On the Town   

 

Building Freedom Tower

June 2006 Installment of the Monthly Journal 

[Read the sidebar, Building Freedom Tower -- The Journal for introduction]

By Dick Sheppard

Two weeks ending 6/30/06: Easily the most dramatically busy few weeks as far as activity across the entire WTC site, and especially at the Freedom Tower footprint. And away from the sight as well. On site, excavators, excavators with pneumatic jacks attached, bulldozers, dump trucks and drilling rigs are visually transforming the site. On the south boundary of the Freedom Tower footprint, there is a quite deep, trench-like delineation being excavated. I can only speculate, and I'm not good at that, but this may be an "infrastructure conduit," leading into the Path Tunnel as it goes under West Street. They may want to run telecom lines through the tunnel to bring them across the river and connect with the mainland. That's what it looks like, but it could be something else. Between the blasting and conventional digging, the entire footprint is deeper by the day. Scores of dump-truck loads of dirt and rock are moving offsite each day. It's starting to look like something may actually get built over there.

Also of note, just east of the Freedom Tower footprint, against the east face of the existing slurry-wall, a large crane was on-site to dismantle the steel girders which supported the original WTC underground parking garages. It was only there for a few days, and the job doesn't look completed. Removing the parking garage girders is likely in preparation for moving the temporary PATH station exit from its present location on Church Street around the corner to Vesey Street. This will allow for the start of the new permanent PATH station. Maybe the crane had mechanical issues; I surmise we'll see it back since there are still girders to remove.

It's notable that even though the entire WTC site is publicly-inaccessible, every day scores of thousands of PATH riders arrive in the slurry-wall bathtub within which the Towers stood. The trains come in at ground level, directly even with the bottom of the WTC site. It's a strange arrival even when you do it every day. You are pretty darn close to the Freedom Tower footprint when you get off the PATH train on the western-most tracks; this offers a close perspective. There are some structural elements which prevent a detailed view, but the heavy equipment is operating just 30-40 feet away. The perspective from my offices, 29 floors up looking straight down onto the site, offers a much more sweeping view from which you can see a lot of what's going on. 

One of the ongoing fights that will have to be resolved by the deadline for the "final" agreement between Larry Silverstein as private developer, and government interests -- state, local and PATH -- is the building of an additional slurry-wall along Church Street to accommodate the three towers which will stand astride Church. This hasn't even been started, although as with the Freedom Tower footprint, there is more activity going on across the entire WTC site than ever previously. It's welcome activity - things are happening! Let's hope as the September deadline arrives, all of the negotiating parties will share this construction-mania enthusiasm, cross their t's and dot their i's and get the deal done and really get moving on rebuilding.

And good news of another note: Steve Cuozzo in the NY Post reports that credit-rating company Moody's Investor Services is close to signing for 600.000 sq/ft of space in the already built 7WTC. If this deal goes through, it will shut up the likes of Shoe-Lifts Bloomberg who constantly whines that no tenants will rent at the WTC site, and therefore more residential buildings should be built. Yeah, that makes sense, you little twerp: people won't want to work at the WTC site just 8 hours a day, but they'll live there 24/7. Bloomberg is fast becoming among the most dislikable people anywhere.

Some good news from the government front arrived when Governor "Slow-poke" Pataki indicated that the US Customs Service is close to agreeing on taking 600,000 sq/ft of their own in Freedom Tower. The Customs Service was originally the low-lying 6 WTC, which was the building right over the current Freedom Tower site. If they come into Freedom Tower, it's a homecoming of sorts for that agency. There's still some bickering about insurance proceeds, and the need for further Freedom Tower tenants as the September deadline for finalizing the overall agreement nears. This could go right down to the wire.

Other good news was the release of the redesigned Freedom Tower base, which, for security purposes, was initially looking like it would be sheathed in concrete/metal, an unpleasant aspect for such a soaring building. But it looks like Freedom Tower architect David Childs stepped up nicely, the redesigned base will be wrapped in specially designed and shaped glass, backed by a more robust wall. The space around Freedom Tower also looks very inviting and open. So far as what Freedom Tower will finally appear, the latest model is very close. The Tower itself will not line up directly with the corner of West & Vesey Streets. It will be at an angle to both, doubtless a security consideration, as any vehicle blast would be at an oblique rather than full-on angle. Even mentioning such a possibility is maddening enough to send fleets of bombers today to Destination: Gayrabia to kill as many of them as need killing. 

