The Grands Travaux: Its Legacies and Lessons -
Are There Lessons here for the World Trade Center Design?

 

Architecture Research Institute, Inc. and the
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Presented
The Grands Travaux: Its Legacies and Lessons - October 3, 2002

Under the auspices of:
The Cultural Services of the French Embassy

Sponsors:
American Institute of Architects
American Planning Association
Design Trust for Public Space, Inc.
French American Chamber of Commerce
French American Foundation
Municipal Art Society
Project for Public Spaces
Regional Plan Association

This program is funded by:
The Florence Gould Foundation
The Cultural Services of the French Embassy

 

Introduction
Some 20 years ago, President François Mitterrand initiated the French government's decision to fund and build contemporary, monumental and sometimes controversial buildings. Sites were selected for these Grands Travaux in different arrondissements around Paris. The objective was to reaffirm France's cultural leadership in the world, stimulate the French economy, create new jobs by both increasing the flow of tourists and encouraging the design and construction of new buildings. For the first time since the Baron Haussmann era, such an audacious and courageous feat has been accomplished.

As a result of the events of September 11, global cities like New York are faced with fresh challenges, ones that require new thinking about physical, social, and economic development. This timely event, with its focus on urbanism, will serve as an important forum for discussing these issues. Enough time has passed to determine the degree to which the French government's objectives were met. If the cultural, social and economic impacts of the now completed Grands Travaux succeeded as expected, can we learn if this example is — or should be — transferable to other cities, such as New York City and the World Trade Center.

The seminar examined and discussed the impact of the enormous undertaking of the Grands Travaux or Great Works, and assessed its potential to influence the future development of global cities in the use of the architectural arts as a cultural and economic tool.

Thomas Krens
Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

It is my pleasure to welcome you here this morning for this one-day seminar on the Grand Travaux in France. I think it's appropriate that this kind of discussion takes place here for a number of reasons — this is one of those great buildings — designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Guggenheim itself has a long historical legacy. I will keep my remarks short; I am primarily here this morning to introduce the people that you came here to really hear. First of all, Beverly Willis of the Architecture Research Institute, who I understand is the brains behind this entire program. Beverly will give you the words of introduction and then introduce Jean-René Gehan, the Cultural Counsellor of the French Embassy, who will speak on behalf of his government.

Beverly Willis, FAIA
President and Director, Architecture Research Institute, Inc.

We've gathered here today a glittering array of brilliant minds to think out loud about how we can make our cities better places to live and work and to discuss the French experience and, whether or not as a model, it could or should be transferable to American cities, in particular New York, as we consider the revitalization of Lower Manhattan and the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. We are here to discuss architecture, but not in terms characterized in a recent New York Times article that quoted a speaker as saying, "Architecture is about the architect." The attack on the World Trade Center towers was an attack on what architecture symbolizes, not on the architect, Minoru Yamasaki. Today we will look at the multifaceted aspects of state-of-the-art architecture and the ways that it transcends the architect and serves the community, its social and economic needs while advancing national culture. France has led the way in exploring these aspects and we are grateful to the cultural services of the French Embassy for making it possible to present the pros and cons of the French experience.

Jean-René Gehan
Cultural Counsellor, The Cultural Services of the French Embassy

I am not going to pretend to frame the debate, but will present two or three remarks as a French layman. The Grands Travaux that took place when François Mitterrand was president had three characteristics I think that are particularly relevant today. First, they were huge works that profoundly affected the urban landscape of Paris. Second, they were works that were responding to a public purpose, meaning that a very complex set of economic, social, cultural, political motivations existed — and where the commercial aspect was actually secondary. Three, and I think also it's important in the context today, they were controversial at the time that they were discussed, decided, built, and, I must say, they are still controversial today. Given what we know about the debates that have been going on for several months on the issue of the World Trade Center, those three characteristics, the enormity of the project, the fact that they respond to a very different complex set of motivations brought about by the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, and the fact that they are controversial makes this discussion worthwhile. And that's my hope is that this seminar can offer some of our expertise and experience that were gained in this endeavor to New York.

 

 

The following are EXCERPTS from speaker's remarks.
Click on the speaker's name to read the excerpt.
Click here for Speaker's Biographies.
For images of selected Grands Travaux and their architects click here.

Past, Present and Future of Grands Travaux Panel
François Chaslin
Jean-Louis Cohen
Jean-Claude Dumont
Paul Goldberger

The American Tradition - Past and Present Panel
Joel Kotkin
Harvey Molotch
Elliott Sclar
Bernard Tschumi

Similarities and Differences - Relationship to World Trade Center Development Panel
Robert Ivy
Edward Blakely
Jean-Louis Cohen
Kent Barwick

 

Past, Present and Future of Grands Travaux (EXCERPTS)

Prosser Gifford, Moderator
Director of Scholarly Programs, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

 

VISION AND POLITICS
François Chaslin
Architect and Architecture Critic
Click here for full text

"Power in Paris belongs to the President, the Prime Minister, the Mayor, and the political majority of the day. To this already complex balance we must add the regional and departmental powers (excepting Paris), whose prerogatives were considerably reinforced by major constitutional changes twenty years ago. The law of March 2, 1982 assured the autonomy of local authorities; putting an end to the control of central administrations that had been in place since 1800. All over France, elected heads found themselves in charge of architecture and urbanism, with the corresponding responsibilities and — most important — the necessary financial resources. This was ten years before the opening of the European common market in 1992 and twenty years before the advent of the Euro — the Europe-wide single currency in 2002. These successive changes in political administration, and the general movement they began, upset the overall vision that people had come to have of the nation and the role of its capital. They also weakened the central power of the State, which became the representative of an intermediate scale between local powers and European powers. Nor should we forget the global economy and the reinforced might of financial markets, which have also reduced the margins of political action."

