattan into a vibrant community. As a profession, and by extrapolation as a professional organization, we’ve been actively engaged in the solutions.

All these concerted efforts—of individuals, of ambition, of human power and will—are coming to bear on a physical place that consecrates history at the same time that it points to a vibrant and evolving urban future. The initial question “Where were you” should perhaps be restated thus: “Where are we now?” and “What will we become?”


Robert Ivy, FAIA

Photography by Noah Kalina


Back to AIArchitect August 19, 2011

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