Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP

World Trade Center Memorial Square Competition

New York, New York


In the tradition of Union Square, Rockefeller Center, and Lincoln Center, the scheme for Memorial Square envisages a great public space for the former World Trade Center site. While earlier urban precedents were all conceived as bounded civic spaces, this twenty-first century commemorative plaza is at once both delimited and extended, symbolizing its connections not only to New York but also to the world.

The dialogical opposition between containment and extension is embodied in every aspect of the proposal, designed in collaboration with Eisenman Architects, Gwathmey Siegel and Associates, and Steven Holl Architects. The team did not attempt to subdivide the site, but instead extended it into the surrounding streets through a mega-image in which giant, lattice-like structures evoke the magnitude of the disaster. At the same time, these “fingers” facilitate pedestrian connections between the commemorative site, the Hudson River, the new NYCT Transit Center, and the greater part of Lower Manhattan.

At the core of the scheme are the two separate mega-structural buildings, which, rising just over 1,000 feet in height, restore to the Manhattan skyline a crystalline, geometrical form faced entirely in glass. For all that these hybrid buildings accommodate a wide variety of uses from a hotel/conference center to offices, cultural spaces and a memorial chapel, at the scale of the city they project a single synthesized image, emanating dignity and calm. As the iconic “sign” of Memorial Square, they would attract visitors from around the world to the twin memorial observation terraces at the ends of the sky lobbies to see, once again, the panorama from the tip of the island of Manhattan.

The two buildings represent a new type in skyscraper design. At ground level, these “matrices” become ceremonial gateways into the site. In their quiet abstraction, these large structures appear to varying degrees as dematerialized screens, suggesting both presence and absence. Their cantilevered ends extend outward, like the fingers of the granite paved ground plane. In so doing, they nearly touch at the northeast corner of the site.

Like all of the great urban spaces of the world, this commemorative square would be dedicated to pedestrians. No more than 27 percent of the site is developed, leaving some 12 acres designated as open space for commuters, visitors, and residents. With the convenience of multiple mass transit lines on site, as well as new concerns about security, public automobile access is limited to the curbsides of Church, Vesey, and Liberty Streets, with off-site parking in a new underground garage. Buses and private cars could enter the site from the proposed West Street Tunnel, stop at an underground security checkpoint, and then take service roads to designated parking levels. Service trucks would use the same checkpoint, and all vehicles would exit the below-grade circulation ring back into the West Street Tunnel. The separation of pedestrians and vehicular traffic allows Memorial Square to become both an active public space as well as a place for moments of contemplation and silence.

Memorial Square contains multiple memorial sites. The ceremonial gateways to the east and north opens onto the central space incorporating two reflecting pools demarcating the footprints of the former World Trade Center towers. Below the main level, the glazed bottoms of the pools would serve as the ceilings of commemorative chambers lit from above. These square pools would also give rise to two memorial groves of trees, planted to mark the final shadows cast by the towers of the World Trade Center before the collapse. These groves extend uninterruptedly over the West Street Tunnel, in one instance to “cut through” the World Financial Center and in the other to be interrupted by the yacht basin. The symbolic ends of the planted shadows are marked by piers jutting out into the Hudson River. The south shadow is conceived as a floating green plaza capable of accommodating public events of up to 5,000 people.

The intention is to enrich the spread-eagled format of the pedestrian zone with various cultural facilities including a performing arts center and a memorial museum/library and opera house. These would patently serve the World Financial Center and Battery Park City. Previously separated from the WTC site by six lanes of traffic and an elevated plaza, the World Financial Center would now open directly into a pedestrian zone. The subterranean concourse at this juncture linking to the PATH station, would be lined with shops, and connected by escalator to additional shopping space in the Intermodal Center. All these amenities would clearly bring new life to Lower Manhattan thereby combining commemoration with revitalization.