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Rising from the Ashes

The World Trade Center Becomes Relevant Again

by Mark E. Sosnowitz, LASN, ASLA, MG, GCSAA

Rising from the Ashes

The 9/11 memorial is an 8-acre site that includes twin reflecting pools, each with 30-foot waterfalls, a plaza with a grove of over 400 trees and the glass and steel World Trade Center Transportation Hub with its distinctive white interlocking ribs. Landscape architect Peter Walker of PWP Landscape Architecture in Berkeley, California, and architect Michael Arad of Handel Architects in New York City were selected from a global competition that included more than 5,200 entries from 63 nations to create the memorial's design.

Every New Yorker who lives, works or visits the city has an attachment to its culture, architecture and its layout. Like Yankee Stadium, The Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, the 16-acre WTC is and was no different.

The Way it Was
I got to watch the Nation's and Constitutional Bicentennials from my brother-in-law's 57th story office in the South Tower, in 1976 and '86 respectively: in both cases seeing the tall ships and the fireworks.

In 1996, I managed the Design and Construction Renovation for a restaurant on the transportation level of the North Tower.

I also, sadly in retrospect, spent the final New Year's Eve at the famous "Windows on the World" restaurant high atop the North Tower, ringing in the 2001 new year, never dreaming that the buildings would disappear that year.

As I reflect on it, it occurs to me that it was like being on the Titanic, of course not knowing the horrific end for the behemoth that was soon to befall it. A few days after 9/11 when they reopened the roads and bridges, I had to travel to N.J. from N.Y. on the George Washington Bridge: all the way across, looking south to where the Towers stood, to see what I could see, to see what was left, to see and try to understand what had happened. Just as I crossed halfway, it dawned on me, there was nothing to see, as the buildings, just weren't there anymore.

Rebuilding Our Honor
From the ruins, several things have materialized and once again show how great NYC and America is.

First and foremost, is the Memorial and the surrounding plaza and park, which once you're in the middle of, the rest of the world is blocked out by the sound of water falling and screened out with plenty of trees. Suddenly you realize, solemnly, where you are and why you're there. And that really works thanks to the hundreds of Swamp White Oak trees, which were selected for hardiness and disease resistance.

Rising from the Ashes

The Memorial's plaza and park features 416 Swamp White Oak trees, which were selected because of their durability, leaf color - in autumn they range from amber to pink -and the fact that no two are identical as they grow at different rates (they can reach up to 60 feet in height in their present environment) and their leaves change colors at different times. The paving system for the plaza designed by Walker uses concrete tables faced with stone pavers that are suspended over the beds of uncompacted soil to promote the health of the trees. Blocks of granite serve as benches.

Rising from the Ashes

The transportation hub was designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, who wanted it to resemble "a bird flying from the hands of a child". It is 115 feet long and 95 feet high and surrounded by non-retractable bollards. Inside this barrier are precast concrete planters; some filled with ivy and some with small shrubs.

The design firm behind the transformation is PWP Landscape Architecture led by Peter Walker, FASLA. Michael Arad and Davis Brody Bond headed up the project.

As PWP puts it, "Two gigantic voids - in the footprints of the Twin Towers - and a surrounding forest of oak trees form the core of the rebuilt World Trade Center in New York City and provide a place for contemplation and remembrance within this revitalized urban center."

The entire sight is eight acres. The two Memorial Pools are located in the exact outline of the two collapsed towers, each one an acre in size.

The Memorial was completed in August of 2015.

I spoke with Walker and I was left with the belief that the concept, design and construction of the Memorial had to serve many purposes for many groups of people.

It was to be an active, 24/7/365 living memorial, inviting participation and providing the emotion of what happened there, to be caught "in the moment".

It was to have active and functional walkways, benches, planters, trees and water features that would allow the public to get on with their lives going to and from work, but yet serve the mourners and visitors to the area.

Rising from the Ashes

Rising from the Ashes

The two Memorial Pools, each nearly an acre in size, are set within the footprints of the two collapsed towers. Built from steel and concrete, they are lined with panels of smooth, dark granite. Inscribed in bronze around the twin memorial pools are the names of the 9/11 victims.

It was to allow the area to regenerate offices and businesses and facilitate transportation and shopping in much the same manner as before 9/11.

And it was to move the area from destruction and devastation, to reflection and honor; leading to the addition of new, modern, future endeavors for forthcoming generations of New Yorkers, Americans and citizens of the world.

Bringing People In
Complementing the landscape and serving as reminders of the Twin Towers and other lost buildings, new structures are appearing. One is the replacement for the redeveloped Hudson Terminal station, which opened on July 6, 1971 and was destroyed on 9/11. The new permanent station was started in 2008 and was opened on March 3, 2016 as "The World Trade Center Transportation Hub."

Built by architect Santiago Calatrava, it has white ribs that interlock high above the ground. It is glass and steel, 115 feet long and 95 feet high. According to Calatrava, it resembles "a bird flying from the hands of a child."

In Closing
NYC is an ever-changing canvas - different designs and ideas, some well accepted, some controversial, some work, some don't. This landscape design intermeshed with the majestic new
architecture does.

While each new component of the World Trade Center does and can stand alone, the beauty of the area is how well it flows and works together.

Few places in America give one the spiritual and emotional feeling that this new memorial imparts.

As seen in LASN magazine, August 2019.

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February 26, 2020, 8:49 am PDT

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