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New Freedom Tower plan balances safety with design

Architect David Childs speaks next to a model of the redesigned Freedom Tower during a conference Wednesday in New York to unveil the new plans for the World Trade Center site.  
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Architect David Childs speaks next to a model of the redesigned Freedom Tower during a conference Wednesday in New York to unveil the new plans for the World Trade Center site. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Pradyna Joshi Newsday

NEW YORK – Officials unveiled the third incarnation of the Freedom Tower Wednesday, showing off a building that they say pays respects to the former towers of the World Trade Center while addressing the safety and security concerns of a previous design.

Much of downtown’s efforts to rebuild from the Sept. 11 attacks rides on the success of the Freedom Tower, which will serve as the centerpiece of Ground Zero and will again reclaim the title of the tallest building in New York City. Gov. George Pataki has staked his political reputation on the downtown rebuilding, and developer Larry Silverstein must bring back the 10 million square feet of office space to make good on his 99-year lease from the Port Authority.

Construction of the Freedom Tower is expected to begin in early 2006 and finish in 2009, Silverstein said. He did not provide a cost estimate on the building, but a previous design was expected to cost $1.5 billion.

A redesign of Freedom Tower was ordered in May after the New York Police Department’s concerns over security became public.

Wednesday, Silverstein said the new design has addressed the police department’s concerns. The design conforms to the standards used by U.S. embassies and has been reinforced with countless features designed to protect the occupants in the event of an emergency, he said.

In the new design, architect David Childs recast his vision for the 1,776-foot tall crystalline building into three distinct sections. The tower is topped off by a broadcast antenna that now sits squarely in the middle of – rather than off-center from – the roof. The spire was built into both the initial design Childs created and the first concept that master planner Daniel Libeskind envisioned.

A light that can shine vertically or horizontally will sit at the top of the antenna to further promote the building’s image as the new beacon for downtown Manhattan.

“This building should be a proud marker in the sky of its location,” Childs said.

The tower sits 55 feet to 125 feet away from roads, especially from the eight-lane traffic-heavy West Street, and incorporates several safety features, such as stairwells set aside exclusively for firefighters.

Atop an 80-foot glass-enclosed lobby rises a “drapery of metal” cubic base disguising the building’s mechanical equipment. The core will also feature a 3-foot thick concrete blast wall to protect the structure from bombs.

The new Freedom Tower takes after the former Twin Towers in many ways: its base is 200 by 200 feet and its observation deck stands at 1,362 feet, while its railing rises to 1,368 feet – the same two heights as each of the old Twin Towers.

“In a subtle but important way, this building recalls – but in a new shape – those buildings that were lost,” Childs said at a news conference Wednesday.

In fact, a visitor to the memorial looking northward will see the resemblance of the lean figure of one of the towers, although from other angles, visitors will notice its octagonal center that tapers as it rises.

While it still remains to be seen whether critics and the public will like the new look, several experts said Wednesday that the new plan succeeds in a difficult task of balancing both safety and design.

“The building is essentially an office building and a good one,” said Rick Bell, executive director of the American Institute of Architects’ New York chapter.

“From several perspectives, it does what a tower should, which is reach for the sky,” said Robert Ivy, editor in chief of Architectural Record. “The remaining question that needs to be continually asked is who’s going to rent this space.”

Silverstein said that given the five-year construction schedule, he expects it will be several years before tenants will sign leases.

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