Time Out New York
June 3-10, 2004
Issue 453, p. 8

Towering ambition

TWIN TOWERS: Jonathan Hakala, left, and Ken Gardner with their WTC Phoenix designs

If you rebuild it, they will come. That could be the theory behind an unusual (and, some might say unrealistic) proposal for Ground Zero: scrapping the Freedom Tower for a new version of the Twin Towers. "We call it the WTC Phoenix," says architect Ken Gardner, proponent of the plan along with Jonathan Hakala, a venture capitalist who was a tenant on the 77th floor of One World Trade Center. Waving toward the five-foot-tall model of the project, which he designed with architect Herbert Belton, Gardner adds, "We're taking everything from 40 years of skyscraper construction and putting it into this plan. This will be the Twin Towers built to 2004 specifications."

Indeed, compared to its 110-story precursor, the Phoenix looks the same but different: It's two stories taller, and its facade is defined by windows that are much wider than the slitlike affairs of the 1968 design (an expression of the original architect's fear of heights). The Phoenix sports the same silvery skin. "It will turn bronze at sunset just like the old towers," Gardner explains. "This is what New York is about, not the Freedom Tower."

When people's post-September 11 skittishness about tall buildings is mentioned, Gardner notes that the Phoenix will feature double-walled construction with the floor plates supported by steel columns. "This design would absorb an impact like 9/11s," Gardner says, "and it would have the latest in fire-suppression and evacuation technologies."

Gardner and Hakala radiate an enthusiasm that's infectious, yet you still wonder how they plan to stop the Freedom Tower; its groundbreaking, after all, is scheduled for July 4. "A groundbreaking means nothing," Hakala snorts. "There have been plenty of groundbreakings for projects that never get built. The truth is that neither Larry Silverstein nor Governor Pataki has the money to build the Freedom Tower. And after 17 months of arm-twisting, they haven't found a single tenant." Would tenants flock to the Phoenix? Hakala says its symbolic import would make it an easier sell, not only to prospective lessees, but also to Congress, which will vote on federal loan guarantees for rebuilding. "Think of how people will feel when those girders pierce the sky," Gardner interjects. "We'd be telling the world, 'We won't let terrorists challenge our skyline!'"

Gardner is creating a model twice the size of the current one, with the hopes of putting it on public display. Meanwhile, he claims the Phoenix is attracting increasing attention, not only from the media but also from important civic and business groups. "The response has been overwhelming," gushes Gardner, though he admits he can't be specific. "It's everybody's secret. People come up to me - even politicians - and say, 'This was what I always wanted, but can't admit. I don't want anyone to think I'm crazy.'"

- Howard Halle