..."The execution of the great works demonstrated the formidable personal commitment of the head of State, his ability to seize opportunities and to negotiate. He had to deploy complex budget strategies and keep things going to ensure that works did not suffer from the syncopated rhythm of the five-six-seven-year election cycles, for municipal, legislative and presidential mandates."

..."People have ridiculed Mitterrand choosing the marble and deciding on the color of seats at the Bastille Opera, but vital decisions were often not his. Most of the schemes chosen were the result of competitions judged by independent juries. Even so, there is a Mitterrand style. The three edifices that he preferred — the Louvre, the Grand Arch and the Library - share a sense of ritual. What are the pyramid, the pure triumphal arch and the four towers, if not representative of the aloofness of power, even when it is democratic, and of the will to mark urban landscape and history?"

..."They are monuments of reserved elegance, sober and neat in geometry, simple forms, modern, if that is what being modern means. They refer to age-old types, proven symbols even if they are inflected, vague metaphysical messages, such as the ‘window opening to an unforeseeable future' that the Arch pretended to be."

..."Paris has changed, like New York, like all the capitals of Europe. She has grown rich, pushed her inhabitants to her outskirts, embraced finance, shopping, entertainment and tourism. She has become an expensive city, with a population younger than it once was, cosmopolitan in the sense of social elite, gentrified, ‘bobo-ized' as we say, meaning ‘bourgeois bohemian'. The phenomenon and its consequences are well nigh universal: luxury stores and leisure, protectionism, tinted ideologies and urban."

..."Paris is settling into a double status, physically interwoven: the everyday city, where local concerns and the clientele of residents are foremost, and the city of international prestige — that of tourism (20 millions visitors per year), the world capital of congresses.

The banks of the Seine are being confirmed in their tradition as a majestic axis lined with palaces and monuments. As a spectacle-city, Paris is saturated with tour coaches and riverboats, creating a fairylike show at night when their floodlights sweep along the dark trees and pale façades of buildings above the embankments.

There is everyday Paris too, where the city council hopes to develop a city planning policy that has a ‘human face'. Under pressure from defensive action groups, the city has abandoned schemes that are too brutal. Avenues are being manicured, trees planted here and there, the riverside landscaped and soon to be rid of its last remaining industrial activities. Leisure itineraries are being laid out for strollers, and on Sundays the Seine-side expressways are reoccupied by pedestrians, prams, cyclists and roller-skaters. The annual Foire du Trône funfair will soon be hunted out of the Vincennes woods, because it bothers nearby residents. There is talk of laying out tramlines on the Boulevards des Maréchaux, the inner ring road. ‘Quiet areas' are being secured all over the place, neighborhoods with no through roads, footpaths protected by banked curbs, speed bumps, corridors reserved for cyclists, of which there are already dozens of kilometers all over the city."

 

LEARNING FROM THE "GRANDS TRAVAUX"
Jean-Louis Cohen
Director, Institut Francais d'Architecture
Click here for full text

... "I could have entitled this very brief talk "Learning from Grands Travaux," as we have been trained to learn from very different sites in architectural history and architectural production. One thing we should learn from Paris is working with time. And I'm not only talking about centuries; I'm talking about other cycles of time. For instance La Défense, a scheme which was stupidly celebrated by the movie we saw before in a sort of mean americanizing fashion is a total misunderstanding of Manhattan, and a derivation in fact of Victor Gruen's schemes of the mid-'50s in particular his project for Fort Worth. But La Défense has also developed over a period of many decades. The first competition was held in 1930 for the development of the Triumphal Way, the CNIT Palace of Exhibitions was built in 1958, and the Grand Arch only extended and complemented this scheme. We have to understand from the Paris experience, that one term, one political cycle is not enough, that vast public projects — and I'm not judging the quality of La Défense, require perseverance, require lasting power."

..."Another aspect that we have to learn from Paris is that the grand projects are also areas of conflict, and we have to live with conflict and not try to raise it by artificial ways. The Les Halles area in Paris, built from the late ‘60s to this day, is a rather disastrous attempt also in terms of architecture and was an area of conflicting powers between state and municipality, of conflicting problems between mass transit and shopping, and this I think applies very well to the Ground Zero situation. We see on a 1967 photograph the proud architects presenting, as if they were restaurant chefs showing their pastry, their respective designs for the first Les Halles competition held that year. So the Grands Travaux in Paris are devices of modernization, as the first really daring project in the 20th-century, that is the Pompidou Centre, shows it. We have also to discuss these projects not only as expressions of the President's will but as moments crystallizing the process of modernization in technology, in city planning, in collective uses, and also in forms. The Centre Pompidou was an attempt at redefining the cultural center as breaking the boundaries between museum and library."

..."The Institute du Monde Arabe was an attempt at symbolizing the fact that Paris is becoming a more multicultural city. The building was aimed at monumentalizing a centuries-old relationship between France and the Arab world in the postcolonial context, using technological exhibitionism with all these louvers imitating, mimicking the Arabic masharabye, using technology as a way of bridging different kinds of aesthetic and architectural dimensions. These projects have represented also to some extent the conflicts between presidents. The Ministry of Finance shows the extremes of the expansive French state apparatus. Bercy is a bureaucratic fortress quite self-consciously built by Paul Chemetov as the expression of the most powerful part of French civil service. Bercy could be seen as a gate, but also as a tollbooth, returning to the symbolism of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux' city gates of 1783, that also worked as tollbooths. As an institution, Bercy is also the agent that has blocked until now the creation of foundations and the progress of legislation in terms of private funding of culture, so the fact that this has been one of the most monumental projects in the Mitterrand era has also another kind of meaning."