The impressively named Lower Manhattan Central Construction Command agency which moved in down the hall from these offices are using the following blurb on their office signage: "Facilitate, Mitigate, Communicate." Does that sound like worthy goals for a construction agency? Yes, if it's government agency pandering to multiple unsatisfiable interests. If it were a private agency, the motto would be: "Build, Build More, Build More and More." I bet Mayor Shoe-Lifts in one of his nanny-moments thought up that meaningless, "facilitate, mitigate, communicate" motto. Guy is bad news. This agency is likely set up to deflect problems away from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. The Construction Command Center, despite the lofty name, might be a feel-good deflection agency. But anything it contributes towards anything being built is welcome just the same.

One final update. Just about two years ago, in fact July 4, 2003, the Cornerstone for the Libeskind-designed Freedom Tower was laid by Slow-poke Pataki. I came over to the WTC site to watch this event, and even then I was warily and as it turned out overly-optimistic. There the stone sat as security delays and negotiations dragged on. Finally last Friday, 6/23/06, that cornerstone was removed for safekeeping until the site is ready for a real, hopefully FINAL Cornerstone dedication. That cannot come soon enough.

Week ending June 16, 2006 -- A few developments this past week, as some ďtest blastingĒ in the Freedom Tower footprint began. Now blasting is serious business; you donít blast unless you really need to, so itís an encouraging sign of progress. However, as mentioned, itís still in the ďtestĒ phase as the workers continue to deepen the Freedom Tower footprint all around. And even without the blasting, workers previously using pneumatic attachments on the ends of excavators, had already dug a pretty deep hole. 

The blasting hasnít been noticeably audible, the newspapers said if you were down near the footprint, you might here the equivalent of a subway rumbling underfoot. So itís progress, but not dramatic progress. The workers also place dampening mats over the blast sites which further decreases any visible explosive audio-visuals. Real dramatic progress will be when they set the initial steel in place - that will be dramatic progress.

But as always with this project, thereís other issues that surface. In this instance at the beginning of this week, the head of the Port Authority mentioned that no federal government agencies have committed to Freedom Tower, and without some kind of commitment, the construction could be halted or threatened with halting. Just great! The April agreement which allowed even the limited Freedom Tower construction to begin is supposed to be formalized by this coming September, 2006. This agreement is supposed to formalize any governmental Freedom Tower occupants. Several city officials have taken a ďdonít worry, theyíll be hereĒ approach, but since neither state, city, or Port Authority officials have acquitted themselves well throughout this process, nothing is to be believed. Thatís why itís essential to see steel rising, that will be the Tower underway beyond, one hopes, any political dithering.

A few weeks back I had mentioned there were some coned-off squares in the Freedom Tower footprint, I had guessed these cones mightíve been markers for the first vertical steel beams. I was wrong, I think the cones delineated the spots where the first blasts were going to occur, as the cones are gone now. Either way, the entire Freedom Tower footprint is deepening well beneath the site-wide bottom of the slurry wall bathtub.

Also on the entire WTC site apart from the Freedom Tower quadrant/footprint, it seems that some of the workers in the other parts of the site have dug temporary ditches to drain water away from the non-Freedom Tower areas. This at least makes the entire WTC site look neater. Iím also pleased to note that work across the site must begin at 7am, I usually arrive on the PATH train a little after 7am and the work is underway. This is encouraging too, to see the work going early.

Model of Freedom Tower, on 25th Floor of 7 WTC.

A final note, I have new neighbors down the hall here at One Liberty Plaza, 29th floor. The Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center has taken over the entire north side of the 29th floor. This agency seems to be an offshoot or subdivision of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., and likely combines state and city officials. I figure at some point, Iíll make some small talk with some of these folks in the elevator; Iíve already said ďhiĒ to a few folks, but with a little small talk maybe Iíll pick up some factoids to pass along.

Week ending June 9, 2006 -- While reading about Freedom Tower on Wikipedia, discovered a fun fact that explains the nature of the work underway on the Freedom Tower footprint. A footnote to the Wikipedia entry revealed that the original Freedom Tower architect, Daniel Libeskind, was selected by New York Governor George Pataki perhaps as a favor to one of Pataki's largest donors, cosmetics mogul Ron Lauder. Ron has donated scores of thousands to various Pataki/GOP funds and is pals with Libeskind. 

