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Culture

A European Touch At Ground Zero

The future of the World Trade Center site is being called the first great architectural project of the 21st century. Two European architects top the list of favorites with their proposals for Ground Zero.

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Daniel Libeskind wants to create a "vertical garden" on Ground Zero.

Never before has an architectural project been so heavily debated. This isn't just any project, though. The future of the World Trade Center site is one which must meet certain economic needs, but also comply with the emotional burden weighing on Ground Zero.

The seven teams of prominent architects from around the world are facing difficult restraints. The commercial and retail space lost when the Twin Towers collapsed needs to be replaced, with a minimum requirement of 6.5 million square feet. The proposals also have to reserve space for a permanent memorial, the design of which will be the subject of a separate international competition.

The plans put forward in New York last month include cities in the sky, parks, giant reflecting pools, sky memorials and sunken museums. Two teams, both from Europe, are leading the pack.

Daniel Libeskind of Berlin is best-known for his design of the new Jewish Museum in Berlin, which has earned him the monicker of "memorial expert." But Sir Norman Foster's London-based Foster and Partners -- who designed the new German parliament in Berlin -- is also a favorite for its sleek design.

"Gardens of the World"

Libeskind envisages a tower with a "vertical garden" that would stretch 1,776 feet high, a reference to the year of U.S. independence. This would make it the tallest spire in the world.

The glass-enclosed "Gardens of the World," with layers of plant life from all around the globe, would be attached to a slightly shorter office building. "Why gardens? Because gardens are a constant affirmation of life," Libeskind explained at his presentation in New York.

"A skyscraper rises above its predecessors, reasserting the pre-eminence of freedom and beauty, restoring the spiritual peak to the city and creating an icon that speaks to our vitality in the face of danger and our optimism in the aftermath of tragedy," said Libeskind.

The Polish-born architect -- a naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived in Berlin for the past 14 years -- also created two large public places to commemorate the dead: the "Park of Heroes" and the "Wedge of Light." The latter would be laid out in such a way that on the anniversary of the attack, the sun would shine down without shadow between the hours of 8:46 a.m., when the first airplane hit and 10:28 a.m., when the second tower collapsed.

Redesigning the Twin Towers

Foster's team focuses on the memory of the Twin Towers. "The iconic skyline must be reassembled," Foster said in New York. "We propose to celebrate New York's positive spirit with a unique twinned tower - the most secure, the greenest and the tallest in the world."

World Trade Center Entwurf von Foster und Partnern

Proposed design by Foster and Partners.

His firm proposes a crystalline skyscraper, which would be "twinned". "Its two halves kiss at three points, creating public observation platforms, exhibits, cafes and other amenities," he said. These links also have a safety benefit, as escape routes from one tower to the other.

In addition, the connections break down the tower's scale into "village-like clusters", each with its own atrium. "These tree-filled spaces - parks in the sky - will purify the natural air that will ventilate the building," he said. A multi-layered facade would enable the towers to eliminate the need for air conditioning for up to 80 percent of the year.

A rocket in Manhattan

One alternative project has little chance of realization. A Boston architect is leading an interest group to incorporate a rocket-like skyscraper designed by the Spanish artist and architect Antoni Gaudi on Ground Zero.

Antoni Gaudi Hotel Attraction

A rocket-like skyscraper designed after a sketch by the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi.

Gaudi, creator of the Barcelona cathedral Sagrada Familia, envisaged the structure (photo) in 1908 for a New York hotel "Attraction" that was never built.

The structure would not house a hotel, though. Rather, it would serve as a memorial to Sept. 11.

Public input

The committee of city and state authorities formed to supervise the redevelopment of Ground Zero, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), wants to arrive at a single master plan by February.

The LMDC has started a comprehensive outreach campaign to include the city's community in planning the future of the 16-acre World Trade Center site. However, just how much of public opinion will be considered is unclear.

But it is safe to say that no architect will be able to live up to all of the expectations weighing on Ground Zero.

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