..."The Grands Travaux have also been about the modernization of cultural institutions. For The Grand Louvre, I would use the metaphor of the submarine. The Grand Louvre is in fact a gigantic submarine sunken under the courtyard and what we see with the Pyramid is nothing but the snorkel of this submarine. What is visible is an attempt of modernization of public institutions, and Grands Travaux has been a powerful tool of such a policy. The Louvre was a very large museum but it splintered into departments and its rejuvenation would never have happened without the massive injection of money, energy and desire that goes with a grands project."

..."Grands project or grands travaux also raise an issue of patronage and expertise. And here I'm referring of course to problems of Ground Zero in New York and the question of selecting teams of architects. One of the dismal failures among Paris buildings is the Opera House at La Bastille, an over-dimensioned, overextended program that made every reasonable project almost impossible. The jury had the illusion of selecting Richard Meier, a capable New York-based architect, and instead the decision led to the selection of a rather obscure professional who had handled other projects, but wasn't able to handle this one. The lesson here is that expertise is very difficult to spot, to identify, and to reward in architecture. Grands Projects are also about finding experts, finding professionals that are capable of handling the technological issues but also of making significant cultural statements, and this has been a failure at La Bastille."

..."One major drawback and one thing we should learn also from the Paris's Grands Travaux is the reconciliation of large-scale monumental buildings and the urban fabric."

 

FROM THE VISION TO THE PROJECT
Jean-Claude Dumont
President, Public Contracting Corporation, French Ministry of Culture and Communication
Project Manager, Grands Travaux

Click here for full text

Genesis
"First, a project needs a vision and a power to realize it. Power is the capability and the authority to achieve it. For a general idea, take the example of the Louvre.

There is a film about the beginning of the Louvre where President Mitterrand talks about the beginning of the project. After his election, one of his friends told him, "You should do something for the Louvre." The President, when he was young, used to go to the Louvre and found the surroundings very ugly, with the courtyard used as a parking lot; with great difficulty finding the entrance; with the visit very uncomfortable; and with no modern facilities for visitors.

He was very frustrated and decided he wanted to change this state of fact.

He decided two things. First, "I want to remove the Ministry of Finance from the Louvre," which occupied the north wing. Second, "I want to modernize the Louvre."

Power to realize: Who is the real client?
"After the vision, you must have the capability to implement the idea. So the vision has to be carried at the right level. You have to ask who can handle the project, who can handle the project from the political, financial, and the legal points of view. If the project is of national interest, it should be handled at a very high level.

For the Louvre, it was quite simple. The Louvre is a state museum and, in the time of the first election of President Mitterrand, the President had the support of the power of the Prime Minister. He named him, he was from the same political party, so Mitterrand had the ability to have his vision realized."

Developing the Vision
"You have to work on the vision, to push it, to mature it, and to obtain a project brief, which defines the program, a provisional budget, an operating scheme, and schedule.

The preliminary studies have to answer basic questions such as where we are and where we want to go.

Taking the Louvre, as an example, to push the project, an association was created for its development. This association was very closely related to the President of the Republic because he had the first idea and wanted to know how it was going to be developed. President Mitterrand named Emile Biasini to be in charge of pushing the project."

Preliminary studies
"The association was funded to execute the preliminary studies and to manage its progress. The association paid for a site study of the geometry, the geology, the hydraulics, and the archaeology of the site.

Program studies included the needs, functionality, and the capacity of the site. Soon, it was apparent that when the north wing was empty, the museum would be in the shape of a U, in the middle of the Napoleon Square. Thus, there was the architectural question: how to build an entrance in an empty place like the Napoleon square?"

Architectural studies
"I. M. Pei was commissioned and was given nine months to develop the master plan for the redevelopment and his answer for the question of the entrance in the center of the Napoleon courtyard.

Thus, I.M. Pei entered the project not in a competition, like in other Grands Travaux, but by making a study and having his answer agreed to by the President."

"The Louvre was divided into seven departments, which were quite autonomous. The association made them work together. There was a point of discussion among these seven departments about the sharing of new territories. These were new territories and every department wanted a big part of them and wanted them linked to the old territories.

The means employed was to put everyone together in a hotel room and to do it like the election of the Pope — close the door and wait for the smoke."

Conclusion
"The importance of the vision and the process cannot be over-emphasized. When the authority knows what they want and has the ability to do it, it is time to create a body or an agency in charge of it. The vision and its functionality has to be clearly defined before it is designed."

 

Paul Goldberger, Respondent
Architecture Critic, The New Yorker Magazine
Click here for full text

..."I, among the many who have tended to look romantically at the Grands Travaux from this side of the Atlantic, believe that our political process, combined with the lack of any degree of great aesthetic sophistication on the part of most if not all of our elected officials, left us considerably behind the French, and that the Grands Travaux were in fact a potential model for the problems we face downtown. Perhaps the most important thing that we can say collectively about these three panels is that each of them in a different way is a very useful reminder that the Grands Travaux do not contain or consist of any kind of automatic solution for the problems that we face in New York — that in fact they were themselves fraught with problems. The results are ambiguous at best; and that they failed to deal with what is increasingly emerging as a key issue in Lower Manhattan, which is the unspoken tension between the urban fabric as a totality and the notion of the individual monument."

..."It was extraordinary to me to listen to both François Chaslin and Jean-Louis Cohen. Each in very different ways make it very clear that the question of urban fabric remains absolutely critical in Paris right now. In some cases, it emerges by default because Paris is no longer embarking on works of the scale of the Grands Travaux and that so much of the emphasis has moved toward the private sector, as it has always been here. I was fascinated, though, to listen to François Chaslin use the phrase, "the evolution of the city toward a uniform urban fabric," and, "from a classical to a playful culture." That's a marvelous observation in that it encompasses really very deftly and wittily the transition from the city as an industrial force in the economy to the city as a cultural artifact for a well-to-do middle and upper-middle class."