Thus Libeskind's design, which Pataki said was worthy because its off-center spire evoked the Statue of Liberty's torch, may have been chosen for the worst reasons of all: political graft and greed. This realization makes George Pataki among mankind's most odious members.

An Unscientific Poll + 'A Tenuous Win' = Fait Accompli

Yes, Libeskind's latticework design was selected as the favorite from among the eight or so designs originally unveiled from competing architectural firms. But this selection was based on an extremely unscientific "vote" that was essentially carried out by handing out polling cards. Libeskind shrewdly parlayed this tenuous "win" into something of a fait accompli and Pataki, probably counting the money from Lauder, gleefully jumped on the bandwagon. Libeskind also astutely called on New York attorney/fixer Ed Hayes, another Pataki buddy, to represent his interests in the process. You can understand how botched-up the process became as Pataki played it strictly in his self-interest instead of leading what must be considered one of the most public and important building projects in American history.

But as the Libeskind design went forward, practical engineering and construction issues surfaced. No one could envision an effective was to support the off-center spire which was the most-liked element of the design. Additionally, the upper lattice work structure evolved from aving gardens enclosed, to not, to being open. As a last gasp at attempting to get this design built, Libeskind tried to play the environmental card by installing turbines/fans in the latticework to provide 20% of the tower's power requirements. Libeskind's design began to get slap-dashy, not surprising since Libeskind had never designed a building larger than 5- or 10-stories, before being selected by the greed-compromised Pataki, who fantastically considered himself a presidential contender and figured Libeskind pal Lauder would bankroll his egomaniacal candidacy.

I always detested the Libeskind skeletal design as totally unworthy of succeeding the awesome World Trade Center towers. The lattice structure atop only sixty or so occupiable building floors evoked a whiff of defeatism, the U.S. would not fearlessly rebuild but settle for a compromised replacement for what was lost. 

While I can understand the appeal of mimicking the Statue of Liberty torch with the off-center spire, the design always appeared compromised; moreso now that we learn about George Pataki's feckless selling out. Good riddance to both the Libeskind design - and when he leaves office - George Pataki from public life.

More Time Wasted

According to the Wikipedia source, as these adjustments were being made to the Libeskind design, with a cornerstone dedication in July 2004, there was some initial concrete poured onto the Freedom Tower footprint in anticipation of the Libeskind tower. When the Libeskind design was finally abandoned, and architect David Childs' replacement design was selected, it was discovered that already poured concrete was not suitable for the new design. More time wasted thanks to Pataki.

That's why the very first work being done on the current Freedom Tower footprint is the seemingly random digging around and concrete-scraping on the site. Now we know why that concrete had to go, and even as I write this, construction crews are preparing to set off explosive charges that will break up the Manhattan Schist for the new Freedom Tower foundation. That's why there were drilling rigs on the site almost from the start of Freedom Tower footprint prep - to drill the holes for the explosives. For the week of 6/12, there will be test charges, followed for the next few months with actual excavatory charges. There has been some mild mention of the appropriateness of setting off explosives in this still emotionally-sensitive site; in the end, if it will speed the Freedom Tower rebuild, they gotta explode what they gotta explode. 

Week Ending June 2, 2006 -- Though it isnít yet a full-blown construction site, the work underway on the Freedom Tower footprint reveals sure progress. The excavators and roving pneumatic drills are digging still deeper into the site, having scraped off significant layers of dirt and drilling into the underlying rock. The site looks flatter and squared-off. The footprint thus becomes more definitive as the weeks pass.

Additionally, there are two sites on the footprint that are delineated as squares, marked with orange pylons, about fifteen feet square. Without knowing exactly what they designate, a guess might be that these will be the locations for the fist vertical steel beams. If thatís the case, then at some point there might be a ceremony to note this event. Back in July 2004, a cornerstone was unveiled at the Freedom  Tower site, but then construction stalled. The stone now sits in a box nearby the footprint. I would guess that when the first vertical bean is put in place, that would be an appropriate time to re-dedicate the site with the existing cornerstone block. I do so want to see that happen, steel in the ground rising towards the sky.

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