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The Breaking of Michael Arad


The war over the ramps, say officials, put the project six months behind schedule. Today, the construction documents are at least 50 percent complete. “We thought we’d be well into construction by now,” says Rampe, who stepped down as president in 2005. Unwilling to accept defeat, Arad has spent the past year trying to reverse the ramps decision, which has served only to alienate him further from the LMDC and pretty much everyone else. Earlier this year, Arad met directly with Pataki, who by then had heard all about the issue from his lieutenants in the LMDC. According to a person familiar with the meeting, the governor told Arad the decision was now final and he needed to stop talking about it.

Arad declined to comment on the meeting. But he certainly hasn’t done what he was told. In April, when someone leaked a report from Pataki’s counterterrorism chief, James Kallstrom, suggesting that the memorial might have to be redesigned because of safety issues, Arad saw it as a ray of hope. “The report calls for creating more capacity on the ramps so people going in and out during emergencies would not interfere with each other—which my original design had,” he said on a recent afternoon, sitting in the Soho office he shares with Handel. “It calls for a more successful perimeter design—which my original design had.”

Pryor, the LMDC president, was angry that Arad chose to “conflate” safety concerns with self-serving arguments for his ramp design. “His persistence on this point is excessive and over-the-top,” he says.

He added that Arad has won a number of battles, too, and that the LMDC backs him fully on his present design for the names, a random listing of the dead without adjacencies or insignia. There is even talk that Arad’s beloved adjacencies could return to the table. The LMDC is prepared to deal with all this later, when the firefighters, flight attendants, and sundry other dissidents will surely be heard from again.

For now, the LMDC is reeling from the new cost estimate, which climbs to almost $1 billion if you include the $80 million cultural building that so inflamed Arad. Two years ago, the LMDC was tossing around a rough estimate of $350 million. Officials at the LMDC blame the rise in part on the spike in the cost of materials, a simple supply-and-demand problem resulting from the $10 billion in new construction planned for lower Manhattan alone. But the memorial has also become loaded with its fair share of pork, like a new entranceway for the museum ($22 million), support for an exposed slurry wall ($54 million), and cost run-ups on lighting for the pools and the transformers to run them ($26 million). Plus, there’s as much as $300 million in infrastructure costs for the Port Authority, including train tracks and a chiller plant to cool off the path station. The foundation has refused to take responsibility for these expenses, saying it will cover only the base memorial and museum estimate of $672 million. Stripped of ancillary costs like insurance, contingencies, and “price escalations,” the memorial and museum are only an estimated $308 million to build. Unfortunately, the foundation can’t even cover that. It has raised only $131.4 million.

Two years ago, when Pataki ordered up a memorial, he wanted no expense spared, the Rolls Royce of memorials. At the time, the estimate of $350 million was based on the vaguest of calculations. Who could say what eight 200-foot-wide, 30-foot-tall waterfalls cost? Now, with construction documents nearly finished, an accurate price tag has arrived like a shocking dinner bill, and the LMDC is in disarray. John Whitehead has stepped down as chairman, and Bloomberg and Pataki are dueling over his replacement.

The fate of the memorial now hinges on how the LMDC copes with the new price tag. The Coalition of 9/11 Families sees the controversy as a fresh chance to scrap Arad’s design. But there may also be an opportunity for Arad and Handel. They’d be only too happy to see aspects of the bloated memorial complex cut back. They’ve never been fans of Libeskind’s cultural center, or the museum. In a cost-cutting environment, all of these things could potentially be on the chopping block.

Arad’s memorial is now a pawn in a larger conflict. Dykstra, the chief executive officer of the Memorial Foundation, has had trouble raising money for the memorial in an atmosphere tainted by the infighting that has plagued Pataki’s management of ground zero, not to mention 9/11 fatigue among donors. In addition to construction, she has to worry about annual operating costs that are currently pegged at a whopping $57 million. While Pataki and Bloomberg look for ways to cut costs without ruining the design they sold to the public, Dykstra has met with family groups to entertain a radical redesign: eliminating the underground galleries altogether. That would gut Arad’s concept. With the LMDC scrambling for a fix, Bloomberg now appears to be in Arad’s corner, at least on one front. After saying the price could be no larger than $500 million, he suggested the memorial museum be put inside the Freedom Tower instead. Arad, who likes that idea, recently met with representatives of the mayor and the governor and told them he may be willing to make a major concession: giving up the waterfalls. In the beginning, Michael Arad’s strategy wasn’t all that different from Daniel Libeskind’s: He hired a tough lawyer and began battling bureaucrats. Poised and imperious, tailored in black, fond of modish glasses, and dismissive of those who’d dare to impose on their artistry, they were difficult people perfectly willing not to get along with anyone. It was, in a sense, the job description.

But as Libeskind’s signature Freedom Tower design began to fade into just another skyscraper during his struggle with the Port Authority’s designer, David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, he chose a different route from Arad. Despite all that he had lost, Libeskind realized that, in a larger sense, he had won. Having snagged the highest-profile project of all time, he is now among the most famous architects in the world, his face utterly familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a newspaper.

Libeskind and Arad are friendly now, though Libeskind is critical of Arad’s tactics. “You cannot be a prima donna,” he says. “If anything, you have to be with other people. That’s the difference between an artist and an architect. If you’re an artist, you can work in a studio. To work in the middle of a city, which is complex, you have to work with other people.”

But which people? In Arad’s view, his project is public space, not commercial space. His responsibility is to people other than his masters at the LMDC, he says, however inconvenient or difficult that may prove. “It’s not the LMDC’s kitchen or summer house I’m designing,” says Arad. “They’re not the only client.”

His partner agrees. “He has moral authority over this thing—had then, has now, will have,” says Handel. “Because Michael is still in it, the memorial still looks like the memorial. It’s the vision, but it’s also what was promised. Who gets to retract the promise? If you make that promise, when do you have the right to back down? Who can absolve you?”

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