..."Paradoxically from this side of the Atlantic, I think we tend to think of Paris as being more successful in terms of monuments and more meaningful in terms of the lessons it has to offer us in terms of total fabric. The irony is that it seems as if we are being viewed in precisely the same way, as if we are more successful in terms...of monuments and less successful in terms of fabric. Our tension between fabric and monument, which has always been a theme in New York, is now moving front and center downtown with a whole level of symbolic meaning far beyond anything that this debate has ever had before. Because for the first time ever, there is a concern that building what we might call "conventional fabric," however successfully, may in some way be disrespectful because of the very ordinary urban life that it embraces."

..."The theme that came through all of these projects is that the city itself, what its identity has always been, is more powerful both for good and for bad, both physically and politically and culturally, than any of the individual projects, even the very greatest of the Grands Travaux."

 

 

The American Tradition - Past and Present (EXCERPTS)

Cynthia Davidson, Moderator
Architecture Editor and Critic

 

THE PAST
Joel Kotkin
Senior Fellow, Davenport Institute for Public Policy, Pepperdine University
Click here for full text

"There are four periods of American urbanism: the early commercial roots, with small cities in a growing, predominantly rural country (1700-1880); the emergence of great cities, the rise of American urbanism, 1880-1950; the period of suburbanization and decline, 1950 to about 1995; and finally a limited revival of cities as an important, but not dominant part of the American landscape. The question regarding the rebuilding of New York and in cities across the country is how do you create development in cities that have lost their dominance?"

..."The idea that the place is improved by having a higher price put on it is central to the American conscience. William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia, actually helped plan one of the better-planned American cities. He said "The improvement of a place is best measured by the advance of value upon every lot."

..."Urban development came relatively late to the United States. In 1850, 22.3% of Europeans were already in cities, and of course that included large parts of eastern and central Europe that were very raw, compared to just 15% of Americans. We reached European levels only in about 1910.

In 1850, New York was the largest city by far with about 500,000 people and Chicago only had 50,000. At that time, Paris had 1 million and London, 2.6 million. Thus, U.S. cities are relatively new.

The primacy of U.S. cities comes at the onset of the industrial era. New York's population and economy surpassed Paris in 1910 and London only in the 1950's.

The idea of civic grandeur came late. Speaking on New York in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville said "To a Frenchman the aspect of the city is bizarre and not very agreeable. One sees neither dome nor bell towers, not great edifices, with the result that one has the constant impression of being in a suburb." He compared it to his Paris and didn't find it to be that great of a place. New York itself was very much like a suburb in its early formation."

..."Americans didn't like these high-rises either. A sort of patrician view was expressed by Henry James who, in 1905 said, "Skyscrapers were crowned not only with no history, but with no credible possibility of time for history, and consecrated by no uses save the commercial at any cost."

..."In the late '80s, we had our last great urban building boom. We also built a lot of suburban developments. As the economy picked up, so did suburban building, but urban building did not. Now that there is a recession, except in a few places like San Francisco, we're not seeing huge increases in vacancy rates in the outer suburbs, where new space has been built. Most of the office space in America is not in central business districts... The late ‘90s saw a revival, a repositioning of, and a new role for American cities. Paris was not altogether different. In America, immigration helped reverse the population losses in key centers such as in New York and Los Angeles. The same goes for San Francisco, Houston, and Miami. There was a rise of culture-based industries, advertising, media, entertainment, and tourism that did revive the inner core because people in those industries tend to prefer to live in urban areas. The movement of "new urbanites" — the largely young, single, and childless — created a small demographic increase in selected cities. The increase of inner city-living in terms of downtowns in the top 30 cities equals about half of the increase of Seattle metropolitan area suburbs in the 90's."

..."What are the new opportunities for great works in an era of boutique cities? Where the city is a cultural symbolic hub, there is a need for definition by architecture to distinguish it from the suburbs. The nimbyism in the periphery means that few major projects can be built there. One of the reasons that sports stadia and others can be built and are being built in inner cities is that many suburbs don't want them anymore. They don't want the traffic, and as these communities evolve and have their own sets of kind of urban problems. They are quite inhospitable to major projects. Looking at downtown Los Angeles, many of the things being built there could not be built in the San Fernando Valley."

..."The lack of need for new commercial space allows for the concentration on more symbolic works, and that may be something that could happen in Lower Manhattan. In the end, people realize a city needs to have a vision and an identity. Lewis Mumford said, "for Rome had more human attributes; and to the masses it exploited, it presented even in its worse moments, astonishing glimpses of civic beauty and order, seemingly untainted by violence and greed." This quote is about how the masses in Rome, even if they were being somewhat brutalized, still felt something special about being in Rome, that there is a need for these great works, and maybe even more so than before. Urban centers have to give people something different. They can't become sort of suburbs."

..."When we think about Lower Manhattan, we have to think about not just replacing buildings, but also how do we redefine and reinvigorate Lower Manhattan not so much as a business center, but as a symbolic center for all of America and as a great neighborhood of New York."

 

THE PRESENT
Harvey Molotch
Professor of Sociology and Metropolitan Studies, New York University
Click here for full text

..."The downtown, which is again fairly large, is built up from the ground to simulate a series of accretions of small structures that were developed gradually over time. Its popularity signals a more general aesthetic sentiment that is alive in the land. The movement toward new urbanism, whether it's in the hands of the haute new urbanists or the knockoff new urbanists, is of the same genre and is built, no matter how big, to look like a series of small increments that evolved over sort of pedestrian time."

