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Rising to Greatness
Who would question the notion that whatever replaces the Twin Towers must transcend everyday design? Not these architectural visionaries, who looked into a blasted void and saw whole new worlds.


BY JOSEPH GIOVANNINI

Who can forget the booing that erupted spontaneously at the Javits Center two months ago after the presentation of six much-anticipated plans for rebuilding the World Trade Center site? The audience of 5,000 New Yorkers from every walk of life were not just being contrarians; they were expressing a collective demand for urban and architectural greatness, scaled to the magnitude of 9/11. Overt banality would not do; nor would the dry calculus of square-footage, excessive infrastructure, and rote planning. Architecture can't be plugged in at the end of the design process because design itself is the most powerful instrument of planning. The proposals, generated by a single New York firm with no record of work on this level, simply lacked vision.

Making the city whole again is a way of making ourselves whole. The Parthenon, the Pantheon, and any number of Gothic cathedrals all provoke a sense of wonder, and even if the belief systems that created them have collapsed or changed, the stones still speak to our eyes, body, and spirit. New Yorkers need buildings at the World Trade Center site that will make us stop, look, and feel. Buildings that will make us turn our gaze up and understand a larger order of aspiration. This is not the time to settle for real-estate deals dressed up with expensive curtain walls but the moment to prescribe curative doses of the beautiful, the poetic, the sublime.

New York invited six practicing architects and one practicing visionary to design proposals for the site. They spent their summer vacations devising and drawing plans, in the hopes that their proposals might help establish ideas and open debate about the future of ground zero. Even as the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and, presumably, the Port Authority regroup and open the process to more architects globally, the plans that follow set an imaginative and practicable standard for what New Yorkers, Americans, and the rest of the world hope the site might be. Rebuilding beautifully and joyfully, presenting a vision at once soaring and dignified, honors the dead as well as the living.

A wide range of solutions began to appear on our computer screens in late August. These designs encourage interconnectedness between the buildings themselves, the underground infrastructure, and the surrounding city. Some connect directly and daringly to the waterfront or bring water to the site. All cultivate the three-dimensionality of Manhattan, where the ground plane is not always earth but a surface with many layers built above and below. They also factor many diverse uses into the plans to ensure a robust 24/7 urbanism.

Above all, the proposals are, in different ways, heroic and evocative. They aspire to nothing less than a transfiguration of the events of 9/11, provoking a primal whoosh of recognition. While these designs function -- accommodating large amounts of square-footage, the anticipated transport infrastructure, and a multiplicity of uses -- they are not functionalist as a first and primary premise. Instead, apocalyptic destruction is answered with an equal and opposite reaction. These are structures that return a sense of awe to the city, and solidity too. This complex of buildings, as no other, must move us to want to live fully again in our city.