The Breaking of Michael Arad

Architect Michael Arad, designer of the World Trade Center Memorial, and, at left, one of the model's that won him the competition.Photo: Michael O'Neill

When Michael Arad unveiled his winning design for the World Trade Center Memorial, the last person New York wanted to hear from was another architect. It was January 2004, by which point the ground-zero rebuilding effort had devolved into a grating public spectacle of political bullying and grief-mongering. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the city-state agency charged with rebuilding the site, had abjectly failed to control the process, and the fierce bickering over Daniel Libeskind’s Freedom Tower looked certain to result in an epic compromise that nobody would be satisfied with. Design, it seemed, couldn’t create unity; it led only to intractable differences of taste.

But Arad’s memorial, which he titled Reflecting Absence, conveyed a power and grace that restored the tantalizing possibility of redemption at ground zero. Here was a vision worth believing in, born in the days following 9/11, when the young architect pedaled his ten-speed bike all over lower Manhattan; one time, he joined an impromptu vigil in Washington Square Park at 2 a.m. “It was a very strong sense of community,” says Arad, an Israeli citizen. “It was something I never felt before. I love New York, but I’d felt like an outsider here. I felt a sense of community because of what happened.”

Arad channeled those sentiments into a simple memorial based on two voids placed where the towers once stood, each a city block in length; water would pour from the edges into shimmering pools 30 feet below. Descending underground on ramps, visitors would hear the sound of rushing water, like a thousand people whispering in unison. At the bottom, the space would open up into a gallery with high, cantilevered ceilings. The names of the 2,749 dead would be etched on the perimeter of the pools, all lit by sunlight coming through the sheets of falling water.

Arad’s design had been one of 5,201 entries in an open competition. Anybody could enter and anybody did. They came from all over the world, from professional architects, designers, and artists, as well as inspired amateurs like Dr. Robert Jarvik, the artificial-heart inventor. Over the last six months of 2003, a thirteen-member jury sifted through every last submission and then deliberated among eight finalists, including Arad. In the secret proceedings, Maya Lin, the designer-cum-martyr of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, pushed for Arad’s design; he could not have had a more meaningful advocate. If Lin recognized in Arad something of herself, if she saw in his design a connection to her own extraordinary monument to grief and memory, then maybe Arad’s memorial was really equal to this tragedy. And maybe that would protect it from the conflict that had swallowed up every other inch of ground zero.

One January morning, Arad heard on the radio that the jury had selected a winner, and then received a call at 10:30 a.m. from an LMDC official asking him to come in and sign some papers. Arad said his car battery was dead and asked if it would be okay if he waited until the next day. Told to come in immediately, Arad started to realize that he had won. “I had a hunch going into it,” he says. “It’s a moment that’s, you know—whatever euphoria that existed that moment quickly turned to, well, what are the things I need to do now?”

Days later, on a frigid afternoon, Arad stood next to Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg, fragile, almost tender under the glare of the TV cameras, surrounded by press and 9/11 family members, and explained how the design came from a “personal sense of grief and loss.” Arad—whose most serious architectural work to that point had been a police station for the Housing Authority—was handed the commission of a lifetime. “It was a little surreal, the experience,” he says, looking back on that day. “There’s a statue of George Washington in front of the building. It’s a building that has meaning to American history. It all fit together as … very sobering. And very, very, very humbling.”

Today, that moment of humility seems like a lifetime ago, as Arad’s memorial teeters on the brink of collapse. The latest cost estimate issued this month—an impossible $972 million—has Bloomberg demanding that the design be scaled back, while others suggest that it be scrapped altogether. The battle that is now breaking into full view has been raging behind the scenes since the moment Arad’s plan was picked. He has waged a personal war against the LMDC—to defend his design, he says, from the agency’s cronyism and shoddy management. In violation of his contract, he has taken his case directly to board members and former jurists and now for the first time tells the full story of what has happened to the memorial, as he sees it (others see it quite differently). “I have no choice but to fight them every step of the way,” says Arad. “I can’t tell you how many other stupid ideas have been proposed over the last two years.”

