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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 July, 2004, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Conflicts plague WTC project

By Stephen Evans
BBC North America business correspondent

Daniel Libeskind's WTC design
Libeskind's design has already been modified
It would be nice to think that great architecture is unsullied by low consideration - that splendid buildings are designed by fine imaginations soaring above tawdry politics and base commercialism.

It would be nice to think so - but it is not so.

As the formal start of rebuilding takes place at Ground Zero in Manhattan, the indications are that a fierce behind-the-scenes battle is taking place over the compromise between artistic vision and commercial needs.

Just over a year ago, the architect Daniel Libeskind won a grand, international competition with his plan for the whole site, dominated by what he called the Freedom Tower.

This would be a soaring spire a third of a mile high (541 metres), with hanging gardens and a shaft of sun-light that would penetrate the building each year on the anniversary at the moments when the planes struck on 11 September 2001.

Since then, much has been altered. The tower remains but it does not seem quite as spectacular as it was.

The latest plans show it as more an office block with a mast on top compared with the soaring spire of twisting, shimmering glass that was presented as the winning design on 27 February 2003.

There has been change and modification across the plan.

Competing demands

It was bound to happen. Ground Zero is many things - a mass grave, a field of memories, a political symbol - but it is also prime real estate at the heart of the financial capital of the world.

The man who has the lease on that site - he got it just before the attacks - emphasised to the BBC that design was, of course, important - but that budgets had to be met. There was a bottom line.

The lease-holder, Larry Silverstein, has brought in teams of architects who are working on the individual buildings within the complex.

Ground Zero
The foundation "footprint" has been a source of much contention
Daniel Libeskind remains involved as the over-arching supervisor of his own concept - but it is not clear exactly what that role involves and how much say will he have over the detail of the buildings that will actually get built.

He told the BBC that there was a pull between the commercial demands and the architectural vision - and that this conflict continues.

He was keen that pressure for the original, acclaimed design was maintained by the public.

Art versus office space

But the process is now enmeshed in politics.

The site is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It and the architects hired by Mr Silverstein are now driving much of the day-to-day discussion.

And they, clearly, have to be mindful of how much office space and shops there are.

All designs change as they move from computer graphic to bricks and mortar and steel and glass.

But the question is: will the original, splendid vision be realised or will Ground Zero end up as just another complex of offices, perhaps with a few twiddles nodding towards the original concept?

It is too early to say because the battle is still being fought.

Mr Libeskind is there and fighting for art, and he wants the public to keep the pressure up.

The snag is that if you go to Ground Zero and ask people what they would like, they reply: "Just rebuild the towers like they were."

The battle over Ground Zero
04 Sep 03 |  Americas
WTC memorial to store lost victims
25 Aug 03 |  Americas
WTC site 'reclaimed by 2006'
24 Apr 03 |  Americas

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