February 8, 2011
by Jessica Sheridan Assoc. AIA LEED AP Bill Millard

Event: TWC/Memorial/Lower Manhattan: Coordinating Construction and Accessibility
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.25.11
Speakers: Robert Harvey — Executive Director, Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center; Lisa Weiss, RLA — Director, Urban Design, NYS Department of Transportation Route 9a Project; James Conners — Executive VP, Operations, National September 11 Memorial & MuseumOrganizers: New York New Visions; AIANY Planning & Urban Design Committee; APA New York Metro Chapter; Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute (Baruch College, CUNY)

Event: World Trade Center Transportation Hub
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.03.11
Speakers: Michael D. Garz, AIA — Senior Vice President, STV Incorporated, & Design Manager, Downtown Design Partnership; Thomas L. Grassi, AIA — Program Manager, Port Authority of NY & NJ
Organizers: AIANY Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Whether you believe the estimate that there will be approximately five million visitors per year to the World Trade Center site, there is no question that the 16-acre landscape will need to accommodate throngs of tourists and locals alike once it is open. It will take complex coordination, necessitating the maneuvering of people, trains, tour buses, cars, and infrastructure around, into, and through the site.

The Route 9a Project, which was under construction before 9/11, is adding pedestrian access points and a bikeway to the busy transportation corridor from the Battery to 59th Street. By creating an “urban boulevard,” stated Lisa Weiss, the project’s director of urban design for the NYS Department of Transportation, the project will mitigate the city’s busiest utility corridor with tree-lined passageways, bluestone and granite paving, lighting, benches, and bollards. Access and egress to and from the World Trade Center site is designed to juxtapose a rustic aesthetic with the corporate plaza, according to Weiss.

The 9/11 Memorial is on schedule to open for the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks later this year, stated James Connors, Executive VP of operations for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. According to his records, 124 trees have been planted; 35% of the paving has been installed; and the North pool has had initial testing. Despite this, said Connors, it has been the development of operational management that shows the most progress at the site. An Emergency Egress and Emergency Action Plan is in place. Offsite visitor arrival locations and days/hours of operation are being determined. The southwest corner of the plaza has been designated as the official visitor entry (despite being the farthest entry point from the subways, as pointed out by Rick Bell, FAIA, during the roundtable discussion). A Timed Reservation System will be in place to alleviate large crowds. And tour bus drop off points have been designated to allow for 30-40 buses to drop off tour groups per hour.

No component of the master plan has survived the negotiations without change, but the transportation hub, designed by Santiago Calatrava, FAIA, has arguably stayed most faithful to its original design. Its above-grade component suggests both wings and bones, as if illustrating the unity of aesthetic aspirations and supporting structures. Two architects involved in its construction, Michael Garz, AIA, and Thomas Grassi, AIA, reported jointly on its progress.

The projected completion date (late 2014) may not be set in stone — Garz and Grassi were cautious about predictions — but progress on the tight, complex site is unmistakable. When the permanent hub succeeds the temporary PATH station (the first sign, in November 2003, that “life as we knew it [was] back”), it will connect 13 MTA lines plus the PATH. The marble-and-white retail concourse will be daylit: Calatrava’s operable wings fell afoul of budget cuts, but the basic design remains open, and the steel arch installation has begun. Top-down excavations, temporary pin-pile supports, and permanent construction are complicated by the presence of three active train lines (the PATH loop, the one passing through mid-site, and the R/W line to the east), along with simultaneous work on the memorial, Snøhetta’s museum pavilion, and 1 WTC, plus preliminary preparation for towers 2 through 4. All this activity is being coordinated within Ground Zero’s unique context: a fishbowl of civic visibility along with political pressure for the memorial to open by September 11 of this year, the 10th anniversary of the attack.

Given the density of the site and program, it may be more surprising that interagency and multi-union collaborations have gone this smoothly than that the site’s general pace lags behind overseas standards. As Garz observed, “Every time another stakeholder has an issue, it seems to be the Port Authority that steps up with a solution.”

Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, is the Editor-in-Chief of e-Oculus and a job captain at Gensler.

Bill Millard is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in OCULUS, Icon, Content, The Architect’s Newspaper, and other publications.

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