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Jewish World Review Jan. 14, 2003 / 11 Shevat, 5763

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Designs soar,
critics fall flat | NEW YORK If you build it, they will come. If you build a scale model of it, they will chew your ear off.

That's what's happening vis--vis the nine potential designs for the World Trade Center site: a whole lotta griping going on when we should be just plain grateful.

At first, when these plans were unveiled Dec. 18, the city gasped with amazement. Here, at last, was the grandeur we'd been longing for! Towers of culture and gardens in the sky! Reflecting pools and vast public plazas! What a contrast to the refrigerator-box architecture unveiled by the Port Authority last summer!

But soon the professional party poopers - rival architects, city planners and, yes, columnists - started curbing the city's enthusiasm. Don't expect any of these plans to actually get built, they scoffed. No project gets green-lighted until the developers put down dough, and those guys could choose another plan entirely.

Besides, the critics continued, these designs are too big, too tall, too weird. And who needs all that office space anyway? It's an exercise in fantasy. The public should not get its hopes up.

But getting our hopes up is exactly what we're doing. And great things can come of that.

At the World Financial Center, where the scale models are on display daily through Feb. 2, the crowd was almost levitating with excitement.

"I just like the unconventionalness," said James Chesek, an airport security employee visiting the displays with his brother.

"I love that one," said Dennis Salvador, a maintenance engineer at the financial center, pointing to the zigzagging "kissing towers" by Foster and Partners. He recalled the pre-9/11 fun he'd always had watching tourists lie down to photograph the twin towers. He wants to see towers rising again.

So did firefighters visiting the exhibit. "New York is the center of the world, and not having the tallest building anymore is demeaning," said one. He'd like to see the giant towers designed by the Think team get built.

As they slowly worked their way through the exhibit, the visitors pointed and scribbled notes - many even read the blurbs. Best of all, they talked to one another, because this was not some stuffy museum show, but the very stuff of our future.

"The public is what made this happen," said Barbara Gallucci, an artist who lives 10 blocks from Ground Zero. If dismayed New Yorkers had not decried the first set of plans, she believes, "We would have ended up with a little park with a bronze statue of firemen and policemen."

So will any of these models end up as The One? Maybe not precisely as planned - or maybe not at all. But their sheer boldness has ignited the public's thirst for both design and democracy.

"It's showing the importance of architecture. Maybe people will be more demanding of the next office building," said James Cava, a construction executive up from Washington.

Maybe they'll be more demanding of their elected officials, too. "It all depends how loud we scream," said Chesek, convinced that the lesson we've learned this time around is: Speak up!

Whether or not any of these towers reach the sky, they already have uplifted our city.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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