Even on the 16th anniversary of 9/11, Lynn Sagalyn’s exhaustive account of the conflicted planning and troubled execution of the epic redevelopment of Ground Zero is still engaging—especially to those who care about New York’s symbolic center of business. A professor at the Columbia University Business School and founder of its Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate, Sagalyn explains how disunified stakeholders, splintered site control, and shifting leadership resulted in extensive and litigated delays, ballooning budgets, and compromises in design and programmatic elements.
Sagalyn does not offer architectural or urban design evaluations beyond reporting on others’ critiques of Michael Arad and Peter Walker’s National September 11 Memorial, 1 World Trade Center tower designed by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and other key architectural components. This may disappoint some readers. Yet she incisively analyzes how the often conflicting objectives of an array of political and business protagonists, along with 9/11 survivors, shaped (and delayed) a tumultuous process of redevelopment.
Sagalyn’s portrayal of Ground Zero’s reconstruction is as much a story of builders as it is of buildings. The World Trade Center net lease, executed just weeks before 9/11 between developer Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (which owns the land and is not accountable to any New York City zoning controls or planning dictates), ultimately meant that Silverstein would have responsibility for rebuild ing all 10 million square feet of lost office space. Since the Port Authority controlled the infrastructure undergirding all construction at the site, there was a challenge: the agency’s intent to restore its lost rental-income stream as quickly as possible slammed against market realities and Silverstein’s resolve to minimize his firm’s risk.
Sagalyn maintains that then–New York State Governor George Pataki, who had nominal control of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and its $2.7 billion of federal rebuilding funds, failed to exert leadership during the critical planning phase. Only later did Mayor Michael Bloomberg step in to move the project along. But perhaps most fascinating is her assessment of Silverstein—an antihero who felt his role was to restore Lower Manhattan’s greatness after the disaster of 9/11. His resolve, craftiness, and an expert legal team enabled him to leverage his insurance proceeds and contractual obligations to maximize his profit.
Sagalyn dramatically depicts the highly publicized selection process behind Daniel Libeskind’s master plan for the complex and the eventual undoing of his conceptual design for the centerpiece Freedom Tower, now 1 World Trade Center. Yet Power at Ground Zero does not shy away from more arcane analysis of real-estate market economics and internecine bureaucratic wrangling. While its appeal to those with a primary interest in design may be uneven, Sagalyn’s ambitious tome is the worthwhile read that a project of this magnitude deserves.