WTC rebuild needs your input or outcome will be a disaster

September 1, 2002

Eli Attia, architect
New York

I have established an online petition at [link no longer operational] asking for an open national competition to design Ground Zero, instead of the behind-closed-door competition methods practiced by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the Port Authority (LMDC/PA). Thus far the petition has received over 10,000 signatures from across the country, including Philip Johnson, the "Dean" of American architecture, Terence Riley, the Museum of Modern Art's chief curator of architecture and design, many professors of architecture, design and art, fire fighters, soldiers, nurses, family members of victims of 9/11, and even Lily Tomlin, the actress. We are about to commence a major public effort to make sure that what emerges from Ground Zero is the best that America has to offer.

If allowed to stand, all decisions made to date by the LMDC/PA regarding the rebuilding of Ground Zero will doom it forever to a national disgrace. Ground Zero has become a symbol to America. But instead of representing the best that America is—a symbol of our aspirations and sacrifices —what the LMDC and PA have done to date represents the worst that America is—a symbol of abuse of power.

As I predicted in my Newsday Viewpoint on May 20, 2002, the LMDC/PA have failed the nation in its expectation for a unique, uplifting and visionary project to rise from the ashes of Ground Zero. Remarkably, the same people—led by the exact same leadership—have been allowed to embark on an even more outrageous chapter of this fiasco.

The LMDC/PA enthusiastically presented six extraordinarily poorly conceived initial plans as the best options for the future of Ground Zero. Until the American public told them otherwise, they had no idea that the design schemes were an embarrassment. How can they be trusted to determine what the future of the most revered project in America will be?

All the LMDC/PA have done is to waste time and money (over six months and more than $80 million to date, not to mention the costs that will be incurred because of the delays in restoring lower Manhattan to full functionality) while continuing to exercise total control of what will be designed on Ground Zero, how it will be designed, and by whom. And as if this is not enough, the LMDC/PA now has the audacity to blame their failure to come up with a suitable design on the absurd notion that the 11 million square feet of commercial space are to blame. Not only is this idea completely false, but actions proposed by the LMDC/PA as a result of this erroneous conclusion will cost an additional several billion dollars of taxpayer money. In fact, it is the LMDC’s limited vision and assigning hand picked architects to design the project that are responsible for the substandard designs.

An open design competition solves these problems. An open design competition will harness the power of thousands of architectural minds on the project instead of a handful; that they will be competing for the right to design the site will ensure that nothing short of their best efforts will go into the project. The full execution of a competition would take less time than the LMDC/PA’s current plan will. Because of this, and because the proposals will be unpaid (this is standard practice for architectural competitions worldwide), all this architectural brainpower can be harnessed more quickly and at extraordinarily little cost. In the face of all these benefits, the question is: why NOT hold an open competition? This is a question that we have been asking, and that the LMDC/PA has thus far declined to answer.

Shortly after the 10,000th signatory placed her name on the petition, I received a call from the chairman of the LMDC, John Whitehead, who over the course of a one-hour conversation, in an obvious attempt to neutralize our petition, did his best to convince me to submit a design and thus become one of the chosen few to submit architectural solutions for the site. Needless to say, I refused the offer.

An open design competition is truly the only way that we can ensure that the best design that America can create will be used to rebuild the most significant, emotionally-charged tract of land in the United States. We cannot let Ground Zero be designed by bureaucrats while our enormous national design talent is ignored. Only the participation of the greatest architectural minds, selected through an open national design competition, will allow us to rebuild the World Trade Center in the most appropriate way possible. We must act now to make the site a lasting and fitting tribute to 9/11 and its victims instead of wasting precious time and spending billions of public dollars for a mundane project that will stand at Ground Zero for generations to regret.