From the beginning, Arad has been forced to work with various other architects because of the complexity and scale of the project, and he has alienated almost all of them. In fact, the LMDC has barred Arad from communicating with Davis Brody Bond, the architect of record on the site, at the request of its veteran partner, 70-year-old Max Bond. The titular co-designer of the memorial, landscape architect Peter Walker, 74, rarely speaks to Arad. “I think Michael’s relationship with all of the architects has eroded,” says Stefan Pryor, the president of the LMDC. “It’s shades of bad. I say that as someone who does respect Michael.”

Officials say they are as much confused by Arad as they are angry with him. “Genius or egomaniac?” asks one former official, who, like many others interviewed for this story, tells tales of Arad’s tantrums and threats. With less than seven months before the governor’s third and final term expires, the LMDC is under extreme pressure to get the memorial on schedule for a 2009 opening, so that Pataki might still reasonably claim credit for it. If Pataki leaves ground zero a mess, that’s his entire legacy right there.

Many victims groups don’t care for Arad’s design—the powerful Coalition of 9/11 Families hates the fact that it’s underground—but they haven’t been the ones holding it back, try as they might. Many point to Arad’s intransigence as a primary source of the delay. “I would say it’s doubled the length of time,” says Doug Findlay, a partner at Peter Walker & Partners, “[and] that’s the low end of the scale.” Arad counters that he has been nothing if not expedient, perhaps too much so for his handlers’ tastes. The same day he won the contest, he began calling model-makers and renderers. Within a week, he was on the phone with engineers. “I pushed the process forward by saying, ‘We should do this, this, and this right now,’ ” recalls Arad, peering from behind rectangular glasses, his hair combed neatly across his forehead. “ ‘Please find the budget for me to find a structural engineer, a mechanical engineer, a civil engineer, so we can do the preliminary work.’ ”

The Original Vision
From left, one of Arad’s first sketches from 2002 of his idea of two voids reflected in the Hudson River; a model of that idea that he built on the roof of his East Village apartment building in October 2002; the rendering that he entered in the memorial competition in June 2003.
Photo: Sketch, photo, and rendering courtesy of Michael Arad

The man the jury had chosen certainly did not lack for tenacity. “You can just never desist,” says Arad. “You have to always push back, whatever the pressures put on you.” To illustrate his point, he opens his laptop and pulls up a picture taken when he was a 19-year-old soldier in the Israeli Army during the first intifada. Standing in the desert, tanned and grinning broadly, he hoists a five-foot rocket-propelled-grenade launcher in his hands. “When I was in the Army, the unit I served in, you could never stop,” he explains, taking pleasure in the image. “It was a volunteer unit, and there was a fairly high rate of attrition. The people who stayed through are the people who were either great at it or the people who just didn’t know how to stop. And I fell into that second category.”

Though no firm timetable seems to have ever been established, construction was supposed to be under way by this spring. The failure to get the project moving has allowed costs to balloon. Construction materials have risen by 30 percent, while every 9/11 constituency has had ample opportunity to push its pet interest into the mix. Now the memorial complex includes a museum that started as an afterthought and has grown into a facility slated to cost roughly $160 million. Meanwhile, the fund-raising for the memorial, overseen by Gretchen Dykstra, the head of the World Trade Center Memorial Fund, has stalled as 9/11 fades in the philanthropic Zeitgeist. Blame gets passed around everywhere, and everywhere, perhaps, it’s deserved.

Of the eight finalists who presented their designs before the memorial jury, Arad was the only one who appeared without a team or a partner. “A lone wolf,” as one of the jurors described him. Also, his design ventured much further outside the lines of Daniel Libeskind’s ground-zero master plan than other contestants dared to go. Arad even blithely redrew a service ramp that the Port Authority had already planned and threw out the cultural building Libeskind had designed and that the LMDC said was required. The guidelines were “fairly restrictive in terms of what the memorial could and couldn’t be, and I think I pushed against it somewhat,” says Arad. “Daniel Libeskind had designed the memorial, and you were given the task of picking fabric swatches.”

Arad was surprised to hear later that he came across as arrogant during his presentation. “Because I felt so small,” he says, laughing. “And so worried. And I probably talked twice as fast as I should have.”