..."This new version, called new urbanism, is a certain kind of anti-urbanism in terms of grand projects. It is in a way somehow intrinsic to urbanism, and therefore qualifies as a kind of anti-urbanism. When Americans do large-scale interventions, one of them is an edification of death. Not all cultures celebrate, mark, or remember tragedy and death the way we do. We build, and the bigger we build, the greater the honor to those who have gone before. When it gets merged with patriotism, the result is the World War II Memorial, which is a dramatic combination of both. The World Trade Center is infused with not just death and honoring death or honoring lives and marking loss, but also with the patriotic urge, which is so strong that it also presents another difference with the French and much of Europe, which is that the architects we hire need to show their passport typically before they are allowed to entertain the commission."

..."When it comes to memorializing the dead, each group needs to have its own grand project, and the struggle over real estate on the Mall in Washington is a reflection of that urge, from the heterodoxy and now the sense of entitlement that each group has to build itself a memorial site."

..."In the American context the goal has been not to create a grand city that represents the culture and the people, but to create cities that exist at the expense of other cities. Cities are growth machines in that their political and civic instrumentality is to grow, and since it's a zero-sum game out there, means capturing rent resources and things that will generate income and tax base at the expense of other places. Most everything that occurs has to occur through that particular prism of what it will do for us — "the New Jersey threat" — as it's sometimes called in downtown thinking."

..."Into all of this mix there is the doing good in the city, and that takes the form of people who are interested from the ground up, again in the Tocqueville sense. That is, people who are not part of the regimes of power, either at the local level or the national level, but who in, for example, voluntary associations come forward for low income housing assistance and demand that. In the current moment for ecological sustainability, there are proposals, or at least elements of proposals, that the redevelopment of downtown make amends or move forward the envelope on sustainable architecture and in that way make a new mark and advance our thinking — something which of course is also compatible with the new urbanism."

..."The United States also has a tradition, and New York as part of it, to make lemonade from lemon when it comes to urban development. Out of some crises have come lemonade, like the great fire in Chicago created the land mass that led to, linked with the City Beautiful movement and the glorious lakefront of Chicago. The Santa Barbara earthquake led to the first architectural board of review in the United States and the development of a cityscape that is now the model for much of what the new urbanism is all about and is literally used as a model in some cases. The San Francisco earthquake led to the Civic Center development."

 

PLANNING AMERICAN STYLE
Elliott Sclar
Professor of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, Columbia University
Click here for full text

..."Let me start with a question: Do great public works create great cities or do great cities create great public works? That is an underlying question. In the past monumental public works reflected the wealth and the power of the cities that created them, and it didn't matter which way one did that. We are now living in a time when cities actually look upon their public works as ways to make the cities great."

..."Very large projects take place in a context in which there are multiple stakeholders, often with competing agendas, vying with each other to shape the plan. The connection between what's initially intended and what actually comes out is sometimes very tenuous at best. That lesson is worth learning, by using, for example, 42nd Street, because everybody, whether you love or hate 42nd Street, says, "Well, it worked." The solution to the problem was essentially to put four elephantine, behemoth towers at 42nd Street and Broadway at "the crossroads of the world," to be used to basically clean up 42nd Street. The issue with 42nd Street is its history. Guidebooks of New York City from the 1920s described that area as being somewhat seedy, but nonetheless enticing and exciting... In that case, the issue, as it was originally articulated was — though they didn't use the word "smut" but "adult entertainment."

..."While the economy tanked, the developers pulled out of the 42nd Street Development Project and turned to Robert Stern. Stern, a preservationist and a classical kind of architect, argued for building upon the history of 42nd Street. This was something that the civic groups could buy into and accept, but it still essentially wasn't easy. The theaters on 42nd Street before rehabilitation were X-rated with beautiful color, and with lots of people on the street. Immediately after the buildings were cleaned up, while they had become architecturally beautiful, there were no longer people on the street. They are now though. With a project like this one, there are cyclical ups and downs, but what isn't dealt with is the secular trend. The national trends toward suburban office space and trends in the financial service industry continue and go around the cycle. With regard to Lower Manhattan, even as September 11th was happening, on September 12th life was moving on. The economy was moving on, decisions were being made, technology was changing. You can't put it back the way it was. You have to understand with what it is and plan on the reality that exists."

..."There are a lot of stakeholders with different agendas. The part of the real estate industry that owns property in Lower Manhattan has a different set of interests than the real estate interests who own property on the far West Side and want that developed. There is not going to be enough money to do both. There are also the people who live in Lower Manhattan and have spent twenty years turning it into a 24/7 neighborhood. Those people have a point of view. Then you have the families of the victims and their sensibilities about the dead."

..."There are two choices then, in going forward. The first is to try and gloss over the problem, in which top-down planning is done with "fuzzy math" and "fuzzy logic." The Olympic plans for New York City probably are on this trajectory, this fuzzy math and fuzzy logic. Fuzzy math is "it doesn't matter what it costs to build this thing, we'll get the money back. Furthermore, we'll do tax increment financing and this is what it's going to cost." The problem is that before we can know anything, we must always halve the anticipated revenue and double the expected cost, and then start talking. But the fuzzy math and fuzzy logic are intended to paper over these very real differences about the goal and the objectives and what the project is."

..."The next thing to do is invest the time and the money in a process of decision making that gives stakeholders a meaningful voice. A meaningful voice is not a veto. In working with community boards and on projects from the ground up, I've learned that what people care about most is that they've been heard fairly. It's not that the people who make the decisions always agree with them or that they get what they want, but the worst thing that can happen to a person is the sense that you are being finessed, rolled over, not listened to you, put you through a sham hearing process. This is where the anger comes from. In a democracy, there can be differences, some of which can be worked out. It's true that there will always be some people that are never going to go away, but it's not going to be everybody. Instead of trying to gloss over things and work them that way, have a process that's more meaningful because citizen participation is here to stay."

