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World Trade Centre reconstruction has many faces

J.T. Nguyen | September 3, 2003

NEW YORK — Efforts to build a new World Trade Center have to take into account the power of money and politics, which are inextricably linked in New York City, and meet demands for security- proof buildings and the emotions of families of victims.

In the two years since the terrorist attacks that destroyed the centre's 110-storey twin towers, politicians, Wall Street leaders and families of the nearly 2,800 victims have cooperated to advance plans for the new centre.

Construction will start in the summer of 2004 to coincide with the Republican Party convention in New York City at which President George W. Bush is expected to seek nomination for a second term.

Some 5,000 competitors are currently vying for the top design for a memorial to the dead, with the final selection expected at end of 2003. The memorial will be part of the new, multibillion-dollar World Trade Center.

For Daniel Libeskind, whose design for the new centre won a competition earlier this year, planning for the reconstruction has taken on what he called "a new era of consciousness in architecture" in which new skyscrapers should be built to withstand terrorist attacks.

Libeskind acknowledged in an interview with Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa that money and politics have been important criteria in getting the consensus for the new centre. But he attributed the swift handling of the competition for the top design to wide-ranging public support for his ideas. Libeskind won over eight international competitors.

"The public opinion has been crucial for the development of the project," he said. Libeskind is spending most of his time working on a master plan with other architects designated by developers and the New York government.

He is confident that by 2008, major constructions will be completed, including his "Freedom Tower," a museum, the memorial, an art centre and the transportation hub to be built underneath the centre.

He called the most important structure in the new centre Freedom Tower in tribute to the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. The tower will be 1776-foot tall (592 metres) with the first 80 floors for office space, while several gardens will decorate the higher floors.

Critics have spoken against tying the start of construction to the Republican Party convention. But politics reared its head as Republicans want to capitalize on rebuilding the site. New York state, mostly a Democratic bastion, is run by Republicans, from Governor George Pataki to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Developers and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which lost hundreds of millions of dollars in rent and businesses with the destruction of the centre, have demanded the restoration of more than 10 million square feet of office and retail space. For them the Republicans are the best business partners.

The design by Libeskind, an architect from Berlin Studio, would restore the lost space, and more. The site, dubbed "Ground Zero," is now hallowed ground surrounded by high steel fence and visited daily by hundreds of tourists.

"In rebuilding the site, we are in a new era of consciousness in architecture," Libeskind said. "It's about security and the vulnerability of buildings in a modern world of conflict and terror."

"We are in a new era (of construction)," he said, adding that security concerns play a major role, compelling architects and developers to build safe buildings to sustain blasts such as the one that destroyed the old World Trade Center.

"The site is speaking out with its own voice, it is speaking about the history of what happened," Libeskind said referring to the inferno that devastated the twin towers minutes after they were struck by fully fueled airplanes piloted by terrorists on September 11, 2001.

"It is something unusual, something unique," he said about "Ground Zero."

"My clients are New Yorkers, Americans and every person in the world for whom this means something," he said.

Libeskind's design includes the 592-metre tower, which is to be erected at the northwest corner of "Ground Zero." In addition, a series of buildings will go up under the responsibility of Larry Silverstein, the developer who owns the 99-year lease to the centre.

Both Silverstein and the Port Authority have vowed to rebuild the centre for the economic development of lower Manhattan. Money allocated by Washington for the September 11 events and from insurance companies will pay for the construction.

A renowned Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, has been hired as lead architect for building the transportation hub underneath the site, while Libeskind will set the "architectural design guidelines" for the centre.

The Federal Transit Administration, which will partially fund the hub, has demanded an architect like Calatrava to lead the construction. Calatrava is viewed as "the world's greatest living poet of transportation architecture". –Sapa-DPA

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