Lin recognized the value in Arad’s resistance. “Maya was able to set our sights on the kind of intensity—the scrutiny and the kind of forces that were going to come to play on his design,” says Michael Van Valkenburgh, a landscape architect who served on the jury. “We recognized a kind of stamina that he had. It seemed like it would hold up.” (Lin declined to comment.)

After Arad’s presentation, the jury pressed him to elaborate on his design. For landscaping, he’d planned just a handful of trees, which jurors thought barren and inhospitable. Arad tried to address the situation on his own, giving himself a crash course in landscaping, but the jury urged him to find a partner. Arad reached out to Walker, a renowned California designer whose firm had submitted a memorial proposal that didn’t make the cut. Walker accepted the invitation and then took the lead in presenting Arad’s revised model to the jury. Impressed with Walker, the jury insisted that Arad take him on as his partner. Reluctantly, Arad agreed.

The partnership was volatile from the start. Walker says the jurors asked him specifically to serve as a mentor to Arad because they were nervous about his inexperience. But Arad still gets agitated at suggestions that Walker is somehow the “co-designer” of the memorial. “I don’t care if Peter is described as this or that,” he says. “It’s my design.”

“I will fight this!” Daniel Libeskind yelled after learning that Arad’s memorial design had been picked. “I am the people’s architect!”

Arad immediately started behaving as if he had a powerful public mandate, which didn’t exactly put him in the right frame of mind to negotiate with Libeskind about fitting the memorial into the master plan. Libeskind, for his part, was enraged that Arad’s design had won. It effectively obliterated his original design for the memorial, which called for the area to remain a sunken pit with an open lawn at the bottom. “I will fight this!” he yelled during his first meeting about it with the LMDC. “I am the people’s architect!”

Shortly after, Arad met with Libeskind to agree on a model to unveil to the public. Arad disliked the cultural building that Libeskind had designed in his master plan because it obscured the plaza entrance, so he had relocated it to the southwest corner of the site, redrawing it as a boxy ten-story building that blocked the West Side Highway from view. LMDC officials referred to it as the “Motel 6” and wanted it returned to the northeast corner, where Libeskind had originally put it. Arad hoped it would go away altogether, and he made his point bluntly. “We went to Daniel’s office, and immediately Michael was taking exception to this thing,” says Walker. “It became a shouting match. Twice I took him out of the room.”

Daniel Libeskind, the designer of the Freedom Tower.Photo: Scott Rudd/Patrick McMullan

Walker grew concerned, he says. As part of accepting the deal to design the landscape of the memorial, he had signed a contract saying he would remain Arad’s partner until the completion of the project—come what may. “I remember being in a separate office, saying, ‘Michael, we made a deal here. How much do you think we’re going to get by shaking our fist?’ He said, ‘Oh, I was just bluffing.’ That’s when I started wondering whether we may have bitten off more than we could chew.”

“It was not an easy meeting,” admits Arad, “but I think it was going to be necessary to bridge a fairly large divide.”

Arad and Libeskind were taken to separate rooms. After they both apologized, Matthew Higgins, the LMDC’s chief operating officer, suggested splitting the culture building in half, retaining Libeskind’s unique design but opening up the plaza entrance. Everyone agreed.

The day before the unveiling, Mayor Bloomberg came to see the new model. He liked Arad’s design but had a question. “What about the names?” he asked.

Arad wanted to display the names of those who died in random order around the two pools, to signify the random nature of the acts of terror—a kind of equality in tragedy. But he also had a concept called “meaningful adjacencies,” by which certain family members would be grouped together. Arad agonized over which to choose. “It was an incredibly painful choice to make,” he says. “It was one of the moments in the process where I cried. It felt like doing the right thing was very painful.”

Bloomberg had a different concern—that uniformed personnel, like firefighters and police officers, be recognized. Foreseeing this, Arad had toyed with the idea of marking the names of firemen, policemen, and Port Authority and EMT workers with subtle insignia.

That notion ran into problems, too. In a private viewing of the model, both Fire Department officials and victims’ families angrily demanded a more prominent display. The families of flight attendants chimed in with their own demand for insignia. This would be but one of many run-ins with victims groups, and at that point, Arad was able to at least feign diplomacy. The next day, he said in a statement, “Every way you find to resolve this satisfies some, but causes pain and anguish to others.”

