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DON’T REBUILD. REIMAGINE.
New York, USA

CLIENT The New York Times Magazine
PROGRAM 
Concept for a ‘new’ American skyscraper, proposed within a plan to relieve commercial pressure from the highly contested World Trade Center (WTC) site, by transferring development to a new West Street corridor
STATUS Published on September 8, 2002
ARCHITECT OMA NY (REX was formerly known as OMA NY)
KEY PERSONNEL Eric Chang, Erhard Kinzelback, Casey Mack, Joshua Ramus
CONSULTANTS Schindler

Study models, August 2002

“The attack on the World Trade Center towers was an exceptional moment; it does not deserve to be the basis for a new philosophy of New York. In spite of its size and uncommon qualities, the WTC was taken for granted during its lifetime. With its destruction, its role in determining Manhattan’s status as a ‘modern’ city has become evident. While the past twenty-five years since its erection have seen a lot of ‘development,’ no development whatsoever has been made of the idea of the city. For the professionals called on to redefine lower Manhattan, it is clear that the most urgent task for this site is to give New York a new, forward-looking identity. In facing this colossal challenge, we cannot use the enormity of the tragedy as an alibi for blurred focus and vision.” – Statement read by Joshua Prince-Ramus to The New York Times’ Downtown Study Group, June 2002

In June 2002, The New York Times Magazine invited a group of architects—dissatisfied with the planning processes for rebuilding Ground Zero established by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC)—to organize their frustrations into a study project. Dubbed the ‘Downtown Study Group,’ the assembly was comprised of some of the world’s best-known architects and some of its next generation, and included The New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp as scribe. 

Almost immediately, the loud, contentious meetings determined to preserve Ground Zero as an open, hallowed place and tilt its focus from commerce to culture. The Group forged a plan that did not prohibit building on Ground Zero, but created space to devote more time and thought to conceptualizing how best to utilize it.

The plan recommended burying a segment of West Street, a six-lane highway that divides Battery Park City from the rest of Lower Manhattan, passing adjacent to the WTC site. The land created by burying this segment could easily yield 16 acres of developable land matching the size of the WTC. In one stroke, this strategy temporarily eliminated commercial pressures from the highly contested Ground Zero site, and healed a gash in the cityscape that had long obstructed the integration of Battery Park City with the Financial District.

The Group then proposed how to distribute the commercial program the LMDC planned for the WTC—11 million sf of offices, 600,000 sf of retail, and a 600,000 sf hotel—over the new West Street development corridor. Each architect was assigned a specific site and task, and asked to supply a corresponding design whose ambition aspired to reassert New York as a visionary city. Following is our proposal for a novel, mixed-use high-rise within this plan.

The skyscraper is an ambiguous symbol. It is too old to really express newness, and yet it is still in its infancy as a type; its potential for creating another social dimension largely unexplored. It is therefore crucial to define its shortcomings and to re-explore its potential, not as a profitability machine, but as a definer of 21st century urban culture. Our project for West Street represents a new concept for the ‘traditional’ American skyscraper and its increasingly bland contemporary offspring. Where traditional skyscrapers thrive on repetition and the lowest common ceiling height, we propose a section that can accommodate a number of different programs and uses throughout. We believe that variety, difference, and activity—learning from New York’s famous Downtown Athletic Club—can coexist with verticality.

The Downtown Athletic Club—New York’s prototypical social condenser built in 1931—is flipped and multiplied to generate a hybrid structure with an abundance of real estate at the place of greatest value (and view), a second commercial and circulation zone above street level, and the potential for multiple corporate addresses. Where traditional skyscrapers cram 60% of their office space into the least desirable lower third of the building, ours creates a situation in which the largest floor plates—and the majority of the work spaces—are at the top of the building: a developer’s dream diagram. We literally propose turning the notion of what constitutes a high building on its head.

The Financial District is so dense as to question the validity of New York’s zoning setbacks, its skyscrapers’ forms appearing mired in nostalgia, not actual performance. By stretching our inverted building triad, light and views are reinserted back into downtown.

Our concept also creates a new datum in the sky. The broad outdoor space at the top can sponsor recreational activities, space for alternative energy and waste water systems, or even provide a future platform for a new phase of building: utilizing the original skyscraper as the basis for an effective doubling in height.

A typical American office building has a deep plan arranged symmetrically around a central core. By compressing the plan, a floor plate is generated that works for mixed uses. The plan is then offset to increase structural stability and maximize views. 

To support these plan shifts and dimensional changes, new elevator technology is capitalized upon to create alternatives to the extruded tower. With cabs that can go sideways as well as up and down, occupants don’t have to change from one bank of elevators to another, and the “sidestep shuffle” ends the need for long banks of elevators by enabling multiple cabs to operate in a single lift shaft.

Our proposal for a new American skyscraper typology on West Street

A new, interconnected, 24/7 vision for Manhattan

Image Credits: 2: Joshua Ramus

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