Libeskind seeks harmony in Ground Zero discord

Daniel Libeskind has had his fingers badly burned by the acrimonious project to rebuild the World Trade Center site, but the Ground Zero architect remains convinced his vision will be realised.

Since his master plan was chosen from an international field in February 2003, Libeskind has been forced to watch as major elements of his blueprint have been radically modified or taken out of his hands altogether.

In the process, he has locked horns with rival architects, developers and politicians and, as one of the project’s most public faces, has been a focus for much of the criticism over the infighting and delays that haved dogged the process from the outset.

The role of scapegoat is not one the 60-year-old, Polish-born Libeskind, a naturalised US citizen, appreciates.

“Sure it bothers me,” he said at a briefing for foreign press reporters on Monday.

“Had I only the power to drive the project by myself, I would have done it differently,” he said.

Envisaged as a demonstration of New York’s unity and resilience, the reconstruction of the site where the trade centre’s twin towers were destroyed on September 11, 2001, has become a byword for discord and disorder.

After a multitude of delays caused by the clash of multiple vested interests, construction of the design’s centerpiece skyscraper—the 541m “Freedom Tower”—finally began in April this year.

The arrival of giant earth movers at the site was hailed as turning the page on the bitter disputes over who will build what, where, when and at what cost.

The main protagonists in the row were Libeskind, New York Governor George Pataki, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, site leaseholder Larry Silverstein and the site owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Added to the mix have been the emotive voices of the September 11 victims’ relatives, as well as those of concerned New Yorkers—all with very precise design ideas of their own.

“There is not a single part of this project that is uncontested. There is no single element that is not subject to great controversy,” Libeskind said.

“But then, this is New York. It is only natural that in a democracy, the turmoil of these pushes and pulls takes place,” he added.

While acknowledging the fragmentation of his plan into numerous subsidiary projects with their own architect and degree of autonomy, Libeskind rejected the suggestion that he had been marginalised and that his “master planner” title had become largely symbolic.

“My role is not to build all the buildings.
There are many architects. My role is to make sure that all the elements respond to the original idea of the master plan,” he said.

“It is more like writing a score and conducting an orchestra. You are not the player, but there to make sure there is harmony between all the different pieces.”

Libeskind insisted that his involvement in the project remained a daily one and, while he lacked the power to independently veto proposals, his influence was substantial.

“All the various pieces of the project have to somehow come through the focal point at which I am,” he said, adding that he had vehemently and successfully defended his corner on many occasions.

“Often I fight for two or three inches on a street-width, which is not a very glorious fight ... but I think it will make it a better street,” he said.

Looking back, and with the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attack looming large, Libeskind apportioned some of the blame for the problems that beset the Ground Zero reconstruction to poor political leadership.

The political will had lacked “urgency,” he said and allowed the decision-making process to descend into a damaging free-for-all.

But for all the infighting and back-stabbing of the past three-and-a-half years, Libeskind said progress was at last being made and stressed that he remained optimistic about the final outcome.

“Who’s to say that a computer generated project that has been fully realised is better than a messy project that has its traumas but will at least glow with the reality of the people who were part of it—both good and bad,” he said.

“Despite the complexity, despite the flaws, I believe the project will be realised in a way that is inspiring,” he added. “But it will require patience.” - AFP

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