For most of the new participants, the problem of the WTC has haunted and inspired them long before being handed this latest assignment. For months, Schwartz has been drawing rough sketches of the site in an attempt to imagine its profound reconfiguration. He worked on the problem intensely with Canadian architect Taizo Yamamoto, a recent graduate of McGill University. When Herbert Muschamp invited Schwartz to participate in a bold rethinking of the site for a special September issue of The New York Times Magazine, the architect contributed an idea that would become seminal to the magazine's design forum: Move commercial development off the WTC site entirely. Retain the devastated site as a sacred, open space. Then stagger commercial and housing towers along a newly created West Street promenade.
Some of the contributions to the magazine angered Libeskind. He regrets that the invited architects relied on a conventional master plan and the dropping of signature buildings along the major axes. "You can have a master plan like Potsdamer Platz but produce a mediocre city," he says, referring to the redevelopment of Berlin's central plaza and the disconnected contributions of star architecture produced by designers such as Helmuth Jahn and Renzo Piano. What's more, Libeskind took the gloves off at a recent symposium at the Venice Biennale where he publicly criticized Muschamp for indulging the fantasies of some of the world's star architects. "I thought there was too much sarcasm, too much sardonic gestures. Rem Koolhaas and his upside-down skyscrapers," snaps Libeskind during our telephone conversation. "I don't think it's a funny project. Architecture is an art of cities. It's about the spirit and human beings."
Nobody would pretend that the right solution for the World Trade Center and its surrounding neighbourhood is about to be revealed within the next six weeks. It requires an average of two decades to build out the most ordinary of large-scale real-estate developments in the most ordinary of circumstances. It has taken more than 50 years for cities such as Berlin and Hamburg to rebuild after the Second World War. In Dresden, where 135,000 people died in the Allied firebombing of 1945, the Church of Our Lady was left as a ruin in the centre of the city -- only recently have funds been gathered enough to imagine its reconstruction.
For New York, the recent announcement by the LMDC that six visionary design teams had been selected to contribute their ideas to the rethinking of the World Trade Center site is just a beginning. But it's a luminous beginning, one that follows the earlier false start. A cynic would suggest that those dumbed down master plans were necessary foils required to engage the public and delay the process. Perhaps, too, the public will shoot down the schemes that emerge from this new process. That's the risk inherent in tackling the most charged site ever to be considered for redevelopment in the United States. Schwartz puts it simply: "You need to start."