Arad had been living in New York for a little more than two years before 9/11. His trajectory up to that point had been odd—born in London, he’d spent his high-school years in Mexico City, where his father was the Israeli ambassador (he was a close aide to Yitzhak Rabin back home). Arad eventually went to Dartmouth, interrupting his studies to serve in the Israeli military. He met his wife, Melanie Fitzpatrick, now a corporate lawyer, in college, and after graduation, they snowboarded in Colorado for a year. Then they went off together to their respective graduate schools at Georgia Tech before finally moving to Manhattan. “New York was a place I wanted to live and work all along,” he says. “If I wasn’t going to live in Israel, I had to live in New York.” Arad’s first job was at the big architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, where he spent a year designing the top twenty floors of a Hong Kong skyscraper.

From the roof of his apartment on First Avenue, he watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center. Heading downtown later that morning, Arad picked up a singed photograph of somebody’s prized show dog, which had evidently flown out of one of the towers. Arad went home and traced the owner through the American Kennel Society. “I picked it up and couldn’t put it down,” he says, noting that he and his wife also keep a show dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Ginger. “It was one of those things I felt responsible for just by picking it up.”

The dog’s owner was an AON Corporation employee who escaped 2 World Trade Center. He met Arad for dinner two months later. “It was this almost involuntary need to participate,” says Arad.

Bored by abstract corporate work, Arad soon left KPF in favor of a job with the design department of the Housing Authority. He was inspired to make the switch when he noticed a nice Housing Authority police station in his neighborhood and decided he’d rather design things like that. After the birth of his first child, he took paternity leave, which he devoted to working on his memorial design.

In the PowerPoint presentation he gives on the genesis of the memorial, Arad comes across like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Long before the contest was announced, he says, fragments of ideas came to him—first a birthday cake in a pastry-shop window featuring the Twin Towers etched in frosting. Near the Hudson River one evening, he imagined “the idea of the reflection of the skyline on the river and these absences being superimposed on it.”

The Working Models
Arad had to make his concept fit within the tight framework of Daniel Libeskind’s master plan. Here, from November 2004, is an interior view of the memorial, left, and an aerial view with Libeskind’s Freedom Tower behind it.
Photo: Renderings courtesy of the LMDC

Arad couldn’t shake the image of absences on water and started to work on a physical manifestation of it. He and a model-maker named Jimmy Awad constructed a small fountain consisting of two square voids set into a black surface. It was made of Plexiglas, with a motor taken from a Bed, Bath & Beyond desk fountain. “It was really a magical moment, to see this idea that’s in your head,” he says.

When the contest was announced, Arad says, he hesitated at first, wondering if he could fit his vision into the quirky space Libeskind had designated for it. But he discovered the fine print in the contest guidelines allowed for designs that digressed from the master plan. With just two weeks to assemble a presentation, he persuaded a few colleagues to help him construct his concept, barely meeting the deadline. Later, there would be complaints about his failure to share credit.

“This business of being so angry at things that you can’t function—I think that’s a real problem. He’s not quite in control of himself,”Walker said of Arad.

In describing his inspiration, Arad speaks of a vision bigger than himself. “It sounds really over the top to say you’re responsible for the city of New York, but I do feel responsibility to the city of New York, to this country, to people everywhere. So many people were affected by the events of September 11, and I feel this is one of the ways that that event will be understood and defined.”

It is typical for architects to pay their dues for decades before building anything greater than a private residence. Libeskind was known for years as “a paper architect,” a builder of nothing but ideas. By the time architects get a crack at large public commissions, if they ever do, they’ve learned the hard necessity of adapting their artistic instincts to the larger purpose of getting something built.

Arad, however, never had the chance to absorb much of this. That stint at KPF hardly prepared him to deal with powerful people and institutions. “It’s like being in ninth grade and going to a new school and having no friends, no networks, no parents with influence,” says Van Valkenburgh, the jury member.

