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Monday, November 3, 2014

New York's Freedom Tower

A new New York skyline                           
A few months ago I wrote about the tallest building in the western hemisphere except for the new Freedom Tower in New York. In many ways, Chicago's Willis (Sears) Tower remains the equal of the Freedom Tower (or One World Trade Center) as it is officially called. One similarity, obviously, is that both towers have official and unofficial names. Even though the Freedom Tower rises to a somewhat taller official height of 1776 feet (counting its spire), both have a similar number of floors and usable square footage (Willis Tower 108 floors, Freedom Tower 104). Their observation decks are of comparable height (the Freedom Tower observation deck does not open until 2015). Moreover, neither building is fully occupied at the moment. Also, the Architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill designed both buildings.

The first 185 feet (19 floors) of the tower are windowless concrete and steel,
sheathed in with angled glass and steel panels, an addition made late in the
design process dictated by NYPD security concerns (truck bombs).
There are some sharp differences as well. The Chicago high-rise went up in just three years. In New York, it took the powers that be twice that long just to agree as to what the Freedom Tower would look like as can be seen in the five diagrams below. Once construction began in April, 2006, legal disputes slowed or halted progress several times before the building was finally completed in May 2013. What with various interior elements being added (an ongoing project even now), the building officially opens today, November 3, 2014. The first tenant, a Chinese company named Vantone occupying five floors (64-69). They don't call it the World Trade Center for nothing. Also moving in is Conde Nast Publications and the New York Port Authority, which owns the building. Actually, the World Trade Center is seven buildings centered around a block of memorials and a museum dedicated to the original Twin Towers (below).

The original Twin Tower footprints are seen in blue. The new WTC 1 is directly across Fulton Street from the original WTC 1 (north tower). Other WTC units are in dark red.
Why did it take thirteen years to replace the Twin Towers? Many reasons, foremost among them being differences in design concepts. There were two architects. First, Daniel Libeskind (drawings 1 and 2 below) starting things off while David Childs, working separately came up with his own design (drawing 3, below). He eventually became the designer of what we see today (drawing 5). They tried collaborating (drawing 4, below) but that didn't work out so well either. In essence, Liebeskind was a visionary. Childs came thoroughly grounded in the many economic, structural, and security concerns all of which played into the final design, eventually negating Libeskind's early design elements completely.
The Libeskind designs, while aesthetically exciting, offered too little "bang for the buck."
Childs' design (left) was simpler, but every bit as daring as that of Libeskind.
Their collaborative effort (right) would have been an exciting hybrid
utilizing the best features of both.

Childs' design eventually evolved into a twisting
glass monolith perched on a concrete block with
a disconcerting spike added to the top.
David Childs' final design (left and below, left) is strikingly original, as he mounts his glass tower atop its 19-story blast-resistant base, sweeping upward from a square footprint to an octagon floor plan half-way up, then back to a square near the top which is offset from the base by forty-five degrees, creating four inverted isosceles triangles of highly reflective, yet clear (from the inside) glass. As compared to the Willis/Sears tower's elongated, solid black glass "tubes", the effect is far more elegant. Centered at the top, 104 floors up is the antenna/spire which brings the structure to its official 1776 feet in height. The spire (below, right) was originally intended to be offset to an outside corner and sheathed in steel but the New York Port Authority nixed that idea in a $20-million cost savings binge. Neither David Childs nor his employer, Skidmore, Owings, Merrill were happy with the idea. Despite some largely decorative elements incorporated into the spire design, it still looks like a damned TV antenna.

The uninspiring spire.

Eight glass triangles.


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