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Toronto firm plays major role in rebuilding World Trade Center

A Toronto architectural firm is playing a major role in the redesign and rebuilding of New York’s World Trade Center, bringing new life to a site that witnessed extraordinary tragedy.

On Sept. 11, 2011, a major milestone in the project will be unveiled: a memorial plaza complete with oak trees, waterfalls, and pools in the footprints of the Twin Towers. Victims' families will be the first to see the finished product in a special ceremony. A day later, it will be open to the public.

The rebuilt WTC will not only include the national memorial and museum, but five new skyscrapers, a WTC transportation hub, a retail complex and performing arts centre.

Architect Nick Zigomanis, whose Toronto-based firm Adamson Associates made crucial design decisions, believes a sensitive balance between moving on and memorializing has been found.

"There's no shame in commercial development...It adds to the life of the city, ” Zigomanis told CityNews from his office in New York City.

“And personally, I think if you eliminated all of that and turned the site into a sort of somber location — you would be removing the life that you want to bring back to the city.”

The project began earlier this decade when some of the world’s most-prominent designers and architects got together to discuss preliminary plans for redeveloping the WTC site.

There was plenty of debate: some didn’t want any commercial development on the grounds where close to 3,000 people died; others stressed it was time to get back to business, and build an even bigger, more extravagant site that would reflect the indomitable American spirit.

Zigomanis is part of an all-star team of architects who have been assigned to find that delicate balance, working for years to bring Daniel Libeskind's master site plan to life. Libeskind's work may be familiar to Torontonians — he also designed the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum.

While Libeskind’s vision was given the nod in 2003 following a worldwide competition, the reconstruction project has faced numerous delays.

A 2005 New York Times article called it "one of the most muddled developments in the city's recent memory."

“The challenges had to do with respecting the numerous stakeholders that were involved on this project,” Zigomanis explained. “It was as much a political challenge as it was a historically sensitive challenge.”

Zigomanis says the One World Trade Center tower, which will be the tallest building in the United States at 1,776 feet, is about half way done.

The other towers are still a few years away from completion.

With concerns that the site could once again be targeted by terrorists, extreme safety measures were taken in the planning and construction.

Silverstein Properties, which acquired the World Trade Center just six weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, says safety is the top priority.

Buildings were fortified with "increased robustness and redundancy of steel," it said in a release. "Even the laminated, structurally fortified wall and columns in the building lobby serve as a blast shield."

There are also additional exit routes and emergency backup lighting.

“We looked much more intently at fire-proofing and how to use products that will withstand those kinds of impact loads,” Zigomanis points out.

Despite the lack of direction and conflicting visions that plagued the redevelopment in its early stages, Zigomanis believes the pieces have all fallen into place and everyone can take pride in the new WTC.

"I think it will speak to the resilience of the American people. I think it will be a balance of remembering, but focusing on what makes America great.”

“The whole complex will be an environment that speaks to moving forward. The site is really a place to live and not simply a place to mourn. And I think that's what everyone needs after such an event.”


Michael Talbot    9/8/2011


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