Times Architecture Critic Was Trolling for Headlines


Like many of us, I read Michael Kimmelman’s architectural review of 1 World Trade Center with great interest. Front page of the Sunday New York Times? A project that architects and luminaries the world over have weighed in on? Exciting stuff! I expected a well thought out, descriptive meditation on one of the most important projects erected in this city in the past couple of decades.

After finishing the article, I decided to read it again because I couldn’t quite believe it. I was dumbfounded not by Mr. Kimmelman’s description of what he thought was an ugly building (although he couldn’t quite bring himself to say that in so many words—just not good enough) or how he felt it would fit or not fit into the neighborhood—but, rather, that he took prime editorial space in one of the most important journals on the planet to take potshots at various people who are not architects by profession. David “Childs had a nearly impossible task,” Mr. Kimmelman said, attempting to salvage the reputation of the architect who planned the building: “devising a tower at once somber and soaring, open and unassailable, dignified but not dull.” Only a paragraph earlier he took pains to denigrate former-Governor George Pataki and the site’s developer Larry Silverstein as if they were leaning over Childs’ worktable with a tube of Witeout. The building is awful—Kimmelman was in essence saying—but the architect was great, he just had all of his ideas vetoed by ownership.

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Mr. Kimmelman would have been wise to remember how charged the atmosphere was at the time after 9/11. Does anyone remember Donald Trump proclaiming that he would rebuild the site exactly as it was before the attacks? Does he remember plans that were proposed and promptly scuttled?

Politicians high and low, from different parties with different agendas, citizen groups, community organizers, big businesses with an interest in the site, the area, the outcome, one way or the other, banks, insurance companies, the court system, every conceivable angle was covered and heard from. Many layers of government, more bureaucracy then you can shake a stick at, thousands of people involved, protecting their turf. All with their own opinion. The entire journey was a daily struggle. The fight, to keep the dream alive, in order to prove to the world, that it could be done. All of it, a morass, that one might never emerge from, unscathed.

But with the Port Authority, it was Larry Silverstein, the lease holder, who refused to give up. He would not back down, walk away, or turn down an opportunity to prove that America was still great. Mr. Silverstein spent years of his life working to redevelop the World Trade Center complex and eventually The Durst Organization bought into the project and helped manage the construction. The Durst Organization and The Port Authority manage and Larry Silverstein remains the leaseholder.

The redevelopment and reemergence of Downtown that has changed the face of Manhattan real estate, is due in no small part to the redevelopment of 1 WTC. Hundreds of millions of people were judging the island of Manhattan, the City of New York and the USA based on how long or if the project would ever be finished. Many people didn’t want or think it would be built again.  By sheer will and amazing fortitude, the Port Authority, The Durst Organization and Larry Silverstein got it done. The collective parties faced daunting circumstances and withering criticism, concern and doubt. To see the building now, standing as a beacon in lower Manhattan is a testament to New York’s ingenuity and proof that she is the greatest city in a great nation. When we put our minds to a task, it gets done. It is a remarkable thing to be able to say that 1 WTC is now open and in business.

Certainly Kimmelman is entitled to write his opinion as an architectural reviewer and critic, and denigrate the work that people put heart and soul into; and had his unduly harsh review been solely about the aesthetics people like me might have muttered our disagreement quietly to ourselves. But the attempts to go after the developers is an attempt to rewrite history. How quickly we forget that this building generated so much turmoil and opposition, that there was a worldwide net cast in order to hire the right architect. The politics, the grieving families, the difficult time we lived through. So many awful, heartbreaking stories—and yet the spirit of New York prevailed.

David Greene is Principal/President, Brokerage Services, MHP Real Estate Services