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Pure Architectural Theater: Bjarke Ingels Unveils His Vision For 2 World Trade Center

“The completion of the World Trade Center will finally restore the majestic skyline of Manhattan …”

As a blockbuster collaboration between a massive, multinational news corporation and the building's new architect — Bjarke Ingels, arguably the master storyteller of his profession — it should come as no surprise that the video for this week’s big reveal, of 2 World Trade Center, is a hybrid of digital media and pure architectural theater.


Squint/Opera’s epic trailer sees the founder of BIG take to the stage, enthusing in typically dynamic fashion about the design of the fourth and final skyscraper to rise from Daniel Libeskind’s Ground Zero master plan. It's hard to deny that Bjarke weaves a rich and compelling narrative, fitting for the significance of both the site and the city that surrounds it. Upon its completion, the 80-story, 1,340-foot-high building will fill the final void in the commercial heart of downtown Manhattan, 20 years from the tragic destruction of the original twin towers.

2WTC’s dramatic unveiling comes at the end of a decade of political wrangling, an economic rollercoaster, and a great deal of head scratching for a plethora of big-name firms involved in rebuilding the World Trade Center site, easily one of the most politically and emotionally sensitive development projects in architectural history. Its most puzzled participant of all might be Sir Norman Foster, who had been commissioned to design this skyscraper back in 2006, and whose rendering had stood for years alongside SOM’s 1,776-foot 1WTC on the master plan.

With the 2WTC's foundation built as part of the construction of Santiago Calatrava’s subterranean PATH Terminal, there was little outward indication that Foster’s diamond-tipped tower would not be constructed as planned. However, developer Larry Silverstein had a problem: his anchor tenants, Rupert Murdoch’s media empires 21st Century Fox and News Corp, were nonplussed about the British architect’s sleek, clinical design.

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L: Foster's final design; R: 2WTC by Bjarke Ingels.

As Andrew Rice of Wired reported in his feature story this week, James Murdoch — Rupert’s son and a top executive at 21st Century Fox — believed Foster’s razor-sharp form was “more suited for an investment bank than a modern media company.” James favored less formal office layouts, more akin to a tech campus than a conventional office block. Enter Bjarke Ingels, who made his first foray into this territory with his proposal for the multitiered Googleplex in Mountain View (a collaborative effort with Thomas Heatherwick).

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BIG’s greatest challenge at the outset was to address the contrasting conditions of the World Trade Center site with “straight-laced” towers of glass framing the 9/11 Memorial plaza and the mid-rise brick buildings of Tribeca immediately to the north. This duality required the merging of two competing architectural typologies – first, the sheer elevations of a traditional corporate skyscraper, and second, the terraces of Manhattan’s postindustrial warehouses.

Per the trailer: “Horizontal meets vertical; diversity becomes unity,” proclaims Ingels, acting out the formal concept with sweeping gestures like a philharmonic conductor. A soaring stack of boxes shifts into position behind him like a gargantuan variation of SANAA’s New Museum a couple miles uptown.

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Bjarke explains that each volume of this “vertical village” will be “tailored to their individual activities” — a clear demonstration of form following function that bears strong similarities to the thought processes of a certain Rem Koolhaas. As the story goes, Ingels cut his teeth at OMA from 1998 until 2001, and Rem's legacy is readily apparent in the shimmering walls of 2WTC.

Beyond the notion that the program can and should dictate architectural volumes at the grandest of scales (as in OMA's Seattle Public Library), 2WTC also evokes numerous projects by the Dutch studio from a stylistic viewpoint. Sheer walls of glass are overlaid with a tight-knit grid of steel members forming unapologetically dense façades reminiscent of the Rem’s vast De Rotterdam office complex. An even closer comparison can be made with OMA’s latest in the Netherlands, the Amsterdam RAI hotel, which, like the new BIG project, is also home to a large media corporation.

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2WTC’s overhanging volumes present numerous soffits all the way up the building, affording soaring overhead surfaces as an architectural statement — just like the offset prisms of the RAI. Bjarke illustrates the potential of these additional reveals, transplanting the iconic digital ticker-tapes of Times Square to the underside of each cantilever, extending the influence of new media far above the pedestrians walking along Vesey Street.

Inside, more of Koolhaas’ cross-programming influence is on display — open-plan offices and multimedia rooms are combined with large stairwells and lobbies that double up as informal communal spaces. These spaces may include basketball courts and running tracks, merging traditional working environments with health and leisure amenities that are now so integral to the lives of modern employees.

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The most compelling feature of all, though, must surely be the series of stepped terraces formed by the offset blocks, which will function as corporate event spaces and chill-out zones for the employees of Murdoch’s media empire. A number of landscaped decks read as extensions of the interior with the cafeteria and communal meeting areas straddling both interior and exterior zones throughout the building.

Further up, the external spaces evoke the many roof gardens of Tribeca, but elevate them higher still, creating what Ingels describes as “parks and plazas in the sky.” These decks will face north, providing extraordinary views across midtown and the Hudson River; it should even be possible to catch a glimpse of BIG’s recently completed apartment building on West 57th Street. These amenity spaces provide refuge away from the glare of television screens and the frenetic activity of the newsrooms, offering staff a rare slice of “unplugged” space in the heart of New York’s downtown district.

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BIG’s proposal marries conflicting architectural conditions in a typically bold manner, encapsulating Bjarke Ingels’ brand of “utopian pragmatism”: an unyielding belief that a corporation’s commercial needs can be met while also preserving the well-being of its individuals. Whether BIG can achieve this goal in their largest project to date remains to be seen — but once again, Bjarke’s talent for storytelling provides compelling evidence that they can.

Yours theatrically,

The Angry Architect

Images via Architizer