..."What's been happening is that groups like R.Dot (Rebuild Downtown Our Town), the Civic Alliance, and others have been forcing that issue and trying to make that part of the process. Six architects were selected (from an international competition after the first six plans were rejected), but they weren't given a program. "In two weeks we'll give you the program." Who is deciding that program? How is that program coming about? Those are the important decisions that really have to be forced out in the open or we're going to be bogged down for a much longer time in Lower Manhattan than we think."

 

Bernard Tschumi, Respondent
Principal of Bernard Tschumi Architects
Architect, Parc de la Villette, Paris
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..."Among Joel Kotkin's points was the fact that U.S. politicians are not directly, almost genetically not interested in cities, as opposed to a long French tradition which starts with Louis XIV and probably before. In France, any small mayor of any small town will have an interest, even for purely political purposes (to be reelected), in a particular project, starting with le petite Grands Travaux, the smaller large works."

..."One of the other things which make a very substantial difference is where people come from. Among my students at Columbia, the three-year master of architecture program, they are mostly American students. When I ask them how many have been living in a city before they came to New York, in a room of about one hundred people, there are only about ten to fifteen students who raise their hands. They all come from those suburban landscapes. So that sensibility of what the city is of course something that comes from totally different perspectives. Elliott Sclar asked the polemical question, "Do cities generate great works or do great works generate cities?" It is clear that nowadays we architects keep talking about architecture as a generator of urbanity. It is not the city that generates the work. It has been in the last 20 or 30 years our duty to develop an architecture that generates an urban sense. The question is, what urban sense? What kind of new urbanism? Indeed, what image of the city? My fascination of a European from New York is its density. Talk to any New Yorker and they hate the density or at least say so. Are we talking about the city of specialized neighborhoods — the central business district, the shopping district, the entertainment district, or are we talking about the heterogeneity, the mix of activities and the functions that of course many of us Europeans have learned to love?"

..."The real question is how to go about this. In other words, if architecture or design starts with a program, where is the program? In another era, colored perhaps by more economic, political, and Marxian views, it is said that society is a projection of society on the ground. Thus, the question is — what kind of a society do we live in? Will Lower Manhattan decline as a commercial center and will become a symbolic place. Hence the question of what city do we want? Is it one which at the monument is or is not raised? At the moment we say, "Hey, show us your design."

 

 

Similarities and Differences Relationship to World Trade Center Development (EXCERPTS)

Beverly Willis, Moderator
Director, Architecture Research Institute, Inc.
Co-Founder, Director, Rebuild Downtown Our Town (R.Dot)

 

SEARCHING FOR A VISION
Robert Ivy
Editor-in-Chief, Architectural Record
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..."We do find ourselves, at this odd moment, poised not like Lady Liberty who was a gift from the French, but straddling the harbor. We are not standing forthrightly. We, as a people here in New York, are poised between the need for abstract, pragmatic planning and a public hunger for an architectural solution... We have looked at the Grands Travaux, whose mission, in part, was a cultural statement, which raises the question of the role of culture for all of us not only as New Yorkers, but also as Americans. We as a people here in New York have a very polyphonic sense of ourselves. We have no real unified sense of what our culture is. It is a many-voiced culture. We certainly don't have what Germans identified in the 20th-century as kultur, where culture is identified with a sense of who that nation is. We have a more diverse, polyphonic strain of music that relates more to jazz, I think, that is our own native music form, and is a little wilder and a little wackier, and is part of the genius of what it means to live here and to be here. This affects the role of culture in the society."

..."Where are right now? We are at the end of one set of intellectual concerns that have played themselves out. As tragic as what happened was, that is part of the excitement and the intellectual debate that is so vibrant right now. It is the debate about who we are and it raises that larger question about what physical form it will take and how it will manifest itself in the urban fabric. It might be within a building or within the fabric of the city and our whole understanding of what it means to be an urban citizen at the beginning of a change, an evolution. Bilbao embodies some of that transition from one set of intellectual concerns to a whole migration."

..."We are talking a lot about what it means to be a New Yorker. What does it mean to live here? What does it mean to live in a neighborhood? What does it mean to live in a particular place? What can design do for us in this larger urban place? These questions have an urgency now. We are beginning to recognize the city as an organic, idiosyncratic universe. Bernard Tschumi talked about his view as a transplanted European that this is a constructed universe, that it is artificial where part of its attraction is to lose yourself within the constructed whole. This is at odds with another trend that has roots in the romantic tradition and that has a relationship with nature. That is a debate that should be discussed."

..."What role does architecture play in this larger solution? Is it something that is imposed? Is it something that arises out of the place itself? We had a critique in Architectural Record that said that market forces should determine the shape and character of what occurs in Lower Manhattan because that is, in fact, the way cities evolve; not by imposition."

..."What trends and directions might we be following? There are evolutions in technology. There has been some discussion about what sort of sustainable characteristics might a new development have — to harvest wind or to use the latest technology. What about changes in materiality? For instance we have new advances that are currently being made in ceramics — Renzo Piano is employing them on The New York Times headquarters. What about our relationship to nature? What about our desires for the way that we live in nature in Lower Manhattan? What about the "nonlinear," intuitive, spiritual values that this site may embody? This is a debate that is ongoing and occurring but also is rushing toward some sort of conclusion."

..."All of these questions demand articulation and enunciation. They demand proponents and they demand a voice. The voices have been many. We are rushing toward some sort of architectural solution perhaps too quickly, and that may be part of the challenge."

