Monumental muddle

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 July, 2005, 12:00am

It is hard to be optimistic about the redevelopment of the World Trade Centre site. There seems to have been constant bickering between all those who have or claim to have a stake in its future - and I mean everyone.

That includes the politicians, bureaucrats, architects, police, property developer Larry Silverstein and, of course, the relatives of the victims of the September 11 attacks. It is almost four years since the twin towers were destroyed, and still a steel beam has yet to be ordered. It is worth remembering that the Empire State Building was built in a year and 45 days.

Only last week, a new design for the site's planned centrepiece, the Freedom Tower, was unveiled. It had been drawn up in just six weeks, after the previous plan was killed because of police concerns about its vulnerability to truck bombs. As a result, any pretence of public consultation over the building's design went out of the window.

Just off the drawing board is a Fort-Knox-style, heavily fortified concrete and metal pedestal stretching up 60 metres - the first 9 metres without windows and the rest with precious few. It is crowned by 69 floors of office space, an observation deck, some restaurants and an antenna mast that take the skyscraper to a height of 1,776 feet (540 metres) - to mark the year of the declaration of independence. It is supposed to be ready for occupation by 2010.

The design has not met universal acclaim by any means. Its spire-topped silhouette was described as 'monumentally ordinary' by the Chicago Tribune's architecture critic. There are also major doubts about its viability: many Lower Manhattan buildings are being converted from offices into condos, as the property boom makes the area increasingly residential.

Meanwhile, Mr Silverstein's rivals, including Donald Trump, have weighed in by slamming the plans for Freedom Tower. But perhaps the biggest fear is that the new tower will be built and no one will want to be a tenant. Polls show that a majority of workers would not want to work on the top floors of such a building, and the politicians' pledges that this will be the safest skyscraper in the world are far from credible.

As New York Times columnist Frank Rich asked: 'What sane person would want to work in a skyscraper destined to be the most tempting target for aerial assault in the western world?' One report says that the American retailer Target will not be welcome in the building's retail complex, because its name might be inappropriate.

With fears that strong, do not be surprised to see the whole site turned into some kind of lower-rise residential, retail and entertainment complex - and memorial - in the next few years.