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<nettime> Carr: Could The World Trade Center Become The World Cultural C
geert lovink on Fri, 27 Dec 2002 12:41:26 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Carr: Could The World Trade Center Become The World Cultural Center?


On Edge
by C. Carr
Design for Living
Could The World Trade Center Become The World Cultural Center?
December 25 - 31, 2002

The THINK team's plan for a World Cultural Center: The orange ball at the
bottom of the tower at right is a theater; the gray wedge connecting the
towers is a 9-11 museum.

Imagine scaffolds erected to protect the ghosts of the lost twin towers. Two
open latticework structures would surround the footprints (but not touch
them), rising higher than the originals. Suspended inside this scaffolding
would be distinct individual buildings related to culture center, a
center, an open amphitheater, a library, viewing
platforms at exactly the height they used to be, and a 9-11 museum,
connecting the towers at the two points where hijacked airplanes hit the
buildings. But much of the structure would remain empty. It would not cast a
shadow. At night, the latticework would light up in the shape of a double
helix, with a glow emanating from the top like the popular Towers of Light.
Memorials could be constructed on the footprints and/or the viewing

When architect Rafael Viñoly unveiled this proposal for a World Cultural
Center to replace the World Trade Center, he called it "a little bit
extreme." On closer inspection, however, this plan developed by the THINK
team (Shigeru Ban, Frederic Schwartz, Ken Smith, and Viñoly) opens new
possibilities even as it opens the sky. Among the nine new designs broached
for ground zero, this was the only one not focused on office space. This at
a time when the city already has millions of square feet of unused office
space, when a proposed World Trade Center has no potential tenant, and no
one knows whether a single corporation will venture back to that site to
move into a skyscraper.'

"The mission of reconstructing the skyline is one that is proposed at a
cultural level," says Viñoly. "Should we reconstruct it with the offices of
Merrill Lynch? We don't think so. The need is a cultural need. Almost in the
same way, the Eiffel Tower became the symbol of Paris, and it is an empty
building. This is an empty building."'

THINK did fulfill the requirements for office and commercial space laid out
by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, but parceled out the square
footage into smaller buildings (20 to 60 stories) around the edges of the
site, buildings that could be phased in as needed. Companies might venture
back downtown to locate near something prestigious, and THINK's World
Cultural Center would be, if nothing else, one of the new century's great
engineering feats engineers working with us," says architect Schwartz. "We
did computer studies and modeling to know that this building would work."

Chances are, of course, that none of the new designs will be realized in
their present form. The LMDC simply intends to make a decision about land
use. Where will the buildings be? And the memorial? Details later. But
presumably this means they'll have to choose one of these designs by their
self-imposed deadline of January 31.

After the drawn-out period of reflection afforded those terrible first
designs last summer, the process has moved into fast-forward. The notion of
a World Cultural Center has not even been discussed officially.
Unofficially, though, it's been part of the downtown dialogue.

"We think it's a superb idea," says Beverly Willis, co-chair of R.Dot
(Rebuild Downtown Our Town), an umbrella organization for many individuals
and groups below Canal Street. R.Dot has been discussing the possibility for
months, and will soon release a paper recommending a major emphasis on
culture downtown. R.Dot even has a plan for subsidizing an arts complex.
"It's the responsibility of the developer," Willis declares. She thinks
Larry Silverstein's lease will have to be dramatically renegotiated. After
all, he's getting new buildings and a new regional transportation system,
funded in large part by billions of our tax dollars. "We believe part of
cutting this deal should be a requirement for the cultural," says Willis.
"And I don't think that's an unreasonable demand, particularly when there's
such a payoff for the developer in terms of getting tenants and increasing
his rents. This is public land. The public has got to get something out of
this deal."

Meanwhile, Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, convener
of the Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York, has drawn a similar
conclusion. "Do we want to put our money into subsidized commercial office
space? Or do we want to put it into something like this? That's the big
question that has to be answered." Yaro says the idea of a World Cultural
Center came up recently at a Civic Alliance planning workshop. He hopes the
public will get to debate it.

A cultural center might also be the best fit with Bloomberg's new vision for
lower Manhattan as a "global hub of culture and commerce." Indeed, when the
mayor presented his plan during a speech to the Association for a Better New
York on December 12, he seemed to go out of his way to criticize the old
Trade Center, whose "voracious appetite for tenants weakened the entire
downtown real estate market."

Meanwhile, downtown arts administrators are reacting with cautious

Liz Thompson, executive director of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council,
once located in WTC Building Five, says of the THINK team's Cultural Center:
"The cultural institutions hug the memorial site, which is a better
juxtaposition than retail or finance. On the other hand, that might put
constraints on the kind of art that people feel should be there. My concern
always with magnificent buildings made for art is that there may be no room
for experimentation, for the young, for conversation about the

Norma Munn, chair of the New York City Arts Coalition, notes that a number
of the architects, not just the THINK team, added cultural facilities. "Many
people in the arts are both very pleased and totally puzzled," she says. "I
love the idea. What's not to love? But in some ways, it's like a vision with
no feet on the ground. There isn't a single arts organization in the city
that plans to go down there without being subsidized. There is no analysis
that I can see of whether or not there's an audience. And who's going to pay
for programming and upkeep?"

"So you have a destination point," says Ted Berger, executive director of
the New York Foundation for the Arts. "What I don't want is a sense that 'we
gave at the office,' by having a major cultural institution at the site. If
you want artists to work here, to live here mix as downtown is being thought
through. That wasn't what the designers were asked to do. But it needs to be
part of the overall thinking."


All plans and models are currently on display at the Winter Garden, 7 a.m.
to 11 p.m. daily, or see http://www.lowermanhattan.info/ On January 8, the
Municipal Art Society will again convene Imagine New York to discuss these
new plans. Register at 212-750-3972 or http://www.imaginenewyork.org/ The
LMDC will hold a public hearing at Pace University on January 13.

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