..."There are a number of challenges that are looming. One, is that there is no clear client at the moment. This is a significant deficiency. We have the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the Port Authority; ad hoc agencies, volunteers and volunteer organizations — all of whom have validity and all of whom have a voice. We have two leaseholders — the Silverstein group and Westfield Properties, each of whom have vested interests. It's almost a cacophony now. You can't hear the voice of a client because there are many clients. If it is true what Rem Koolhaas said, that the true client in New York is the inhabitants of the city themselves, part of the solution is going to be allowing those voices to be clarified and to speak. A group of five thousand gathered in Javits Center in a fairly controlled and sustained environment. Their answer to the plans for the World Trade Center was, "No." The debate there was informed and intelligent and although the voices varied in their ability to articulate architectural, planning, or social questions, at every one of the tables in the room, approximately 500 of them, the debate was ongoing. The challenge now will be how to gather and garner that will and knowledge and to engage it; to present ideas to it; to engage it with the body politic, with the questions that are possible; and then to have that articulation understood and bought essentially by the people."

..."There is no clear program (for the design work in 2002). This means that the planning that is taking place has extremely limited utility. How can a group of six firms plan if they do not know if there will be housing or not; if they do not know if there will be a cultural institution or not; and what is the meaning of the result that they come up with if they're not going to be given a program for another two or three weeks? What possible result can come out of that other than a fantasy? It seems that this hard work of debate needs to be occurring, whether the door is closed or open — the door ought to be open — and that these things need to be hammered out before we jump to this next level with some discrete solution."

 

NEXT STEPS
Edward Blakely
Dean, Robert J. Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy, New School University
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..."First, most projects after major disasters had a real necessity that was very clear. In the present case, I don't know that we need 11 million square feet of building. I don't know that we need to build on this particular site. It was pretty clear that we had to put up the Bay Bridge. It was very clear that we had to put up a Santa Monica Freeway. It was very clear in downtown Oakland the things that we had to do. While arranging those things wasn't always clear, it was clear what was needed. The situation in Lower Manhattan is very different with respect to the clarity. Even in Paris, with many of the projects that were developed, it was clear that something needed to be done on the site. For example, Paris needed office space. It didn't have it. It was fairly clear that someone had to go forth and do that. How it was arranged was slightly different. Thus, the necessity should be the client. Question is what is the necessity?"

..."Second, there needs to be a patron. In every case where recovery efforts moved along very quickly, the mayor of the city and a couple of business people and the civic groups were the patrons for these efforts and spoke clearly and regularly and articulately about the kinds of outcomes — not necessarily reaching to design — that were in range. For example in Oakland, there was some crazy idea of putting one of these mega-malls in downtown Oakland. An earthquake fortunately killed that idea and everybody applauded. So the new mayor could be the patron for a redo of the downtown. In the case of Lower Manhattan, I don't know who is the leader here. The governor is significantly absent from these discussions... there isn't the notion of a clear overwhelming vision that's propelling anyone politically in this case."

..."Third, what is the problem that needs to be solved? The problem that needs to be solved here in New York is a redesign of the city's economy. It is not the buildings... The need is to solve the problems of the economy, to solve the enormous social inequities in our existing economy. This is the richest and poorest city in America and one of the most racially divided. A building is not going to solve that problem. That is the real problem in New York. As New York's population changes, particularly as our demographic base changes, we have to think about what kind of economy we are going to have and then what's going to happen."

..."Paris is a national city — the capital is there. It has a function in the national economy and a function in the international economy. New York is certainly a global city, but what its function is, and what its function will be, is still not clear. We say that we are the financial capital, but a lot more financing is going to be done in Delhi than in New York City in the not too distant future. We might be doing financial design here, which might not take up much space. It might be in two-story buildings. We're still a fashion center here, but we don't make a lot of clothes. Clothes are made elsewhere. Therefore, we have to think about what kind of global city we're going to be and how we're going to place ourselves in this global hierarchy. In Paris, it was very clear. It's not clear enough for us and we need to work at that very, very seriously."

..."Paris used public capital to stimulate private capital and I think we have to do the same thing. If we're going to get some money, how could we stimulate private capital? This is a private capital city; this is the home of the private capital market. We have to do something that stimulates private capital to deal with things like social inequity and so forth because it's in the city's interest to have a great city, a great city that is the most socially equal because it will be good for business. New York has to get on with becoming a better New York and forget about the sixteen acres."

 

THE FRENCH VIEW
Jean-Louis Cohen
Director, Institut Francais d'Architecture
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..."For us coming from France, with a Cartesian, rational, culture of city development which hasn't often had very successful results, but is nonetheless a political, technical, professional culture, we are absolutely stunned by the inadequate discussion about program; we are absolutely stunned by the inadequacy of the system of patronage which is put into action. Successful or not, the French projects had been made because programs were established, because you had a lot of negotiation and work on programs, and also because you had strong clients. The difference between the Port Authority's architects handling JFK's terminals and Aéroports du Paris, and the difference between many North American, but also other corporations in the world and the French ones, is the existence in the French tradition, and this is clearly a Napoleonic tradition of extremely competent, neutral, and rather virtuously inspired civil engineers who are the ongoing patrons: they have done La Défense. Once again the results are one thing, but they have provided for a rather clear-cut objective process. So we are stunned not to see this crucial, key layer of people mediating between public expectations and design at work. We are on another planet — surprised and charmed by the innovation and generosity of the schemes that came out from the architectural profession — in the ones that were shown at the Max Protetch Gallery and in the ones orchestrated by The New York Times — we find a certain promise, but we are stunned by the absence of any discourse on urban design. Are we dealing with objects? Are we dealing with a city? Even sixteen acres in a key position are clearly setting up issues about urban design, about continuity. Here the absence of landscape concerns is absolutely stunning in our eye."

..."At the same time, and this is another aspect of the European and the French experience, I think that we should revitalize the mourning factor. Of course there is a big issue about ending the mourning process, but New York is not the first major metropolis to have been hit by war, disasters, and other drama. Think of Germany in ‘45; think of northeastern France in ‘45; of Hiroshima, etc., and London of course. And parts of London and other parts of Spain after the Civil War, so there is worldwide experience about reconstruction which is not where the balance between mourning and hope is very, very difficult to achieve, but at least I think that New York, a city that aspires to be crown of the world has to absorb, integrate, criticize, appropriate this very thick experience."

