Monday, February 19, 2007

The Battle for Ground Zero, Part 217

The New York Times takes yet another swipe at the Freedom Tower design. The author, Nicholas Ouroussoff, laments the design process, but overlooks two decisions that were made at the outset that pushed us in this direction. The first decision was the requirement to return the street grid to the superblock that contained the WTC complex. That pushed buildings to certain locations. The second was to put a designer with absolutely no skyscraper experience in charge of designing the signature and first tower to be built - the Freedom Tower. Gov. Pataki is responsible for both decisions as he pushed for the Libeskind plan and had a commanding say on how the Port Authority and LMDC would operate.
Hurriedly redesigned more than a year ago after terrorism experts questioned its vulnerability to a bomb attack, the Freedom Tower, with its tapered bulk and chamfered corners, evokes a gargantuan glass obelisk. Its clumsy bloated form, remade by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, vaguely recalls the worst of postmodernist historicism. (It’s a marvel that its glass skin hasn’t been recast in granite.)

Recently cities like Paris, London and San Francisco have held major architectural competitions for towers that will reshape their skylines. All of them drew on an array of ambitious architectural talents; many of those designs pushed technological and structural limits while reimagining the skyscraper as part of a holistic urban vision.

Even in New York, which has lagged behind much of the world in its architectural ambitions over the last decade or so, projects like Norman Foster’s new Hearst Tower suggest that a higher standard is demanded in the design of our urban structures.

If built, the lamentable Freedom Tower would be a constant reminder of our loss of ambition, and our inability to produce an architecture that shows a genuine faith in America’s collective future rather than a nostalgia for a nonexistent past.

Nowhere is that failure of ambition more evident than in the tower’s base. In a society where the social contract that binds us together is fraying, the most incisive architects have found ways to create a more fluid relationship between private and public realms. The lobby of Thom Mayne’s Phare Tower in Paris, for example, is conceived as an extension of the public realm, drawing in the surrounding streetscape and tunneling deep into the ground to connect to a network of underground trains.
The Freedom Tower was forced into several redesigns because Libeskind's original designs were incapable of being translated into a workable structure.

However, Ouroussoff does have a point about the Freedom Tower base. The base was designed to be like a fortress - to protect the structure against car and truck bombs, but that too was a function of the placement of the Tower on a street grid. If cars aren't able to come within a set distance, the need to have an armored base is that much less. The decision to restore the street grid directly relates to the need to protect the new towers from car and truck bombs.

Meanwhile, as construction continues on the Freedom Tower and the transit hub, more structural steel from the original WTC was found over the weekend. Also, the Daily News admits that there were flaws in the reporting on Cesar Borja, who died shortly before the President's State of the Union Address where his son was in attendance to raise attention on those suffering from Ground Zero related ailments. The Post has an op-ed taking the Daily News and others to task for pushing an agenda on Ground Zero ailments that isn't supported by science at this point.
But suppose Borja had spent long hours in thick of the smoke. For months on end. From the very moment the towers crashed.

Would that prove that the dust caused his lung disease and promoted illness in others?

Absolutely not. That's just not the way science is - or should be - done.

In fact, despite illnesses among many who did work on The Pile, no one can say for sure whether anyone's long-term health was impaired - even remotely - by the clouds of 9/11 dust and debris.

For one thing, not enough time has elapsed for there to have been a "long term."

For another, no one has done a rigorous, controlled study of a statistically significant sample of 9/11 workers.

Such a study would involve, ideally, a comparison of the long-term health of these people to that of others with similar careers and backgrounds. Any large discrepancies would be considered highly suggestive.

Though such research may be done one day, it hasn't been done yet.
Now, that's the rub. There are firefighters who are suffering a variety of ailments that may or may not be related to service at Ground Zero, but there's no way to know for sure without conducting epidemiological studies. That takes time, and that's what some firefighters and other rescue workers are short on.

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