Arad chose to go on the offensive. If he was going to get things accomplished, he decided, he would have to push hard. One of his first moves was to get an aggressive attorney named Michael De Chiara, who demanded that Arad’s contract clearly define him as the lead architect and Walker as a subcontractor. Arad also told the LMDC he wanted the agency to fund a new firm called Arad Architects.

Initially, the LMDC had given Arad exactly what he asked for. In the weeks following the unveiling, he received checks for more than $400,000 to begin commissioning studies on the viability of his design. Arad’s own pay rate was set at $85 an hour, a nice raise from his $50,000 salary at the Housing Authority.

But when it came time to negotiate Arad’s role, the then-president of the LMDC, Kevin Rampe, a former state insurance commissioner and assistant counsel to Pataki, was taken aback by Arad’s hardball tactics. “We were very surprised that he had a lawyer,” he says, adding that De Chiara began dropping names of people he knew in Pataki’s office. Angered, Rampe walked out of the meeting.

The LMDC balked at subsidizing a whole firm. “From our perspective, there’s no way that we’re going to have a situation where somebody with his experience is going to lead the entire team,” says Rampe. “It was never intended!”Arad simply could not understand that—and still doesn’t. Of the eight finalists for the memorial, he argues, he was the only registered architect. “I was in a unique position,” he says.

Forced to rely on the resources of his former firm, KPF, Arad refused to sign the contract until the LMDC resolved his role, and over the next several weeks, LMDC officials hustled Arad from meeting to meeting with city agencies, which confronted him with an array of technical hurdles. Key elements of his memorial were imperiled by the needs of adjoining stakeholders, notably the Port Authority, which had already designed various utilities, including a service ramp and train tracks, around Libeskind’s master plan and didn’t want to go back to the drawing board. “In challenging the Libeskind plan, I upset a lot of carts that carried a lot of assumptions,” says Arad. “We were not a square peg fitting into a square hole.”

Walker knew better than to go around upsetting people’s carts. Skilled in the art of accommodating corporate clients and museum directors, he was startled by Arad’s tendency to erupt when he didn’t get his way. During one meeting with the Port Authority, says Walker’s partner, Doug Findlay, Arad stormed out after being told a service ramp could not be moved. Arad so offended Port Authority officials, according to Findlay, that he “was never invited to the meetings again.”

Arad shows off his creation to Governor Pataki in December 2004. Looking on are Mayor Bloomberg, memorial co-designer Peter Walker, and John Whitehead, then-chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

After that, says Walker, he realized that Arad had not been bluffing when he fought Libeskind. “What he told me in that room was not really true,” Walker says. “There was real anger at Daniel and Nina [Libeskind]. This business of being so angry at things that you can’t function—I think that’s a real problem. He’s not quite in control of himself.”

If Walker saw himself as playing a calming, paternal role, Arad saw him as pretentious, self-serving, and jealous. If Arad saw himself as a righteous advocate for a design validated by a public process, Walker saw him as bossy and naïve. “He wanted us all to be obedient,” says Walker. “Not in a fraternal way, but obedient in terms of process. He wanted us to go out and knock the doors down. I don’t know how you knock the doors of the Port Authority down. Nobody can do that.”

Eventually, Arad’s colleagues at KPF said they could no longer assist him on the project. They were taking on a larger workload, says a partner, including the remodeling of the Museum of Modern Art. The memorial was too big a commitment.

Four months after winning the jury contest, Arad was without a staff, an office, a firm, or a signed contract.

Since the moment he won the commission, Arad had been vehemently opposed to being set up with another firm by the LMDC. But at this point, he had no choice. In April 2004, the LMDC issued a request for proposals (known as an RFP) to select an associate architect to execute the technical aspects of Arad’s design.

With this in the offing, De Chiara recommended to Arad that he join another firm right away. He needed an office, and he needed allies to help him defend his design from whatever firm the LMDC brought in. So De Chiara introduced Arad to Gary Handel, an affable 51-year-old architect who had spent fifteen years at KPF before starting Handel Architects. It seemed like a good fit, and Arad promptly became a partner.

Meanwhile, Davis Brody Bond looked as if it had the inside track for the LMDC’s associate-architect slot. Partner Max Bond had served on an LMDC advisory board, and the firm had done a lot of work for the Port Authority.

