Memorial Pools Will Not Quite Fill Twin Footprints


December 15, 2005

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YOU can't take symbolism too literally at ground zero.

The great pool-filled memorial voids that are meant to mark the absence of the twin towers will be 31 percent smaller than the towers' actual footprints.

Each pool will be a 176-foot square, centered within the original 211-foot-10-inch-square footprint. The tower outlines will not be shown graphically on the plaza, so there will be no indication at ground level precisely where the twin towers stood; only an intimation.

It has been an open secret for almost two years that the pools would not faithfully represent the tower outlines. Official descriptions do not emphasize this fact but are also careful not to equate the pools and footprints exactly. The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation's Web site, for example, speaks of "two voids that reside in the original footprints" - not "two voids that define the original footprints."

Only now, however, is the degree of discrepancy growing clear. On Dec. 5, the foundation and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation issued a request for proposals from construction managers. It indicated that the pools would be 180-foot squares, a measurement that includes a parapet where victims' names will be inscribed.

Among the practical impediments to full-sized pools is how close the north void will be to Fulton Street. If the pool were to grow, the street itself might have to be moved. As planned, the pools will occupy a total of 1.42 acres. The towers occupied 2.06 acres.

"In a perfect world, it might have been preferable for the pools to coincide precisely with the tower footprints," said Daniel Libeskind, the master planner of the trade center site. "But their emotional geometry and integrity are more important. They are at the epicenters of where the towers stood, and much like the twin beams of light, though not exact replicas, they accurately and movingly reflect the power of absence."

Anthony Gardner, executive director of the World Trade Center United Family Group and a leading preservation advocate at ground zero, does not agree. He said the failure to replicate the towers' dimensions and their distinctive cutaway corners "minimizes the enormity of the buildings themselves, the scale of the loss and what was taken."

This is not the only place in the trade center redevelopment where symbolism and literalism diverge.

For instance, the skyline element is routinely described as the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower. But the tower itself is not 1,776 feet tall. That figure comes from adding a mast to a 1,368-foot building. And because of topography, the 1,776-foot mast is actually 1,779 feet above the nearby intersection of Fulton and West Streets.

The symbolic 1776 dimension was proposed by Mr. Libeskind and embraced by Gov. George E. Pataki. David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, architects of the Freedom Tower, was quoted last week by The Poughkeepsie Journal (and then on The Gutter, an architectural Web site) as saying that he "never understood" that decision, "because this building will always be measured in meters." At 541 meters, the Freedom Tower will symbolically commemorate the year Totila became king of the Ostrogoths.

Around the pools, the twin towers' dimensions will be observed at two levels, said Stefan Pryor, the president of the development corporation. The rear walls of the galleries surrounding the pools will be 204 feet apart, the inside dimension of the footprints.

And the pool containment structures, which will be visible from the underground museum, will be 211 feet and 10 inches across. Their exterior walls will align with the remnants of the towers' original column footings, preserved at a level just above bedrock.

"Where the authentic artifacts of the original towers are displayed," Mr. Pryor said, "you'll be able to view the authentic size of the original towers."

One can argue that the pools are so big, the difference will be imperceptible; that the most useful place to represent the dimensions accurately is where visitors will spend the longest time; and that it makes sense to create a visual correspondence between the towers' true dimensions and the column remnants that once defined their perimeters.

It's just that this is probably not the visual correspondence most people will expect. Future visitors will undoubtedly look across the vast expanses of those memorial pools, marveling at how large the World Trade Center towers must have been.

And they will see only 69 percent of the story.

The search for a construction manager to oversee the memorial and memorial museum drew 13 companies to a bid preparation conference yesterday. "We were thrilled by the interest and impressed by who came," said Gretchen Dykstra, president and chief executive of the memorial foundation.

Bovis Lend Lease and Slattery Skanska, already in a joint venture approved to build the World Trade Center PATH terminal and transportation hub, attended. So did the Gilbane Building Company, LiRo Group, Pavarini McGovern, F. J. Sciame Construction and Turner Construction Company, among others. Bids are due Jan. 10.

The New York Times Company