..."My last point brings me back to the issue of democracy and is simply a question to the panel: to whom belongs downtown Manhattan? Of course it is a commercial property. It is also a symbolic property. Is it the property of people who live in Manhattan; of people who work in Manhattan; of people who come to Manhattan and use it, from the region, from the nation, from the world? I will add to this a memory from last winter. I drove from L.A. to Las Vegas to see the elegantly rusted Hermitage and the flamboyant Guggenheim, and I was struck, when I saw what was happening at the New York - New York Hotel and Casino, where people had created in a way an imitation altar mimicking what had happened around Ground Zero — t-shirts had been put there as gifts, all sorts of memories, candles, signs, a sort of cult had arisen, a full cult where the simulacrum — the Vegas Hotel — on which diminutive twin towers are featured, was taken as a sort of background for an expression of emotion, commotion, and empathy."

..."New York is not alone in dealing with Lower Manhattan. It an object of use but as also a symbolic value that goes beyond New York, that extends to Las Vegas and the outer reaches of the planet. So the question you are discussing here is really a metropolitan one. If we return for one second to the etymology of metropolis, we are reminded that it is the mother of cities. So New York now has a sort of maternal role in respect to the cities of world capitalism and an obligation not only to people who live there, to people who work there, but also to the planet at large."

 

Kent Barwick, Respondent
President, Municipal Art Society
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..."The thing that emerged clearly for all of us...is the simple reality that for better or worse Paris and France had a plan. It imagined itself... There was a conscious effort to strengthen those functions in Paris, including the idea of putting Euro Disney out in the East End, in order to make sure that it was always a destination. Clearly, Paris had a program and a plan for which it needed architects. Today, New York has architects for which it needs a program and a plan."

..."Jean-Louis Cohen's description of his trip to Las Vegas reminds me of the guy selling t-shirts, and Max Protetch's exhibition. Both seem to illustrate a happily isolated phenomenon, one that is peculiar to us, that there is nothing that can't be commodified."

..."With regard to Robert Ivy's quote that "market forces should shape the city," if there is anything one could learn from the history of this city it's that public investment shapes the city. This can be seen in the Guggenheim neighborhood we are sitting now. There are photographs in the late 19th-century with streets laid out, curbstones, lamps, fire hydrants, and no structures. The city put the streets in, the investors followed. The Regional Plan Association led a expedition to Scandinavia a few years ago and they went to see a model housing project that had been constructed on the end of a rail line, and the American said, "Oh, what a brilliant idea. Where did you get that idea?" And the answer was, "Brooklyn."

..."Think of the bridges and the tunnels. Think of the Erie Canal built in the 19th-century when New York was a fifth-class town in this growing nation. By the end of the 19th-century it was the greatest city in North America and rapidly becoming the greatest city in the world, and it was because of public investment. In those instances where we decided as we are now so prone to do — let's rely on public-private partnerships, we got just what we deserved. We have a chaotic subway system because the lines were all built to be competitive and not complimentary. We have Kennedy Airport which speaks for itself."

..."Ed Blakely spoke about the necessity of having an enlightened client and that we haven't figured out what the necessity is. The genius of Lower Manhattan in particular is that is has always been connected to things and it's being treated so far as if it were a remote island in the Pacific. Looking at a map of Lower Manhattan in 1830, before there was a building north of City Hall, there were fully urbanized areas in New Jersey and Brooklyn, either side, because people could get back and forth quickly. We didn't get to be what we were because we were insulated; it's because we figured out how to reach out. None of the plans so far, while there may be a new train terminal, seem to include the idea of spending a dollar on improving transportation. In addition, we don't have an understanding of our economy, which is one of the things that leads us to be so seemingly indifferent to social equity. It is not only that we don't understand the dilemma of people who aren't in the financial services industry, but also we don't have a very clear picture in New York of what our economy is. After we started to tear down the Broadway theaters, somebody remembers tourism is the second largest industry in New York State. Now that we're busy destroying all of the industrial sites in New York, people remember that there may be a relationship between a service economy and the ability of headquarters offices and financial services industries to stay here. There needs to be a distinction between those things which need to be done immediately and those things which can wait."

..."There should be a far bolder transportation plan than there is and it should not just be tied between Westchester, or Grand Central and Lower Manhattan but more broadly. When the Municipal Art Society did workshops in Brooklyn, it always promoted ferry service because we believe it is a fast thing that can be done very inexpensively. One response was, "Well, that's all well and good, but my job" — this is somebody living near Bedford Stuyvesant — "is now in New Jersey. My company has decentralized out to New Jersey. I need to find a way to get there." We have to understand where the jobs are, where they are likely to occur, and fashion a transportation system, for which public investment will stimulate the return of the commercial development we need."

..."Time. The time factor has not been driven by the wishes of the public or what was described earlier as a thirst for an architectural solution. It was driven first by Andrew Cuomo looking for a way to irritate the governor, and then by The New York Times editorial board, which somehow found itself compelled to think that there had to be a solution in the first six months. They are now mellowing a little as this is growing on people. There is no market to build anything and we're facing horrendous deficits as a state and city, so even the capital programs are going to be hard to plan. Everybody ought to take a deep breath and relax. It took 30 years to decide on the Parthenon, a site that demanded an active discussion, as a memorial to the Trojan Wars. There is a need to take the design talent we have seriously and to give it a program. It ought to be a program with greater aspiration than just a reduced number of square feet and should be a bolder look at how Manhattan is connected elsewhere. The real damage to New York are the cracks and fissures everywhere and not just in people's lives, not just in children that wake up in the night, but in neighborhoods where there are people who lost their jobs on September 12th who haven't found a job yet."

Without a great vision, a city dies.