Arad preferred another firm, the Polshek Partnership, which he believed would offer him more control, but the odds were stacked against him. The associate architect was to be picked by a panel of three LMDC officials, Arad, and Walker. So Arad tried to sabotage the process. The panelists had to score each of the proposals based on different criteria, and Arad gave zeroes to Davis Brody Bond in every category, which was technically illegal (because it violated state contract laws). An angry panelist reported the incident to Rampe, who removed Arad from the panel, clearing the way for the unanimous selection of Davis Brody Bond. Asked about the incident, Arad will say only that “the final choice for the committee and my own personal choice were not the same.” At that point, the LMDC knew it had to broker peace with Arad before the situation deteriorated further. If nothing else, Arad still had the leverage of going to the press and making it known to the public that the LMDC’s bright young hope was being roughed up by bureaucrats—a threat he made often, say LMDC sources.

Agency officials hoped Max Bond, respected for his diplomatic talents and whose résumé includes designing the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum, would be a “maturing” influence on Arad. For his part, Arad agreed to set up an office in Davis Brody Bond’s headquarters on Hudson Street, and in September 2004, he and four associates from Handel Architects moved in.

This could have been the moment that everybody calmed down and solved the remaining logistical problems. Arad, however, was still tensed for battle. Having finally signed a contract that designated him as the lead design architect, he saw Davis Brody Bond as minions whose job was to follow his orders, period. “You hire a driver, you expect them to drive,” Arad says. “That’s the job description. That’s what was in the RFP.”

As a firm, Davis Brody Bond has a practical bent, its architects valued less for their artistry than their expediency. That’s why the LMDC wanted them involved. And because they had such close ties with the LMDC, they went into it believing they had authority to do whatever was necessary to get the project completed, even if that meant crossing Arad.

Gretchen Dystra, the embattled head of the WTC Memorial Foundation, has raised just $131.4 million for the memorial, a tiny fraction of the current estimate.Photo: Peter Foley/Landov

What happened next ignited the all-out war that has embroiled the memorial project ever since. Davis Brody Bond suggested what appeared to be a minor change to the memorial: The firm wanted to center Arad’s two fountains over the original footprints of the Twin Towers. Arad’s initial design had the pools set off within the footprints, positioned slightly south, primarily as a way to accommodate four access ramps—an entrance and an exit for each pool. Centering the pools, according to Bond, “had meaning to many of the families. They didn’t even know the pools weren’t centered on the footprints.”

Then again, it had meaning to families only after they were told about it. Arad thought that having the pools on the exact center of the footprints was of no real significance—the total area of the pools, the galleries, and the ramps covered the combined footprints anyway.

“I have no choice but to fight them every step of the way,” says Arad. “I can’t tell you how many other stupid ideas have been proposed over the last two years.”

The effect of Davis Brody Bond’s alteration was that Arad’s scheme for four ramps was now untenable, forcing the northern ramp’s entrance directly onto Fulton Street. The LMDC embraced the change and requested alternative designs for the ramps to see how the change could be accommodated. In response, Davis Brody Bond proposed a two-ramp scheme—one entrance, one exit—to be placed in the center of the plaza, directly between the two voids, both extending 400 feet underground to a large central room the firm had also proposed be placed between the two recessed pools. This middle antechamber would have bathrooms and other facilities that Arad hadn’t included in his original design.

To casual observers, the ramps might appear to be no big deal, glorified subway entrances. But to Arad, the change represented everything he had feared about losing control of the project. Although he didn’t object to the central hall per se, having the ramp entrance there destroyed his notion of drawing visitors through a distinct walking narrative that focused on the experience of the pools, especially the initial breathtaking view at the bottom. Now that experience was marred by the tourist facility.

Learning that Davis Brody Bond was about to redesign the ramps, Handel stepped in to defend Arad. Over breakfast with Davis Brody Bond partner Carl Krebs, he said it was unethical, not to mention discourteous, for Davis Brody Bond to draw up alternative designs that conflicted with the designer’s. “What are you doing? This is not really your place,” he said. “Well,” responded Krebs, “they asked us to do it, and they’re our client.”

