--> Gill Blog: Freedom Tower - The Swiss Army Knife of Buildings

Gill Blog

Friday, April 16, 2004

Freedom Tower - The Swiss Army Knife of Buildings

There has perhaps never been so much media attention focused on the unveiling of a new building project than there was when plans for New York’s Freedom Tower were unveiled last December. Freedom Tower, if you were not aware, is the structure that will be built on the site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. The attention this project has generated has been justifiably unprecedented. The detail contained in press releases not only by the lead firm, but the State and City reflect the significance of the project. This is best captured in this quote by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg:
“The collaborative design of the World Trade Center site that has been achieved, exemplified by today’s unveiling of the Freedom Tower, will dramatically reclaim a part of the New York skyline that we lost on 9/11. And it will help catapult Lower Manhattan back to its rightful place as a global center of innovation and great urban design.”
It seems clear architects David Childs and Daniel Libeskind will surely have every aspect of their design and vision scrutinized to the minutest detail.

The challenge is magnified by the need to neutralize dissenting opinion by those who suggest that the risks associated with rebuilding on the site (not to mention the memory of those who lost their lives) far outweigh any benefits yielded by rebuilding. Clearly, there are many concerns that need to be addressed. First and foremost among these is building security. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the issue of building systems had to be thoroughly reworked, from a pre-9/11 framework described in this piece that concentrated on basic elements such as building alarm monitors, lobby security controls, surveillance cameras, and employee background checks to one that is now much more thorough. A recent article by James Glanz of the New York Times described the massive security challenge faced by the design team:
“Any architect or engineer who works on a tall structure is morally and professionally obligated to become something of a safety obsessive. The steel and concrete of every Manhattan skyscraper has to resist hurricane-force winds, for example, as well as the downward pull of the Earth. But only the Freedom Tower will rise over a patch of ground that is forever shaken with the terror and paranoia of the worst building catastrophe in the history of the planet. As with the very first generation of skyscrapers, the work will have to be so visibly solid, so secure, that it will convince an anxious public to step into the building. After all, those who enter will not only be haunted by what occurred at the site in the past; they will also be apprehensive about what could happen again.”
The security measures described in this article are impressive, but Freedom Tower places special emphasis on other elements as well, notably the symbolism of it’s design, as well as its commitment to integrate systems that lessen its dependence on non-renewable resources. The most noteworthy aspect of the latter element will be the integration of windmill power. The plan will call for the installation of windmills that will be installed within the top third of the building that will enable the building to generate 20% of the building’s energy (a schematic rendering of the system can be found here). The integration of this element becomes particularly defendable in the wake of the massive North American power outage last August.

Although critics may suggest that windmill systems are weighted more on the side of form rather than function, those in New York know that this is not the first time smarter building technology has been placed front and center in design. In 1999, The 48-storey Conde Nast Building at 4 Times Square opened to rave reviews. The design team on this project was dedicated to integrating as many renewable building systems as possible, thereby reducing its dependence on non-renewable systems. The results of the project speak for themselves - The Conde Naste building's vacancy rates are much lower than those in other parts of Manhattan.

Regardless on our own take on the long-term viability of skyscrapers in densely-populated urban centers, we can't help but acknowledge that given Freedom Tower's emphasis on multiple design elements, it has metaphorically become the top-drawer Swiss Army knife of building projects.


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