Childs vs. Durst: WTC’s Stripped Spire Stokes Controversy

East, Newsletter
Thursday, May 10, 2012
The SOM spire at left and the Durst/Port replacement at right. (Courtesy SOM/Durst)

The SOM spire at left and the Durst/Port replacement at right. (Courtesy SOM/Durst)

The Durst Organization and the Port Authority have decided to abandon designs for what they once assured the public would be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and architect David Childs of SOM is fighting back. By stripping away the sculptural finishes designed by SOM with artist Kenneth Snelson the developers and the Port may no longer qualify for the tallest title bestowed by the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the body that tallies and ranks building heights.

In today’s New York Times a spokesperson for the Council said that the galvanzized steel replacement would probably be interpreted as an antenna and not a spire and would not qualify as part of the building structure. Besides losing the title, the developers will also arguably be pulling one of the most significant works of art from the site. Douglas Durst told The Wall Street Journal that the spire should have been designed better as it will cost too much to maintain. “It’s not the end of the world,” he told the paper. To the Times he indicated the utilitarian replacement should work just fine: “I try not to get involved with the aesthetics. We’re here to discuss how it’s built and how it’s maintained.”

4 Responses to “Childs vs. Durst: WTC’s Stripped Spire Stokes Controversy”

  1. Steven Burns says:

    The funny thing to me is back in the 1980’s when I worked for SOM Chicago and moved to London during the construction of one of my projects, I prepared a letter to my client protesting a change that they were making to the roof penthouse structures which were a major design element of the building. The Managing Partner at SOM who I asked to review the letter told me not to send it. I nearly resigned because I felt the changes the client was about to make were detrimental to the design. He responded that the client has the right to modify his building any way he sees fit and it’s not our place to fight for the integrity of our design.

    I should have resigned that day, but was having way to much fun at SOM London. It took 3 more years before I realized that it was time for me to move on.

    Now I see that David Childs is quite different than the managing partner I had on my team. Go David, go! Fight for your designs, but unless you’re planning on footing the bill to pay for the more expensive spire, it might not be worth your effort.

  2. Michael Krijnen says:

    Too many times the reality story and this side of architecture never gets to see the light of day, after all the public meetings and copromises fought for, using the architects tools and talents the project gets sold, deal is done.

    Then come the changes that destroy the integrity of the system and the final product. no wonder they call our profession the second oldest in the world – takes after the first.

  3. Frank Hibrandt says:

    The project has already devolved into an uninteresting office building. At this point the spire means nothing. What a shame.

  4. Yves Lefay says:

    Maybe architects should consider more than pure esthetic in their design. Form and function should be inseparable. Designing within practical parameters is much more challenging but always possible. Ultimately this is the client’s money, not only at the construction stage but later on, with maintenance costs.

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