Handel and Arad suspected the firm had changed the alignment of the pools for a reason that had nothing to do with the families: to better accommodate design elements of another project, the $160 million Memorial Museum that Davis Brody Bond was bidding to take over. Moving the pools changed the shape of the underground areas, allowing more of the original towers’ sheared-off column remnants and exposed slurry wall to be seen in the museum. Handel considered it a conflict of interest for Davis Brody Bond to take the job.

Arad grew wildly frustrated. He blew up during meetings, especially at Krebs, with whom he most closely worked. “Michael or his staff would go to all these meetings, but if Michael didn’t hear what he wanted to hear, he would either challenge it or sometimes he would just walk out of the meeting,” says Krebs. “But ultimately it didn’t change the facts of the job and the problems we had to solve.”

The LMDC asked Arad and Davis Brody Bond to present their competing ramp designs to the board. When Arad and Handel arrived, they were surprised to discover a memo drawn up by a Davis Brody Bond–hired engineer calculating that the two-ramp design would be more structurally sound and less expensive. The memo included bulleted points from a crowd-flow study showing that the two-ramp scheme was easier to navigate and required less staff.

Arad and Handel believed they were being sidelined and feared Davis Brody Bond could manipulate the data to support its concept. Says Handel, “The way you ask the questions on a lot of these studies can determine the answers. We never got to be involved in fashioning the questions.”

Handel had a longstanding relationship with the engineering firm Davis Brody Bond had used for the structural analysis, WSP Cantor Seinuk. That day, he called the company’s chief executive, Silvian Marcus, to ask how he could allow his engineers to support the conclusions in Davis Brody Bond’s memo, according to a person familiar with the events. He learned that a junior engineer had created the memo with architects from Davis Brody Bond over the previous weekend. Marcus was deeply uncomfortable having his data used in a design turf war, says the person.

When the LMDC questioned Marcus in a subsequent meeting that week, he was nervous and evasive, say witnesses, hoping to avoid coming down one way or the other on the ramps. Davis Brody Bond partners suspected he had been pressured by Handel to disavow his conclusions, say people close to the firm. Finally, an exasperated Rampe asked Marcus point-blank whether the two-ramp design was cheaper. Marcus conceded it was.

That effectively ended Arad’s stay at Davis Brody Bond, though he was hardly done fighting. In violation of his contract, he appealed directly to LMDC board members to gain a final hearing on the ramps. In early 2005, he appeared before a group of board members from the LMDC and the newly formed World Trade Center Foundation. At the presentation, Arad selectively culled data from David Brody Bond’s own reports to defuse its arguments and support his own. It didn’t work. Afterward, then–Disney chief Michael Eisner, a foundation board member and a longtime architecture patron, gave Arad some fatherly advice. “If I were you, at this stage of my life,” he said, according to two witnesses, “I would get behind this thing and claim victory at the end. Let things move the way they need to move, and don’t obstruct things.”

The LMDC went for two ramps.

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?” Next: How the Memorial Got So Expensive

Photo: Rendering Courtesy of the LMDC

The Numbers
How the Memorial Got So Expensive
In the building business, they call it “scope creep.” Back in January 2004, the LMDC loosely estimated the cost of the memorial at $350 million, with $175 million of that covering Port Authority infrastructure, like train tracks and a giant air-conditioning unit. The latest figures are up to $972 million, including $300 million for that infrastructure. Part of the rise is due to a 30 percent increase in the cost of construction materials, but there are also many items on the new punch list that planners had no idea aboutinitially, such as the following:

Cost of lights and transformers for the reflecting pools: +$26 million

Approximate “hard cost” of the Memorial Museum, without contingencies, infrastructure, insurance, and other fees: +$110 million

Cost of new entrance for theMemorial Museum: +$22 million

Cost of holding up the slurry wall in the Memorial Museum: +$54 million

Museum exhibitions: +$22 million

Contingency design costs:+$36 million

Amount set aside for further escalation of construction costs: +$47 million

Amount raised by World Trade Center Memorial Foundation: $131.4 million

How the Memorial Got So Expensive

The Breaking of Michael Arad