Snøhetta's design for the WTC Cultural Center
Plans shared Thursday, May 19, for the cultural center that will be constructed at the World Trade Center site revealed a horizontal building that seems to hover ethereally above the ground, providing both protection of and a gentle entryway to the memorial that will honor the lives lost on 9/11.
Click Here to View Cultural Center Schematic Design Slide Show
Snøhetta architects Craig Dykers and Kjetil Thorsen were warmly received as they presented their vision for the structure that will become a home to a visitor center serving the entire WTC site, the International Freedom Center, and the Drawing Center. Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and other rebuilding officials, as well as the heads of the cultural organizations that will assume a place in the center once it is built, showered praise on the design for the sensitivity it shows toward the memorial that it will neighbor and the role it will play in the overall rebuilding of the site.
Calling it "exceptional," Pataki praised the design's horizontal nature for respecting the memorial that will lie beyond it while also complementing the verticality of the Freedom Tower as it rises 1,776 feet into the sky. "It really does promise to be another shining star in the dazzling design constellation" that will be the rebuilt World Trade Center site, said Bloomberg.
Addressing a large crowd assembled at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the architects helped explain the careful consideration that went into the design and the role they hope the center will ultimately play as part of the experience of the memorial, the rebuilding of the WTC site as a whole, and a cultural renaissance in Lower Manhattan.
To show deep respect for the memorial was an essential guiding force behind the design process, the architects explained. It helped determine the building's horizontal nature from the start. "It is unique in New York to find a place where we can find comfort so close to the ground," Thorsen said. By preserving it, the architects hoped to also provide a fitting entrance to the poignant voids that will lie behind it.
That the building would be elevated -- both to allow natural light to flood into the memorial and to create a space of transition for visitors as they pass from the city streets and again when they leave -- was also key. "It will provide a space of transition to reenergize your life as you go back into the city," Thorsen said.
To meet these goals, explained Dykers, required a unique structural design calling for the building, in contrast to most, to be supported from above. "Like a table," he offered, there will be four legs and a top that are constructed first. The remainder of the building will be suspended from this base and built from the top down.
At the center of the building, a gently sloping ramp will bring visitors into the raised lobby, which will be flooded by natural light from above. The ramp will also be connected to concourses leading directly into the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, and an outdoor atrium will reflect natural light and air throughout the building, the entrance ramps, and the concourses.
The design calls for five double-height floors with a landscaped rooftop garden that will afford a unique view of the Memorial Plaza. The Drawing Center will occupy the lower floors of the building's north end, and the International Freedom Center will occupy the southern end. The upper floors will house shared event and educational spaces, in which the cultural organizations will present their own programming as well as host other events and organizations, such as the Tribeca Film Festival and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
A Collaborative Proces
The two cultural institutions that will take a permanent place in the center, the International Freedom Center and the Drawing Center, played an active role in selecting Snøhetta to design their new home, and also in the design process itself. The institutions made the final selection of the Norwegian firm after it was short-listed from a pool of 34 original applicants by a panel that also included the staff of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts, and several other advising cultural organizations.
After its selection, Snøhetta held bi-weekly design workshops over the course of several months with staff and board members of each of the institutions and the LMDC. In his presentation of the design, Dykers praised the downtown rebuilding agency for both its oversight of the process and the room it allowed for creative development.
The institutions, meanwhile, praised the architects' ultimate product. "We are both delighted with and inspired by the design of our new home," said Tom Bernstein, co-founder and chairman of the International Freedom Center, which is a new institution designed to help visitors to the World Trade Center site examine and learn about the global struggle for freedom and human dignity. "It achieves the rare feat of reflecting, communicating, and thus deepening the spirit of the centers it houses," he continued.
Representing the Drawing Center, Frances Beatty Adler called it "brilliantly original and profoundly appropriate," adding that she hopes the artistic and cultural institutions on the site will help heel the loss that occurred there.
Finally, Bloomberg praised the way in which the two institutions have come to work so well together. Describing the initial pairing of the two disparate institutions as something of an "arranged marriage," he went on to add: "More and more they are looking like a truly loving couple."
Rebuilding Process Moves Forward
Pataki used this important step forward in the downtown rebuilding process to assure that other projects, too, are on track. Architect David Childs will present a redesigned Freedom Tower sometime in the month of June, the governor pledged. Later this summer, ground will be broken for Santiago Calatrava's Transportation Center, he continued. Meanwhile architect Frank Gehry is currently at work on his design for the performing arts center that will serve as a companion to the cultural center at the WTC site. The performing arts center will be the ultimate home of the Signature Theater and the Joyce International Dance Center.
As for the cultural center itself, design development is expected to be complete by the end of the year, groundbreaking is scheduled in 2007, and the center's completion is expected in 2009. Says Snøhetta's Dykers, "Our goal is that the new cultural center will be both a gateway to the memorial and window to a bright future."
* Images Courtesy of LMDC