Developer Larry Silverstein, who looked like he was going to block any building taller than 70 stories from going up at the World Trade Center site, has not only approved the Libeskind design; he’s agreed to pay for the spire:

Developer Larry Silverstein threw his support behind the soaring new vision for Ground Zero yesterday, vowing to pay for a 1,776-foot spire that would raise the city’s skyline higher than any other in the world.

Silverstein’s commitment for the first time offered rebuilding officials a solid way to pay for the signature tower in architect Daniel Libeskind’s plan.

“Larry says the plan presented today is extraordinary, and he’s completely supporting the plan,” said Silverstein spokesman Gerald McKelvey. [New York Daily News, 2/28/03]

This is actually not too surprising, the Libeskind proposal does address Silverstein’s concerns: The spire that extends to 1,776 feet (including the antenna on top) only has 70 floors of office space in it. Above that is a “vertical garden” that Silverstein wouldn’t have to worry about leasing. All the other office buildings in the project are shorter.

The tower is slim and tapering; with less of its volume in the upper stories, concerns about fire safety and evacuation would be alleviated. Finally, the latest revision of Libeskind’s proposal rebuilds all 10 million square feet of office space that were lost, as Silverstein insisted; he has added one more tower and heightened some of the adjoining buildings.

To the question: Why would Silverstein pay for all those extra floors for a garden? I think the answer is: Having the world’s tallest building makes it a landmark site, which is why people would want to lease space in it. The Sun reported just the other day that space is always in demand at landmark sites. And Silverstein also knows a lot of people will be very angry with him if he insists on short buildings, perhaps even to the point of boycott–and that will hurt his market.

Meanwhile, here’s an aesthetic comment by New York Sun architecture critic James Gardner with which I agree:

[T]he fact that the slurry walls held up and are rough hewn [does not] really say anything about the pluck of New Yorkers (I think that was supposed to be the point). And the fact that the sun will shine on the memorial each year at precisely the moment when the Twin Towers were hit hardly makes for any interesting form.

In fact, if there is any parallel between the form and the message of Mr. Libeskind’s design, as of most of the other contributions, it is that both formally and contextually, he is trying to do things that are simply not within the competence of architecture, of inhabitable structure. It is the Frank Gehry phenomenon….

[A]ll the meanings that all the forms in Mr. Libeskind’s design are supposed to express are entirely invisible unless another medium (a written text) is invoked to bring them to light: There is simply no way the eye can take in, or even care about, the fact that the main building is 1,776 feet tall. [New York Sun, 2/28/03]

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