December 12, 2003,
If five-foot, four-inch architect Daniel Libeskind's math can be believed, he could don a yard-high top hat and become Earth's tallest man. Unfortunately for those who care about the World Trade Center, Libeskind's entire plan for Lower Manhattan is similarly wrapped in illogic and doubletalk. Unless updated blueprints by Libeskind and his design colleague, David Childs, reveal something completely different on December 15, Ground Zero's redevelopment will remain a high-rise ruse.
Details of this trickery abound in "The Berzon Report," an online expose that alleges numerous inconsistencies related to the WTC rebuilding process.
I have written about and befriended Berzon, a recent graduate of Northwestern University with a passionate interest in the late Twin Towers and their replacement. Since March, Berzon has found plenty of unsavory details while researching and writing a book on the WTC's reconstruction.
First and foremost, Libeskind's so-called "Freedom Tower" has been touted as eventually Earth's tallest. It would be, in the same sense that any house could become the world's highest by installing a 1,600-foot chimney atop its fireplace.
Thus far, Libeskind's Freedom Tower would be only 70 stories and 945-feet tall. Criss-crossed steel beams would rise above that structure for 831 feet (totaling an all-American 1,776 feet). But then a broadcast antenna would climb yet 200 to 300 feet higher atop those beams. The result, as Berzon illustrates in one especially jarring graphic, is a relatively squat building, seemingly balancing an oil derrick on its roof, while masquerading as the world's foremost skyscraper.
In fact, this fails to satisfy a Depression-era standard. "The Freedom Tower's occupiable floors would top out below the height of the Chrysler Building, the world's tallest skyscraper in 1930," Berzon says.
Berzon believes that Libeskind's architectural drawings exaggerated the height of his structures relative to neighboring buildings, "falsely depicting their actual skyline impact." Berzon's photo-editing software compared the dimensions of downtown high-rises against Libeskind's online renderings and their published specifications. Berzon concluded that Libeskind made four of his five WTC buildings appear between 13.4- and 34.7-percent larger than their actual size, including a 22.1-percent (392-foot) embellishment of the Freedom Tower.
It's one thing to wear lifter shoes to impress strangers. It's quite another to employ their architectural equivalent to convince politicians and citizens they are seeing something that isn't there.
This hardly appears accidental. "At our studio, we've done all the working drawings for our buildings ourselves," Libeskind crowed in the July 16 New York Times. "I'm a great believer in not farming out those responsibilities to another office."
For her part, Libeskind's wife and partner, Nina, says that the "iteration [Berzon] is looking at is no longer relevant." Adds Studio Daniel Libeskind associate Carla Swickerath: "It's a photo montage, so it's not going to be as precise as a computer model." Perhaps, but it is interesting that Berzon observed that 655-foot Tower Five, the shortest of Libeskind's buildings, was drawn to scale with no enhancement in its depicted height. Only those buildings that more easily could overshadow other nearby structures appeared larger than life.
Despite Libeskind's high profile, he seems ill-prepared for this monumental task. His skimpy portfolio contains just three museums in Berlin and Osnabruck, Germany and Manchester, England and an artist's studio in Mallorca, Spain. His German credentials notwithstanding, Libeskind did not have a U.S. architectural license until five months after he won the WTC commission.
"A powerful public consensus was created around the architectural and symbolic shaping of the site," Libeskind declared last July. But the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's own polls ranked Libeskind no higher than second among nine plans the public scrutinized last winter. Among a NY1-TV news survey's 32,360 respondents, 26 percent embraced Libeskind while 33 percent supported the THINK team's twin latticework towers, and 41 percent voted "neither." Even worse, Berzon reveals, the LMDC released statistics asserting public approval of its design semifinalists. But they tabulated neither comments critical of that entire slate nor pleas to rebuild the Twin Towers.
Berzon discusses architect Eli Attia's discovery that Libeskind's new WTC buildings are so densely clustered that they violate local zoning. While rules allow a Floor Area Ratio of 15 (a building's total square footage divided by that of its lot), Freedom Tower has a 25.8 FAR, while Tower 2's FAR is 37.8. "The buildings will produce the most congested sidewalks in our history," Attia predicted in the October 13 Newsday.
If Justin Berzon has an agenda, it is that, like many other Americans, he wants the Twin Towers restored to Manhattan's skyline. He asks pertinent questions and unearths answers that elude most of the slumbering press corps. Unless the relevant public officials are asleep, too, they should investigate his findings. Such an aesthetic and procedural probe would begin to move Ground Zero's rehabilitation from the shadows into the sunshine.
Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia.