Page 1

THE PILE material agency in the redevelopment of Ground Zero, 2001-2010

Bob van Toor 1

Contents Introduction


1. Claiming Ground Zero, 2001-2002


Forces of production


The Port Authority and Larry Silverstein


Ownership, oversight, control


Patterns of consumption


Consumer groups rally


A place of mourning


The consumption of tragedy


Residential space


Invisible archaeology: the biography of Ground Zero


2. 10 million square feet on 16 acres, 2002-2004


Envisioning a built environment


Listening to the City


Settling for a design


3. Contested objects, 2004-2010


Temporary memorials


Survivors’ objects, sacred objects


Lost history


From tragic tourism to destinisation








Appendix – chronology of important events




Aerial photograph of the World Trade Center site and surrounding area immediately after the attack. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), on


Ground Zero on 12 September 2001. Blaise, A. and Rasic, L., eds., A place of remembrance: official book of the National September 11 Memorial (Washington D. C. 2011).


Victims’ relatives recieved dust-filled urns on the one-year anniversary of 9/11. ‘New York says goodbye’, The Sun, 2 August 2002.



Self portrait of a vendor, on the last page of one of the many unofficial memorial booklets, sold near the site to visitors. Photo by Bob van Toor.


Visitors descend from the viewing platform, early in 2002. Photo by Hollywoodreporter, on


‘The Gates,’ installation in Central Park, winter of 2005. Photo by Grahamlyth on


Agnes Denes in her ‘Wheatfield – a confrontation’ (1982), on


Michael Sorkin’s plan for a residential Lower Manhattan. Witness and response: September 11 acquisitions at the Library of Congress, on


Four of the initial designs, presented in July, 2002. New York Magazine, on


Design proposal by Norman Foster (‘Kissing Towers’), December 2002, LMDC, on


Design proposal by THINK Group, 2002, ibid.


Design proposal by Peterson/Littenberg, December 2002, ibid.


Daniel Libeskind’s design ‘Memory Foundations’ in 2003, and in 2004, with the addition of Arad’s ‘Reflecting Absence’, ibid.


The Libeskind design as adapted by David Childs, around 2010. Institute for Urban Design, on


A temporary memorial in Union Square, 14 September 2001. Photo by Barbara KirshenblattGimblett. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. ‘Kodak Moments, Flashbulb Memories: Reflections on 9/11’, The Drama Review 1 (2003), 11-18.


The Memorial Foundation exhibition features a wall decorated with reproduction of posters and notes that were left on fences around the Ground Zero, August 2012. Photo by Bob van Toor


Continuing practice of spontaneous memorials at the site, 11 June 2002. Photo by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. ‘Kodak Moments, Flashbulb Memories’.


The Sphere, emerging from the debris; 21 September 2001. Photo by Michael Rieger/ FEMA News, on Wikimedia Commons.


Excavation work on the ship’s hull, 2010. New York Times, 14 July 2012.


Visitors are discouraged from falling into familiar patterns of touristic consumption, August 2012. Photo by Bob van Toor.


Introduction It was not just the ruins of seven big buildings but a terrain of tangled steel on an unimaginable scale, with mountainous slopes breathing smoke and flame, roamed by diesel dinosaurs and filled with the human dead. (…) the pile was the enemy, the objective, the obsession, the hard-won ground. 1

On a November morning in 2001, hundreds of firemen gathered on the corner of Chambers and West Street, in New York City. As civilians and television crews looked on, about five hundred of them advanced, shouting and angry, on a police barricade down the street. They passed the first police line without much trouble, but a short way down West Street, police officers started to push back. One officer went down from a fireman’s punch to the face, more were injured. The skirmish soon ended, with the arrest of twelve firemen. One of them repeatedly screamed ‘my son’s in there!’ as he was dragged away to a vehicle – away from Ground Zero. 2 The space on which the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood, has one of the longest traceable biographies in North America. For a remarkable part of this time, the space has also been contested. It had not seen actual battle, however, since colonial times. 3 The firemen’s riot was a reaction to a decision by Mayor Rudy Giuliani a few days earlier, to restrict access to the site and streamline the emotionally charged, haphazard excavation of the ruins. For a month, the firemen had used emotionally charged rhetoric to prioritise finding their colleagues’ remains, and elaborate funerary rituals when they did. 4 A fire captain told the Daily News: ‘the city may be ready to turn this into a construction job, but we’re not. We want our brothers back.’ 5 The fight was, in a way, a miniature model for the immense struggles that would mark the coming decade. From September 12, 2001, up to the present, people have battled for the right of access, the right of usage, the right to consume Ground Zero. 6 In these years, the site had to be rebuilt. After the terrorist attacks, Lower Manhattan was more than ever one of the focal points of the Western world, and any reflection on what to build, and when to move forward was submitted to close scrutiny and fierce debate. This thesis is about that process of rebuilding, and the conflicts that shaped it. 1

William Langewiesche, American ground: unbuilding the World Trade Center (New York 2003), 72. Ibid. 149-150. 3 Although New York experienced four days of intense rioting in during the Civil War, in 1863, the violence mostly occurred in Midtown. The city was spared from actual battle due to the victory at Gettysburg. See ‘A city divided: New York and the Civil War’, on (retrieved 3 December 2012). 4 Many signs used in the riot reiterated the firemen’s oft-used slogan ‘bring our brothers home’. ‘Firefighters are arrested during protest at Ground Zero’, New York Times, 2 November 2001. 5 New York Daily News, 1 November 2012. 6 ‘Ground Zero’, originally a military slang term denoting the point directly below the in-air detonation of a nuclear bomb, was first used by eye witnesses and news commentators just hours after the twin towers collapsed on September 11, 2001. ‘The pile’ was being used by rescue workers at least as early as 16 September. Hamill, Denis, ‘Rescue workers keep up quest for signs of life ruin all over, but not one unkind word’. New York Daily News, 16 September 2001. 2


The development of Ground Zero has, of course, already been the subject of overwhelming scholarly attention. In the years following 9/11, a plethora of studies was published. Many have focused either on individual lives, or provided a sprawling overview of the political sphere. Relatively little attention, however, has been given to the tangible, material aspects of the site that remained after the attacks. Some authors have written about the site to great effect; as part of a discussion of grief, like Marita Sturken did, or to substantiate architectural critique, as Paul Goldberger has. 7 William Langewiesche provides an important and engrossing account of the site excavation in the first months after the tragedy, but his American ground ends in 2002. Some of the developments most deserving of study took place on Ground Zero between that year and 2010, when the final stages of excavation were completed. Although the following chapters could not possibly provide a comprehensive history of these years, they form an attempt to redirect attention to the study of this space, and the objects it held. Thinking on space has long been seen as the endeavour of geographers only, until in the twentieth century modern technologies such as radio, high-speed transport, passports, skyscrapers and undergrounds, and even psychoanalysis and the relativity theory made it clear that changes in (social) space were relevant to other sciences.8 Yet urban theory, which arose out of these developments, was concerned mostly with either ecological approaches (such as Louis Wirth’s concentric ring model of cities) or ethnographic types of urban and rural individuals.9 Marxist theory, on the other hand, described urban space mostly as places threatened by capitalism, which destroyed local markets and concentrated the proletariat in slums and factories.10 In what has been termed a ‘spatial turn’ in the social sciences, scholars have increasingly turned to the study of space and place since the early 1990s. This development was largely a reaction to the realisation, that space and place seemed so ordinary as to cause a kind of myopia, ‘not deliberately or for the sake of being obscure, much less to mislead: unlike the unconscious, place is not so controversial or so intrusive or embarrassing as to require repression’. 11 With these words, Edward Casey reminded us that overlooking space is a common but major error: not only is each life, each act spatial, space is an a priori exigency of it. On the first page of his book Consuming places John Urry declared that ‘places are partly at least “consumed”. Furthermore, he added that ‘the mode of such consumption remains relatively 7

Paul Goldberger has written several books and countless articles on Ground Zero, most notably Up from Zero: politics, architecture and the rebuilding of New York (New York 2004); Marita Sturken, Tourists of history: memory, kitsch, and consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero (New York 2007). 8 Edward Soja, Postmodern geographies: the reassertion of space in critical social theory (London 1989). 9 Louis Wirth, ‘Urbanism as a way of life’, The American Journal of Sociology, 1 (1938). 1-24; Georg Simmel, ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’, in Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson, eds., The Blackwell City Reader. (Oxford 2002 [1903]). 10 Friedrich Engels, The condition of the working class in England (London 1844), on (retrieved 14 November 2012); Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The manifesto of the communist party (1848), on (retrieved 14 November 2012). 11 Edward Casey, The fate of place (London 1997), x.


underanalysed, involving as it does a range of human senses.’ 12 Although speaking of the consumption of services, of travel, and many other commodities is now commonplace in humanities and social sciences, the consumption of actual space is a somewhat different concept. What ‘consumption of space’ actually entails is foggy, and seen differently by various authors. Many only go as far as to note spaces of consumption: sites (especially urban) that are built or developed to enable commercial consumption of other products. 13 But spaces themselves are continually consumed: visually, by visitors, for instance. This strain of thinking is prevalent in tourism studies and the study of landscape consumption. Yet urban sites especially can be seen as being consumed more holistically. Urry rightly noted that ‘what people take to be significant about a place (industry, history, buildings, literature, environment) is over time depleted, devoured or exhausted by use’.14 When it has been established that space is consumed, then it follows that it is also produced. When Henri Lefebvre’s La production de l’espace, written in 1974, was finally translated into English in 1991, it immediately became instrumental in the spatial turn. Lefebvre argued that space is produced by a hegemonic power, often resulting in tension and exclusion of consumers of that space:

‘(social) space is a (social) product [...] the space thus produced also serves as a tool of thought and of action [...] in addition it is also a means of control, and hence of domination, of power.’ 15

Rather than viewing space as a constant that can easily be taken out of the equation, Lefebvre pointed out that spatial phenomena of every kind (boundaries, territories, and delineated sites) should be taken and analysed as part of a dialectical structure; not as just space, but as a result of spatialisation.16 When applied to Ground Zero, the picture seems deceptively simple. Very early after 9/11, political constellations and some serendipitous circumstances put control of the redevelopment process firmly in the hands of a small group of players. First among them was the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an organisation which owned the sixteen acres of land, and was answerable only to the state governors. Its hegemony was constantly challenged, however, and a study of the ensuing decade provides important nuances. In the minds of its consumers, Ground Zero was intensely charged with meaning. Maarten Hajer, who analysed the planning process of Ground Zero as political performances, stressed that ‘the important question to raise is (…) how the process dealt with the unprecedented symbolic complexity of the site’.17 This symbolic complexity, I shall argue, was intricately connected to space, material and objects on the site. Initially, though, Ground Zero appeared to be nothing but an unrecognisable pile, 12

John Urry, Consuming places (London 1995), 1. R. D. Sack, ‘The power of place and space’, in Geographical Review, 83 (1993) 326–329, 327. 14 Urry, Consuming places, 2. 15 Henri Lefebvre, The production of space (London 1991), 17. 16 Ibid, 21; Urry, Consuming places, 25. 17 Maarten Hajer, ‘Rebuilding Ground Zero. The politics of performance’, in Planning theory and practice 4 (2005), 445-464, 446. 13


almost a tabula rasa. Fascinatingly, however, it turned out to be anything but. An important reason that the heirs apparent to power over the site failed to produce it as they wished, lies in the objects that remained there. Despite the fact that an astonishing amount of material, including the bodies of thousands of people, was pulverised when the twin towers collapsed, several objects remained on Ground Zero from a past before 9/11. In this thesis, I describe the appearance of the groups that felt entitled to consumption of Ground Zero, and the struggles between them. I argue that these groups could successfully substantiate their protest against proposed site development by invoking the importance of objects on the site. Sure enough, before the Port Authority could finalise its plans (for construction of the site is not finished to this day, nor are the plans finalised), it removed every single remnant of the material past from the sixteen acres of the former World Trade Center. In the first chapter, the material aspects of the site are described and the players identified. Because an individual could wish to consume the urban space of the redeveloped site in different ways simultaneously, I use the term ‘mode of consumption’. Individuals did nonetheless organise themselves into groups of consumers, according to the mode of consumption they found most important, or most likely to be excluded from the space in the final design. Those officially invested with control over development of the site were, apart from the Port Authority, the New York State Governor and real-estate mogul Larry Silverstein, who owned the twin towers and held a 99-year lease to the Port Authority’s land. They envisioned the redevelopment of Ground Zero for predominantly, if not exclusively commercial consumption. Other important modes of consumption, that challenged these intentions, can be distinguished. I describe these alternatives to commercial consumption, as well as the civic groups and organisations promoting them. The conflicting interests of the different groups are described in chapter 2. To gain insight in the struggles, and in the stalemates that they often resulted in, this chapter describes the process of site development between 2001 and 2004. The road to a site plan, the selection procedures for the many proposals and Daniel Libeskind’s rise and fall as the premier architect of new superskyscraper have been recounted before, and often more eloquently. But by reviewing these developments with Lefebvre’s concepts and the material agency of Ground Zero in mind, the history provides some interesting insights. In a third and final chapter, I suggest a connection between the struggles over the development of the site, and the wholesale removal of objects from the site mentioned above. In a series of case studies, a pattern emerges that points to the significance of objects imbued with meaning to specific modes of consumption. Using theoretical frames proposed by Latour, Peckham, Holtorf and others, successfully applied in heritage studies and archaeology, I argue that material agency played a previously unnoticed role in the scramble for the sixteen acres. Perhaps this scramble can already be recognised in a description by Langewiesche of an early recovery party descending into the depths of a crater on Ground Zero, in the winter of 2001. Setting


out on their daunting, dangerous and unhappy mission, he wrote, nobody ‘gave commands, nor asserted himself by taking the lead. I think by then [they] had already discerned what some others never did – that the imposition of conventional order on these ruins was a formalism or a fiction.’ 18

1.1 Ground Zero on 12 September 2001.


Langewiesche, American ground, 27.


1. Claiming Ground Zero, 2001-2002 ‘Power, power, who’s got the power’, wrote New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp at the end of October, 2001. 19 At that time, great fires were still raging on the site that was, by then, commonly referred to as Ground Zero.20 The army and police checkpoints that had immediately been set up on September 11 - to regulate a space covering about half of Lower Manhattan and severely restricting access to the public - had gone, and instead fences had been put up. They fulfilled the same function: ordinary Americans would not set foot on the sixteen acres for the next decade. Yet groups of architects and planners had gathered to think of concepts for a rebuilt Lower Manhattan, but they were, Muschamp wrote, ‘operating in a void’. With the collapsing buildings, the structure of rules, laws and day-to-day governance of life at the site had crumbled. In this chapter, I identify and outline both the actors attempting to maintain a measure of control over the production of the site, as well as the different modes of consumption that conflicted with this intended production. After a brief description of the site and those who initially took charge of it, I shall introduce in more detail the alternative potential modes of consumption of Ground Zero mentioned in the introduction. The first days, the city government ‘ran the show’, as Langewiesche put it. Its priorities - apart from rescue and recovery efforts - were to clear the roads around the superblock to guide traffic back into Lower Manhattan, and contain some of the worst risks on-site. The slurry wall protecting the foundations from the Hudson River water, for instance, was badly damaged, and authorities feared leaks of poisonous gas from the towers’ air-conditioning plants. 21 To the surprise of many, responsibility was soon handed over to the New York Department of Design and Construction, a tiny bureau in Queens whose top officials had simply responded most effectively to the chaos of September 11. Now it was up to them to rally the army of police officers and firemen on overtime, engineers and roughly 3,000 construction workers and usefully apply the millions of dollars in federal emergency funds that were pouring in (image 1.1). The higher politics of responsibility and governance were less assertive. The razed land belonged to a semi-governmental agency called the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; which was recovering from a great loss of personnel in the twin towers, including its executive director, Neil D. Levin. The Port Authority is a state agency, officially subordinate to the state governor, George Pataki. But he, too, chose the time-tested politician’s tactic of watching the proceedings before speaking out. Mayor Giuliani was vocal, but mostly regarding the victims and 19

Herbert Muschamp, ‘Power, imagination and New York's future’, New York Times, 28 October 2001. Fires would continue to burn until 2002, while the underground levels of the World Trade Center ‘collapsed progressively until the spring’. Langewiesche, American ground, 18. 21 Langewiesche, American ground, 32. 20


survivors. He held the opinion that would be voiced by others often, and loudly, over the next years: that no civic or commercial buildings should ever be put back on Ground Zero. He knew, however, that his term was almost up, and he kept his proposals vague.

Forces of production The Port Authority and Larry Silverstein Just a few months before 9/11, Larry Silverstein had invested in several buildings of the World Trade Center. On the day of the attacks, he lost not just the twin towers, which he had only just acquired in a multi-billion-dollar-deal, but also 7 WTC, another office tower on the site. The fact that his acquisition was so recent that the insurance documents were not yet entirely finalised, complicated matters significantly. Silverstein was anxious to get as much insurance money for the towers as possible, and for a strong case it was vital, his lawyer advised him, to make clear his intention to rebuild. 22 The lease gave him every right to make this decision, and Silverstein issued a statement of his intention to rebuild just weeks after the destruction of the towers. The statement expressed not just the urgency behind his wishes, but also reaffirmed the leaseholder’s right to construct the same amount of office space that had been lost. To the press, Silverstein declared that not rebuilding ‘would give the terrorists the victory they seek’, and that ‘we must not let terrorists destroy our way of life or our city’s vital financial heart’ 23 To those at the helm of the Port Authority, path to follow was equally clear: ten-and-a-half million square feet of office space had been obliterated and needed to be rebuilt. Even though many of the offices in the twin towers had been unoccupied, and many others did not generate as much revenue in rents as had once been predicted, a huge flow of money had come to an abrupt halt. Ever since its conception, but especially since it got involved in New York real estate, the Port Authority had reinvested revenues in new projects. 24 A sudden cessation of billions of dollars that had been a steady source of income for the Port Authority therefore meant a serious liability for the company. While Larry Silverstein held the lease on most of the sixteen acres, he could not muster the political force that the Port Authority could. Although rarely the most vocal, the organisation always retained its right to veto decisions, and did so on several key occasions. Founded in 1921, the Port Authority was the first regional planning body in the United States. It provided a means to channel private funds into public works, and would form a model for many similar organisations set up under Roosevelt’s New Deal. Large public corporations thus replaced the


Goldberger, Up from Zero, 37. New York Times, 26 October 2001. 24 Jameson Doig, Empire on the Hudson: entrepreneurial vision and political power at the Port of New York Authority (New York 2001) 35. 23


network of private enterprises which collapsed in the crisis of the 1930s. Institutions like the Port Authority allow for huge public investments, and are exempt from many legal restrictions as well as responsibility to voters. 25 The public finances the organisation, not through direct taxes, but through tolls and fees. It is this thoroughly undemocratic aspect that has earned semi-public corporations such as the Port Authority much criticism. In 1996, after leaving public office, New York State Governor Mario Cuomo declared that these authorities are ‘something above democracy, absolutely, that’s why it was invented by politicians, to keep the people away from the operation, and to insulate the politicians’.26 The Port Authority specifically has moved into controversial territory, because unlike many of its counterparts, it has for decades been extensively involved in buying, selling, and developing real estate. It is interesting to note that decisions, vetoes and blessings of the Port Authority come from a seemingly inanimate entity, an anonymous organisation without anyone in particular at the helm. Robert Beauregard, who has written extensively on the planning of Ground Zero, could not identify those in power within the company when asked, and even someone as well-informed as Paul Goldberger unapologetically wrote that on the question of shopping malls in the area, ‘the Port Authority was inclined to agree with Larry Silverstein’. 27 Who agreed or disagreed, and how was this endorsement decided? While very visible in everyday New York City life on ground level, the makeup of the upper echelons of the Port Authority is hazy, and the division of power not always entirely clear to the public. The Port Authority executives officially report to the state governor. They have, however, on more than one occasion swayed Pataki’s opinions, or changed a course that would have been expected of the governor. Because of its gargantuan proportions, both in its physical presence in (inter)state infrastructure, and in personnel and funds, if the Port Authority tells a governor that a decision is unwise and would negatively affect the market, he should have very strong arguments indeed to disagree. 28 Backed by the ebb and flow of long-term and government-sized investments and revenues, it would appear that any single representative could invoke these potentially disastrous results in any debate to back up claims, plans and demands. It does not often come to this, however, for the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners consists of business moguls and politicians, appointed by the two governors of New York and New Jersey to serve overlapping six-year unpaid terms. The members of the board, who traditionally maintain close relationships with the governor, in turn appoint an executive director to run the Port Authority on a day-to-day basis. The latter function, then, could provide the organisation with a human face. But precisely when the decision-making process was at its most momentous, during the year 25

Eric Darton, Divided we stand: a biography of the World Trade Center (New York 1999 [ed. 2011]), 40-41. Ibid., 43. 27 Interview with Robert Beauregard, 27 August 2012; Goldberger, 52. 28 Interview with Robert Beauregard. 26


following September 2001, the position was vacant. Neil D. Levin, an active and charismatic former banker and political aide to Pataki, who had been named executive director by the governor just five months prior to September 11, had been killed in the attacks.

Ownership, oversight, control In November 2001, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudy Giuliani created an agency to oversee the development of the site, which was slowly getting cleared and readied for construction. Their announcement came just days before the mayoral elections, which could potentially result in a victory for the popular Democrat candidate Mark Green. A Democrat as mayor could mean that many Republican officials would be replaced, and the governor had no desire to fight more political battles over Ground Zero than he already had. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) was to get a rather remarkable position in the political hierarchy of city planning. Maarten Hajer made the important point that ‘symbols create meaning and this may help reproduce power differentials or challenge authority’. After the shock of 9/11 and the institutional ‘void’ in its wake, these symbols had to be invoked, and politics constantly enacted through these symbols and through performances. Hajer saw the creation of the LMDC as such a performance, as well as press conferences and the presentation of visual representations of plans to the public. ‘With the installation of the LMDC [Pataki and Bloomberg] essentially ‘created’ ambivalence about which rules should apply and hence they opened an arena for contestation in which all sorts of actors could claim the right to have a say’. 29 But the governor left less room for ambivalence than Hajer suggested. Pataki installed the LMDC as a subordinate agency of the Empire State Development Corporation. The latter Corporation controls major real-estate developments in New York State – which naturally would include the World Trade Center site. Like the Port Authority, it is a semi-private hybrid, which, like the Authority, answers to the governor’s office. Thus, the planning body that was to be the primary face of the production of the sixteen acres of destroyed urban space would ultimately be controlled by the governor. The LMDC board consisted of nine members, six appointed by the governor and three by the mayor – Giuliani did not mind this board minority, as he expected the Democratic candidate to take over office, soon. 30 They named a mix of representatives from the Port Authority, large businesses, the financial and political world. The then 79-year-old John Whitehead, who had held a post as chairman at Goldman Sachs for 38 years, was appointed president. His role would be very interesting: he had more than enough clout, and connections in the political arena as well as outside of it, to operate with surprising independence from his superiors; if not the governor, then at least the Port Authority. 29 30

Hajer, ‘Rebuilding Ground Zero’, 446. Goldberger, Up from Zero, 44.


The last player of considerable power on Ground Zero was Larry Silverstein. In the months before September 2001, he had been working to get the lease finalised while at the same time devising a strategy to upgrade the World Trade Center. At that time, it was not considered high-end office space and the towers were occupied mostly their own builders: New York State offices and the Port Authority. To upgrade the area somewhat, Silverstein had hired the architect David Childs, who was to play an role he could not have expected.31 After September 2001, Silverstein was caught up in a legal struggle to even attain the money to rebuild. In addition to this, he had little experience as an architectural patron; although Childs seemed to be doing good work for the moment on the redesign of 7 WTC (which will be discussed in more detail in chapter 2).

In the last months of 2001, architects’ collectives and other groups and committees started popping up. They all ‘hope to be ready when the politics are sorted out’, Muschamp reported. 32 At the time, it was far from clear to whom any development proposal should be sent in. Michael Manfredi, part of an advisory committee called the Memorial Process Team, said that his panel, nor any other should send in concrete proposals for a memorial at all, for ‘whatever art is done, it’s not done by committee’. A fitting design would be made in time, hopefully by a visionary artist. What was crucial at the moment, Manfredi said, was to set up best principles; the most important being that the design, the ‘art’, would ‘not be a footnote to a large development project’. 33 It is clear from his words that the looming presence of the Port Authority-Silverstein Program for primarily commercial development was already felt. Yet there was an evident need for a short-term solution, to provide some air and gain perspective before any crucial decisions were taken. As shall be explained in chapter 2, this would not be the case; but in the last months of 2001, it was still possible to consider moving slowly and with some caution. Timing was crucial, many agreed. New Yorkers knew that Silverstein was already drawing up plans for offices, and even though the site had been meticulously fenced off, the New York Times reported the ‘sheer rapidity with which the site is being cleared, with debris being hauled away to the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, and to locations in New Jersey where it is already being ground into scrap’.


Dinitia Smith, ‘Hallowed Ground Zero; competing plans hope to shape a Trade Center Memorial’, New York Times, 25 October 2001. 32 Muschamp, ‘Power, imagination and New York’s future’. 33 Smith, ‘Hallowed Ground Zero’.


Patterns of consumption Consumer groups rally Despite their varying interests, the Port Authority, the governor, Larry Silverstein and the mediating LMDC would presumably have developed the land with some consensus, if they had not been challenged by outside groups. Silverstein had made his intentions clear from the start: to rebuild tenand-a-half million square feet of office space and start generating revenues as soon as possible. The Port Authority naturally agreed with this course of action in general terms, although it would take some time for the organisation to regroup after its losses on 9/11. The governor’s office stayed relatively quiet after the foundation of its instrument of action, the LMDC. Gubernatorial elections in 2002 were fast approaching, and Pataki was keeping his cards to himself so as not to rile an electorate increasingly divided over most issues concerning Ground Zero. The LDMC emulated his tactics, although in their case it was quite justified: the agency was facing the immensely sensitive task of negotiating a course between the strict demands of the producing parties, and groups of civilians arguing for varying other modes of consumption – while attempting to convey a sense of ‘democracy’ throughout. Counter pressure from these groups was mounting fast, however. It had its early manifestations in the harsh rebuttal of Larry Silverstein when he made his intentions to rebuild public, and in artists’ proposals for memorial gardens or a permanently ‘empty’ skyline in the press. It was feared, at this stage, that unchecked redevelopment of the site would result in primarily commercial usage. Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, successfully revived his slumbering organisation, which had not wielded much influence since the 1960. To rise above the myriad of meddling civic groups, Yaro convened a consortium of other organisations such as the New School University and the Pratt Institute to form the Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York. Just weeks after the towers had come down, the Civic Alliance was already meeting. They were the first major group to make a vision statement, calling for a planning process more open than that of the twin towers had been, the inclusion of all of Lower Manhattan and the Tristate Area in planning and sustainable building, taking the needs of different groups into account.34 Although desire for a memorial function was implied, the vision statement called for openness and inclusion first and foremost. Other collectives also expressed these hopes. The architects’ groups Memorial Process Team and the New York City Infrastructure Task Force stressed their motivation ‘not to serve the interest of developer clients. Rather, our goal is to establish principles and guidelines […] and cultivate a process that promotes the highest achievable quality of responsible architecture and urban design’. 35 34

Civic Alliance to rebuild Downtown New York meeting notes, 21 September 2001, on (retrieved 25 October 2012). 35 New York Times, 27 October 2001.


A successful attempt to set the agenda was made by a collaboration of 350 architects headed by prominent figures such as David Rockwell, Hugh Hardy and David Childs’ partner, Marilyn Jordan Taylor. Calling themselves New York New Visions, they outlined a set of general guidelines in January 2002 which, though vague, would be adopted for a large part in the subsequent plans of the Port Authority and the LMDC. They called for an open planning process, mixed-use development of the site, which should include not just a memorial, or just offices, but cultural facilities, retail space and housing. Furthermore, they called for better transportation access, and high-quality architecture, design excellence and sustainability. 36 Most significantly though, they observed the need for immediate action to safeguard the quality of a recently gentrified and thriving neighbourhood. In the short term, people and businesses might start flowing out of the stricken area, and therefore ‘a sense of predictable and continuous improvement in the public environment is essential to retaining residents and office workers’. 37 Apart from these civic organisations gathering and gaining momentum, other forces were becoming visible on and around the site itself. Life had returned to the place of disaster within a week from 9/11, and before a single construction worker could enter the site, Ground Zero was being consumed in new ways by hundreds, and soon, thousands of people. I will identify four modes of consumption, that challenged the commercial. The first is the proposal to develop the site as a space of mourning. Many, especially New Yorkers, saw the entirety of Ground Zero as a graveyard, never to be built upon again. A second, much larger group was attracted to the site just to gaze upon the ruins, consuming the space as tourists. Third comes the proposed use of the sixteen acres as residential space. Within this mode of consumption are included both those who wished to use it as residents of nearby neighbourhoods, through shopping or as recreational space; and those who wanted to use it as a space for residence, with housing built on Ground Zero. Finally, some very interesting developments after 9/11 opened doors for a potential historical consumption of the site. Throughout the development process possibilities presented themselves to conserve, visualise and connect with a pre-9/11 history of the site. I add this historical mode of consumption not because its proponents were influential or numerous, but because it illuminates very important aspects of site development with relation to its past. There are undoubtedly more consumers of the site, such as the thousands of commuters that travel through, under, or past the area each day. I have chosen not to include these, for after 9/11 they were mostly trying to pass Ground Zero, rather than engage with the site per se.38


‘Principles for rebuilding Lower Manhattan’ on (retrieved 26 October 2012). 37 Goldberger, Up from Zero, 50. 38 For an interesting discussion of conflicts between commuters and other consumers, see Amanda Williams, ‘An inspection of the urban space around the World Trade Center’ (2003) on (retrieved 3 December 2012).


A place of mourning Even more surprising than the sophistication of spontaneous planning movements in the wake of 9/11 was the unification of family members of the deceased. After a few weeks of the initial shock, parents, widows and siblings started to become increasingly vocal on issues surrounding Ground Zero and its future. Monika Iken, whose husband had died in the south tower, gathered other families to form September’s Mission, seeking influence in the establishment of a memorial. Another group, called Families of September 11, was less pronounced about construction, but offered information and support. Relatives of victims who had been employees of Cantor Fitzgerald (a large brokerage firm with offices on the top floors of the north tower that had lost 685 employees) formed yet another organisation. 39 It was widely agreed that the involvement of victims’ relatives and survivors attributed greatly to the development and eventual success of the memorial to victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. 40 Few would have contested that in New York, survivors and victims’ relatives could make this contribution as well, and the Memorial Process Team urged families to come aboard – although some did note that whereas in Oklahoma the families of 168 victims could have participated, thousands and thousands of grieving family members and survivors could lay claim to be a part of the planning process. 41 But despite the goodwill towards them, the victims’ families and survivors could not seem to eventually evolve into a party that could contribute to the planning process in a meaningful way. Firstly, there was considerable discord between these groups. Widows and parents of fire-fighters and policemen, unified in the 9-11 Widows and Victims’ Families Association, vehemently opposed any redevelopment plans, arguing for a continuation of recovery efforts to find as many human remains as possible. Others were more lenient, with some providing planning advice. 42 Secondly, the continuous drone of opinions voiced by appalled, outraged or otherwise obtuse widows and parents gradually dulled their impact. Relatively late in the planning process, for instance, when the final design for a memorial was revealed, there was much protest about the presentation of the names of the dead. Early on in the design competition the LDMC had agreed that all the names of the victims should be listed in random order, to avoid any sense of hierarchy among them, but medical workers, policemen and most notably


One organisation called ‘Save the facades’ lists an impressive collection of relatives’ groups as its endorsers, providing a sense of the massive network of these groups set up around 2002-2003. Listed on the web site are: Advocates for 9/11, Fallen Heroes, Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, Coalition of 9/11 Families, 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America, 9/11 Families for a Secure America, Margie Miller 9/11 Support Group, Put It Above Ground, September 11th Families Association, September's Mission Foundation, Skyscraper Safety Campaign, Voices of September 11th, W. Doyle Support Group, Where To Turn, WTC Families for Proper Burial, World Trade Center United Family Group. (retrieved 12 November 2012. 40 Smith, ‘Hallowed Ground Zero’. 41 Ibid. 42 Goldberger, Up from Zero, 46.


firemen increasingly objected to this. They felt that their colleagues, who had made the conscious choice to put their lives at risk to help others, were set apart from others victims, tragic as their deaths might have been. Although the LDMC was at first adamant to stick to its own guidelines, at the press conference held to present the final design for ‘Reflecting Absence’ a sense of quiet resignation had come over all parties; and a compromise was devised. The names of rescue workers, in an irrational but nonetheless heartfelt gesture, would have a small shields and emblems denoting their fire- or police department or medical team, while retaining a random order of names. Some, notably LMDC board member Thomas Johnson, whose son had died in the attacks, protested strenuously that this solution in fact did instil hierarchy in the list, but to no avail. 43 There was a Skyscraper Safety Campaign to block plans for another high building on the site, a Put It Above Ground Campaign to protest against inscribing the names of the dead in an underground memorial, and the Take Back the Memorial alliance - all originating from a relatively small body of actively involved families.44 They had quite an influence on the public image of the bereft families at large: victims’ relatives, who at first seemed to deserve the most sympathy, were eventually styled ‘the grief police’ by New York Magazine. 45 While it is difficult to draw a sharp image of the mourners as a group, it is possible to describe the general aspirations related to the consumption of Ground Zero as a site of mourning. Victims’ relatives, survivors, and colleagues were unified by a particular perception of the site as it was, and how it should be produced. This perception, prevalent among the consumers who stood in direct connection to the dead, was of Ground Zero as a cemetery, or even a mass grave. Dina Lafond, a tour guide of minor celebrity because, at 84, she still guides groups along the site, explained her desire to keep returning with words that are often used by other families: ‘This is my daughter’s cemetery, I like coming here.’ 46 This characteristic is also what sets this mode of consumption apart from that of what I shall call ‘tourists’. These visitors from abroad, or out of town, might travel to Ground Zero to mourn just as well, but their consumption of the site is quite different – primarily because to them, the feeling of material or immaterial remains on the site is not as direct, their horror with the idea of construction there not as acute. Though they might consume the site as ‘mourning heritage’, and it is the tragedy of the place that turned it into a destination, they do not regard the site as sacred. 47

Perhaps the most important source of conflict between the intentions of the producing parties, and those who wanted to see Ground Zero developed primarily as a place for mourning, was the sacralisation most material on the site. If the sidewalks around the site were quickly transformed into a


Goldberger, Up from Zero, 231-232. Sturken, Tourists of history, 211. 45 Robert Kolker, ‘The grief police’, New York Magazine, 20 November 2005. 46 Interview with Dina Lafond, 25 August 2012. 47 The concepts of mourning heritage and places as ‘destinations’ are both applied very effectively by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination culture: tourism, museums, and heritage (Berkeley 1998), i, 152. 44


massive shrine, then the excavation itself was the inner sanctum, the holiest of holies. A well-known image that soon travelled the newspapers pages and news reels of the world was that of a mangled girder, resembling a crucifix, that was put up on the side of the pit. But to victims’ relatives, and all others who felt a need to connect to the site or negotiate their emotions surrounding it, objects from the site itself attained a measure of sacredness that transcended even religion. The city very soon had to take special measures to keep street hawkers from taking material from the site to sell. It has even been suggested that the wholesale transfer of soil and debris from the site to Fresh Kills upstate was partly undertaken to put a stop to the trade in this material.48 It is interesting to note that, while confusion reigned over responsibility for site planning, the city in this case took the initiative and effectively appropriated all sacred material. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for instance, handed out urns filled with the ubiquitous dust to relatives at a ceremony shortly after the attacks (image 1.2). 49 When the project of recovering human remains was declared officially over in 2002, realisation dawned that about 1,100 individuals in the twin towers had been completely pulverised. The dust of Ground Zero thus became a hallowed, almost fetishised object, in the media as well as in the work of scholars such as Sturken. 50

1.2 Victims’ relatives recieved dust-filled urns on the one-year anniversary of 9/11.


Marita Sturken, ‘The aesthetics of absence: rebuilding Ground Zero’, American Ethnologist 3 (2004) 311–325, 313-314. 49 New York Times, 15 October 2001 (retrieved 26 October 2012). 50 Sturken, ‘The aesthetics of absence’ 314; Allison Blaise and Lynn Rasic eds. A place of remembrance: official book of the National September 11 Memorial (Washington D. C. 2011), 35, 151.


The extent of the sacralisation became clear much later in the development process, when the excavation of Ground Zero had finished. The large ramp, which had been installed early on to allow recovery and construction workers access into the pit, had served its cause and was due to be removed. This object, however, had also formed the path that victims’ relatives had walked each year, when they descended into the sanctum on the anniversary of the attacks. It had been imbued with so much meaning, that many were loath to see it unceremoniously removed. 51

The consumption of tragedy Rudolph Giuliani foresaw that, whatever would be built at Ground Zero, a site of such tragedy and significance for America and the Western world would become an irresistible attraction to visitors to New York. ‘People from all over the world want to come here, for I think the most appropriate of reasons (…) Because they realise something very horrendous and very magnificent happened here’, he said in December 2001. 52 It is curious that the Port Authority spoke of the prospect so little. Ground Zero, because of its international importance and sense of tragedy and deep emotion, would inevitably be consumed by tourists. But it could hardly be traditional tourism, utilising traditional behavioural codes. Tourism to the site had to be redefined, both by the city catering to the masses that arrived and by the visitors themselves. This mode of consumption would be the earliest to arouse conflict and resistance, which changed both tourism itself, practices of mourning, and development at Ground Zero. Sure enough, visitors soon flocked to the site in such numbers as to cause problems to the flow of traffic and obstruct the recovery effort. In reaction, tourist guides and web sites incorporated Ground Zero in their curricula, or as part of ‘must see’-lists, sanctioning it as a destination even for visitors who might have deemed it unsavoury or disrespectful before. 53 New York City was always a place for entrepreneurs, and street vendors were hawking everything from twin towers snow globes to T-shirts proclaiming ‘I can’t believe I got out!’ in the surrounding streets – to the great dismay of many, but apparently also making a profit (image 1.3). In December 2001, the New York Office of Emergency Management had four prominent architects construct a plywood viewing platform, in a pragmatic answer to stream of tourists. Visitors could pick up a free ticket seven blocks from the site itself, there were no reservations possible. Soon, every one of the 420 tickets was taken up every day. The platform became a major tourist attraction,


New York Times, 14 January 2009 (retrieved 14 November 2012). ‘Public viewing platform opens at Ground Zero’, 30 December 2001, on (retrieved 2 December 2012). 53 ‘For the crossroads of the world, far less traffic’, New York Times, 14 April 2002 (retrieved 12 November 2012). 52


easily competing with other New York landmarks and attracting nearly double the amount of daily visitors that had come to the rooftop of the World Trade Center before.54 Many expressed their gratitude that the platform was there: ‘I am very glad there is a way to view the site; I want to see it first hand, I need to see it’, one said.55 The need to be physically present at a site of tragedy is not unique to Ground Zero: visitors found their way to the trenches of the First, and the concentration camps of the Second World War as soon as those wars ended. An interesting comparison can be made with Dealy Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Although city authorities were reticent to memorialise the murder of President Kennedy at that site in 1963, visitors nevertheless travelled there to gaze upon the space, ignoring its monumental features unrelated to the murder.56 International relations scholar James Der Derian went as far as to claim that ‘only the low quality of the video footage’ in the news broadcasts of the planes hitting the twin towers ‘convinced audiences they were not watching a prime-time disaster movie’. 57 Although this view is perhaps extreme, there appeared to be a pressing need for visitors around the world to gaze upon the site with their own eyes. But did this make them mourners, negotiating a crisis of emotion, or trauma; or voyeuristic tourists of the worst kind? In the eyes of many New Yorkers, it was the latter. ‘It’s appalling’, a rescue and recovery worker told the press. ‘The tourists come and they mill around and then they say, you know, “let’s get lunch”, or whatever, and sometimes I can’t stand it. 58 ‘We are treated like a freak show (…) we had people come to our apartment and ask us to view the damage’, said another resident. 59 Even for the visitors on the platform itself, the experience was often extremely ambiguous, forcing many to reflect on their own identity as mourner and tourist. A visitor to the platform complained: ‘I could hardly believe it (…) while I stood in tears reading “rest in peace” messages scrawled on the walls encasing the platform, a pack of tourists clambered around me to get the best view of the mass grave. What had gotten into these people?’ 60


Debbie Lisle, ‘Gazing at Ground Zero: tourism, voyeurism and spectacle’, Journal for Cultural Research, 1 (2004), 3-21, 6. 55 E. Richardson, ‘Seeing is believing: the rise of a reluctant tourist attraction’ New City Chicago, 31 January 2002 (retrieved 13 September 2012). 56 Eventually, the city managed to engage with this element of its past in a remarkably meaningful and successful manner, through the creation of the Sixth Floor Museum in 1987 and commemoration of the assassination on Dealy Plaza in 1993. The museum provided New York with an important example for this kind of commemoration in 2001, and hosted one of the first exhibitions of 9/11 that same year. Hanneke Ronnes and Anna Meijer van Putten, ‘Tropes of a Texan trauma: monumental Dallas after John F. Kennedy’, International Journal of Heritage Studies 6 (2010), 390-404, 391, 402. 57 James Der Derian quoted in Lisle, ‘Gazing at Ground Zero’, 8. 58 C. Overington, ‘Reclaiming Ground Zero’, Sydney Morning Herald 16 April 2002. 59 ‘Outrage at Ground Zero visitor platform’, BBC news, 17 January 2002, (retrieved 2 november 2012). 60 M. Samways, ‘Ground Zero visitors should act as mourners, not sightseers’, Southern Digest 9 May 2002.


1.3 Self portrait of a vendor, on the last page of one of the many unofficial memorial booklets, sold to visitors near the site.

The New York Office of Emergency Management felt the need to stress that the platform was not a tourist attraction, but that ‘when you have this many people coming, you are going to have to be mindful of the safety and security of Lower Manhattan’. 61 To ensure that the visitors would not fall into patterns of touristic behaviour deemed inappropriate, there were officers shouting platform protocol – be quiet, respectful, and keep moving - out at the crowds, not quite attaining the most contemplative atmosphere, as one visitor remarked (image 1.4). 62 61 62

‘For the crossroads of the world’, New York Times, 14 April 2002. J. D’Arcy, ‘Visiting Ground Zero’ Sydney morning herald, 18 April 2002.


But in a way, consumption of the site as a space of mourning and as a space for touristic gazing could hardly have been more similar in the one year of the platform’s existence. Undoubtedly relatives of the dead and New Yorkers otherwise closely involved with the tragedy visited the platform (possibly voicing their dismay afterwards, in the same self-conscious way tourists themselves did). Likewise, visitors from outside New York and even outside the US treated the platform, as well as the rest of the area surrounding Ground Zero, as a memorial. Visiting the site to put flowers, candles, stuffed animals or t-shirts on or near the barriers was an act, carefully prepared and confidently performed by those who had lost relatives on 9/11 and outof-town visitors alike. 63 Certainly, people also took photographs of the site, even posing with the massive temporary memorials in the background. A retired policeman giving tours of the site for $15 declared that ‘it is something that people have a right to see. [The tourists] are not gawking, and they are here to pay their respects.’ 64 Whether it was distasteful was, and is, up to each individual to decide for themselves; but to view this behaviour as anything less than ‘appropriate’ is hardly tenable, in the face of overwhelming evidence that, in the past decades, it has indeed become just that. As Lisle notes, ‘gazing upon Ground Zero produced moments of silence and acute reflection. Many visitors were shocked and ashamed by their own desire to see the wreckage, and were subsequently prompted into deeper reflection’. In the postmodern ‘society of the spectacle’, that Guy Debord described in 1968, tourists could well be aware that they form part of the ‘world-as-themepark’ – a phrase that Zygmund Bauman coined building upon Debord’s theories.65 In this world of the tourist, Debord argued, the dichotomy between the spectacle and the everyday has collapsed, making it extremely difficult to escape the banal and experience the extraordinary. Tourists therefore needed to be physically present at the site to experience ‘the real’: ‘These sites [of catastrophe] are coveted because they are the only places left which haven’t been commodified and turned into a spectacle.’ 66 Erika Doss takes a slightly different view, arguing that visitors to temporary memorials (she does not distinguish between tourist and mourner, perhaps showing a move away from the distinction after 2002) are part of an elaborate and well-developed code of mourning, relatively new and specific to the West, especially America. She sees the establishment and use of temporary memorials (including adding specific items to them, and acts of crying, hugging and taking photographs) as a strategy to negotiate a crisis of emotions. 67


Sturken, Tourists of history, 157. Jayson Blair, ‘Here, dignity rubs elbows with demand; Ground Zero crowds don't please everyone’, New York Times, 26 June 2002. 65 Guy Debord, Society of the spectacle (New York 1997); Zygmund Bauman, Postmodernity and its discontents (Cambridge 1997 [1968]). 66 Lisle, ‘Gazing at Ground Zero’ 15. On reality as a spectacle, see also Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination culture: tourism, museums, and heritage. 67 Erika Doss, Memorial mania: public feeling in America (Chicago 2012), 119. 64


1.4 Visitors descend from the viewing platform, early in 2002.

In a sense, though, Doss’ and Lisle’s views are reasonably compatible. Visitors to the site, whether shaken by the loss of a loved one, or deeply disoriented with the loss of any sense of the real from televised images of airplanes hitting two landmark towers on repeat, were in need of physical presence on the site. After the summer of 2002, this configuration of the two patterns of mourning and tourism changed again, as the viewing platform was taken down. It did not attract as many visitors any more, for two reasons. Firstly, the first great wave of gazers at Ground Zero had passed. Those large numbers it still attracted could see it from various other places around the site, as buildings around it reopened. 68 Secondly, rescue and recovery efforts had given way to ordinary excavation in preparation for construction. Although the space remained a ‘must-see’ for visitors, it was more difficult to get a sense of catastrophe from gazing at Ground Zero. It seems, therefore, that the decrease in visitors to the platform confirmed the hypothesis that they came to experience the ‘real’ provided by gazing upon catastrophe. Both mourners’ and tourists’ modes of consuming the site thus changed – which shall be discussed in more detail in chapter 3.

Residential space The dramatic images of imploding office towers on 9/11 made it easy to overlook the fact that on that day, not just offices were damaged – many residents of Lower Manhattan had to abandon their 68

Sturken, ‘Aesthetics of absence’, 318.


buildings as well. The extensive damage to Lower Manhattan put a temporary stop to the gentrification of Tribeca and the Financial District, a development that had picked up steam in the 1990s. When the twin towers were destroyed, Lower Manhattan was a different place than it had been when they went up in the early 1970s. Back then, it had been one of the neighbourhoods that inspired Robert Moses’ urban renewal projects. After a slump in real-estate value in the 1970s and 1980s, the blocks around the World Trade Center eventually became relatively successful neighbourhoods. Although Moses’ tactics have been severely criticised, and the disappearance of Radio Row lamented, this success was partly due to the twin towers’ foundation. Quite literally so: the soil that was excavated for the many underground transit spaces and parking garages was used to change the floundering harbour into Battery Park City. In the 1980s, high-rise housing with waterside views was built on the reclaimed land. Concurrently, in Tribeca warehouses were turned into lofts at an increasing pace, while the same was done with old office buildings in the Financial District to the west. There had, of course, been sounds of protest when properties were condemned in the 1960s and streets were bluntly broken up by the World Trade Center superblock. 69 But the residents then were politically feeble, their protests dispersed. Now, partly in thanks to the magnetism of the Trade Center offices, the residents’ bloc consisted of affluent professionals, who were often home-owners and quite well-versed in the complexities of real-estate and town planning. Furthermore, the residents got organised. The main political body for residents was Community Board 1, the local government unit representing the neighbourhoods of Lower Manhattan, and the 34,420 people living there.70 Its president, Madelyn Wils, won a seat on the LMDC board. Although she was often overshadowed, if not by the governor and the Port Authority, then by the illustrious and politically savvy figures within the board itself, it was the Community Board which co-organised the Listening to the City events for consumer groups to vocalise their opinions and ideas. At these meetings, many supported the development of housing on Ground Zero. Bloomberg was sympathetic to the idea, and within academic planners’ circles there seemed to exist a broad consensus that it was exactly what Lower Manhattan now needed. 71. This was the great paradox of residential consumption. The World Trade Center had not been fully rented out for years, while all around it, empty office towers were converted into highly soughtafter apartments. To most city planners, scholars and neighbourhood groups it had become very clear 69

Darton, Divided we stand, 91. This is the number of residents according to the 2000 census, which has almost doubled since then. The 1980 number, in comparison, is 15,918. (retrieved 2 November 2012). 71 Vincent Mosco, ‘The empire at Ground Zero’ in Timothy A. Gibson and Mark Douglas Lowes eds., Urban communication: production, text, context (Plymouth 2007), 199-216, 208; Sturken, ‘Aesthetics of absence’ 316; Robert Beauregard, ‘Making an inclusive urbanism: New York City’s World Trade Memorial’, in Sophie BodyGendrot, Jacques Carré and Romain Garbaye eds., A city of one’s own, blurring the boundaries between private and public (Aldershot 2008) 25-40, 31-32. 70


in the last decades that the corporate boom that the World Trade Center should have brought to Lower Manhattan was already long past its high point – and had hardly realised its promises anyway. 72 The area, then, was ripe for residential, rather than commercial development. On the surface, however, these facts were not evident. It was in Silverstein’s and the Port Authority’s interest to portray the World Trade Center as having been a successful and desirable place for companies to move their offices. Indeed, despite initial widespread disapproval of the boxy structures, the twin towers had become one of the most prominent and well-loved symbols of New York, and the most recognisable element in its skyline. After the terrorist attacks these sentiments took flight, and with the towers instantly canonised it was more difficult than ever to bring up their unsuccessful aspects, and the failure of Lower Manhattan as a business area. Lastly, it would be a while before anyone would want to rent or buy living space on a site of such trauma. This argument applied to office space as well, but was brought up most fervently whenever housing was considered. Nevertheless, the residents of Lower Manhattan knew that they had certain facts on their side, even if they were unpopular and not widely known. But even with Madelyn Wils on the LMDC board, the main problem would be the Port Authority’s program for the site, which left very little room for any negotiation.

Invisible archaeology: the biography of Ground Zero There was a fourth potential way to consume the sixteen acres, that did not have nearly as many proponents as the mourners, tourists and residents. It did not necessarily clash with the other possible ways of development, but it was arguably the most overlooked, and had the most far-reaching consequences. It is for these reasons that I include the historical mode of consumption here. The superblock on which the World Trade Center was situated is one of the oldest continually inhabited space in North America. 73 Part of it, anyway, since a third of the site used to be under water. The northeast corner of Ground Zero was built over the bedding of the Hudson River, making it extremely interesting archaeologically. Since then, land reclamation has greatly expanded the habitable area of Manhattan. Soil was added, coastlines redrawn as layer upon layer was added with time. Interestingly, from 2002 onward, people were digging down again. The last mode of consumption I will discuss, is not one enacted by a large group. It has to do more with potential uses of the site – a potential, of which Ground Zero has very much. It is the consumption of this site as a historical space, with a biography of human activity of more than ten thousand years. Not only can sites relinquish these stories of their past (through archaeology and 72

After an unexpected but welcome late wave of internet brokerage firms in the twin towers in the 90s, most large companies had moved their main offices to more prestigious high-end office space in Midtown, their servers and back offices to less expensive boroughs. Mosco, ‘The empire at Ground Zero’ 208-209. 73 Anne-Marie Cantwell and Diana diZerega Wall, Unearthing Gotham: the archaeology of New York City (New York 2001), 3.


remaining topographical features), there is also the possibility to represent some of these stories on the site, and showcase them in the present. Alternatively, there is a risk of constructing the site so, that all of its history before the pivotal events of September 11, 2001 are neglected, and effectively erased for all future consumers of the space. The sixteen acres formed a contested space long before they became known as Ground Zero. Of course, much protest was heard in the era of the twin towers’ construction. The World Trade Center was conceived at the high point of Robert Moses’ urban renewal era. Moses, working closely with the powerful Rockefeller family, had redeveloped neighbourhoods to encourage gentrification and postindustrial, white-collar businesses at the expense of middle-class and ethnic communities (who were often effectively driven out of desirable Manhattan areas) since World War II. 74 After successful projects in Morningside Heights and Midtown, Moses turned to a manufacturing and electronics district on the Lower Manhattan western harbour. Radio Row, as it was called, was not unsuccessful; in fact New York historian Mike Wallace has stated that if left to flourish, the area might well have provided the city with the foundations to develop into an equivalent of Silicon Valley. 75 The Port Authority, under executive director Austin Tobin, was eager to invest its surplus revenues from tolls in real-estate. This was, unsurprisingly, encouraged by the governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller (1958-1973). Although, as a transport agency, it should arguably have invested in mass transit, it was much easier to utilise its supra-legal authority to disown land and speed planning proposals through the City Governments back rooms. 76 Several authors have documented the intense protest that the transformation of Radio Row into a modernist superblock engendered. First among them was Jane Jacobs, who had joined small businessmen and residents from 1961 onwards, while conducing her research for the landmark The Death and life of great American cities.77 Another study from City University, which challenged the paradigm of industrial clearance and office construction, rattled its financial supporters – the Rockefeller foundation. But the proponents of constructing the modernist superblock proved to be allpowerful. Researchers who discouraged building a World Trade Center, since many companies were setting up their own international divisions, were forced to retract their findings. Proponents even cooperated with the New York mafia to intimidate officials opposed to the building plans.78 The fight continued into the late 1960s, when the City eventually gave in to the promise of the simultaneous development of the extremely prestigious Battery Park City, on reclaimed land next the World Trade Center.


Robert Caro, ‘Annals of Power’, The New Yorker, 22 July 1974 (retrieved 11 November 2012). Mike Wallace, A New Deal for New York (New York 2002), 82. 76 Mosco, ‘The empire at Ground Zero’, 206. 77 Jane Jacobs, The life and death of great American cities (New York 1964). 78 James Glanz and Eric Lipton, City in the sky: the rise and fall of the World Trade Center (New York 2004), 198-200. 75


After construction of the twin towers, designed by the relatively inexperienced architect Minoru Yamasaki, there was little challenge to the hegemonic mode of site consumption. 79 It was commercial first and foremost; tourists came to admire the architecture and gaze at the city from the viewing platform on the South Tower, but they were guided through this tiny fraction of the space and not otherwise catered for. The same was true of residents from the surrounding housing blocks – the absence of living space on the superblock was not questioned. Most Lower Manhattan residents had resigned themselves to using the underground shopping mall, lacking other provisions. 80 In Lefebvre’s terms, one could say that from the 1970s on, the Port Authority and the companies that rented floor space in its buildings produced the site, largely excluding non-corporate modes of consumption, and largely unchallenged within the space of their superblock. Outside its boundaries, however, it was another story. In an attempt to ‘break down [Ground Zero’s] current phatic inscription and recover alternative memories lost in the in the hubris of war’ after 9/11, Devin Zuber has chronicled the many artworks that challenged the site from its direct vicinity. They range from early works that juxtaposed green space with the World Tade Center’s corporate hegemony, to posters protesting the Iraq war and Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s ‘The gates’, installed temporarily in Centeral Park in 2005. One of the early examples was the impressive 1982 artwork ‘Wheatfield – a confrontation’, existing of a field of wheat, planted by artist Agnes Denes on two acres of landfill that were destined to be developed as luxury Battery Park residences (image 1.5, 1.6). 81 New York has an ambivalent relationship with its past. Historically, much of its population moved to the city to start a new life. Like the rest of the United States, and perhaps more so, New Yorkers lived in the present, with an eye to the future. 82 On the other hand, the city today boasts many historical landmarks. City Hall, the Battery, and the early skyscrapers from the turn of the century are cherished, and actively used to market the city. Jane Jacobs and her followers successfully protested against the extensive urban renewal of Manhattan, stopping the construction of the Lower Manhattan Interstate in 1964. The hugely controversial demolition of Pennsylvania Station was one of the catalysts for the foundation of the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission. On a national level, archaeologists and historians teamed up with environmental preservationists to lobby for the National Historic Preservation Act, which was passed in 1966.


Minoru Yamasaki was a surprising choice to design a set of presumably revolutionary superskyscrapers. Mosco argues the choice for a middling architect such as Yamasaki was a natural one, however. Yamasaki, whose only other construction (the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project) was deemed a disaster and torn down after a few years, was ‘pliable and so eager to please his superiors that he surprised even members of his own firm with his willingness to give up practically all of his design principles to meet the demands to maximize rental space’. Mosco, ‘The empire at Ground Zero’, 207. 80 Goldberger, Up from Zero, 74. 81 Devin Zuber, ‘Flânerie at Ground Zero: aesthetic countermemories in Lower Manhattan’, American Quarterly 2 (2006), 269-299, 270-278. 82 Cantwell and diZerega Wall, Unearthing Gotham, 8.


1.5 ‘The Gates’, installation in Central Park, winter of 2005.

Over the course of these years archaeology carved out its niche in American society. As in European countries, it was transformed from an academic matter, often financed by well-to-do scholars themselves in search of ‘glamorous’ finds and subsequent fame; to contract archaeology, conducted by large firms and financed by government or developers. This new archaeology shifted its focus from rural sites and pre-colonial history to urban archaeology (where most human remains are concentrated) and a long-term view of human habitation of the continent.83 Present-minded Now York resisted archaeology within its streets longer than most cities – forcing avocational archaeologists to salvage some invaluable sites with limited means. But in the late 1970s, the Landmark Preservation Commission first demanded the Dollar Savings Bank finance a small archaeological project on the Stadt Huys Block, along Broad Street, before razing the space with bulldozers to lay foundation for a new office building. A team of well-respected New York Archaeologists got all of three months in the winter of 1979 to see what they could uncover on the site of the first City Hall of Dutch New Amsterdam. Their findings were incredibly rich. The site had been on the waterfront when colonists first arrived, and had contained a Native American fishing station, the city hall and a tavern called the King’s House which played a large part in the colony’s history. In the end, the office tower was completed long before the scientists had analysed the tens of thousands of excavated objects, resulting in a six-hundred-page report – and the outline of the tavern and the Stadt Huys in coloured tiles in the plaza at 85 Broad Street. More importantly, the project captured the interest of thousands of New 83

Cantwell and diZerega Wall, Unearthing Gotham, 12-14.


Yorkers passing the site as well as the media; and paved the way for much goodwill and more powerful legislation to enable archaeological research. Since then, interest in the physical history of Manhattan has boomed, recently resulting in such large projects as the impressive interdisciplinary work of the Mannahatta Project. 84 Unfortunately, this interest came too late for the World Trade Center site. The construction of superskyscrapers in this era, however, is another feature of urban renewal that greatly influenced our ability to gouge the biography of Manhattan. To build a very tall structure, one needs to dig deep to secure its foundations. The ‘bathtub’ that was dug for the twin towers has become visible both literally and figuratively since 2001, but of course, all office towers required much soil to be removed – along with the tangible traces of history of those sites. This does not, however, change the status of the land on which the twin towers were built. It is, in fact, a space with one of the longest human histories in America. Findings in Port Mobil, a block away, suggest that Paleo-Indian hunters lived in the area eleven thousand years ago. 85 Like the Stadt Huys site, the area of the World Trade Center was excavated by decree of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. When digging the subway tunnels for Greenwich Station in 1916, workmen found the sunken remains of a charred ship’s hull. Researchers concluded it was the Tijger, one of three Dutch ships on a fur trading mission in 1613 to the newly discovered Hudson Bay. When the Tijger was all but lost in a fire, the Dutch captains decided to stay on Manhattan and build a new vessel, but part of the crew mutinied and sailed the other boats back to Europe.86 A foreman knew this history and had the part of the ship that protruded into the subway tunnel carefully removed. When the foundations for the World Trade Center were laid in 1968, the South Seaport Museum cooperated with an enthusiastic Trade Center engineer to recover the rest of the ship, but the remaining part could not be located in time, and was probably destroyed by the construction.87 Of all potential modes of consumption, this possibility for a historical perspective was the least prominent. It was not concretely vocalised often, and did not have large organisations pressing for its inclusion. It is interesting, however, on a different level, in a way that encompasses the entire discourse on exclusion from the site. Ground Zero presented, among many other things, a fascinating possibility to engage with history in a country, which traditionally had a complex and often problematic relationship with its past. The magnitude of the events of 9/11 had the potential of all but erasing the remnants of what had occurred on the site before that date, not just in a material sense, but in the public memory. On the other hand, it brought up memories of the past that had long been buried. In a figurative sense, because the complete disruption of the commercial status quo of the World Trade


Eric Sanderson ed., The Mannahatta Project: a natural history of New York City (New York 2009). Cantwell and diZerega Wall, Unearthing Gotham, 44. 86 Ralph Solecki, ‘The “Tiger”, an Early Dutch 17th Century ship, and an abortive salvage attempt, Journal of field archaeology 1 (1974), 110-116, 113. 87 Cantwell and diZerega Wall, Unearthing Gotham 153. 85


Center allowed for renewed discussion of past and present meaning of the space; but also literally, as shall be seen in chapter 3. When the initial shock lessened, in the final months of 2001, a division of power slowly became visible to the public. Larry Silverstein was set on rebuilding all lost office space, and backed by the Port Authority this program seemed extremely rigid. Silverstein especially had declared his intentions early, while the mayor, the governor and other parts of government were preoccupied with elections, the wider implications of the attacks, and preparations for the ‘war on terror’ President Bush had declared on 14 September 2001. The development plans were challenged from early on, however, by many groups, movements and individuals who wished to see other modes of consumption included in the eventual development of the site. It was up to the LMDC to gauge all positions and navigate a way to a development plan. Neither the developers, nor the challenging groups, however, knew exactly how to proceed in the unprecedented situation, the chaos of the Pile; the vacuum that Hajer termed ‘institutional insecurity’, and Muschamp called ‘the void’.88 The process that ensued was one of exploration and struggle, resulting in many deadlocks.

1.6 Agnes Denes in her ‘Wheatfield – a confrontation’ (1982). 88

Hajer, ‘Rebuilding Ground Zero’, 459.


2. 10 million square feet on 16 acres, 2002-2004 In his last speech before leaving office on 31 December 2001, Mayor Rudy Giuliani stated his firm belief that no offices should be built on Ground Zero. ‘I really believe we shouldn't think about this site out there, right behind us, right here, as a site for economic development,’ he said. Instead, he envisioned a memorial ‘that draws millions of people here that just want to see it’. 89 It is unlikely that he imagined these millions to come from the city itself, and it is interesting to note that the mayor found attracting visitors more fitting than attracting permanent residents to Lower Manhattan. Hence, even a memorial function was combined with positive economic (and to an extent, commercial) effects. From then on, ‘“memorial” came to be a compulsory prefix’, as Hajer has noted.90 His successor, Michael Bloomberg, reacted laconically, saying ‘Everybody thinks we will have a memorial and should have a memorial, and that is what we have the [Lower Manhattan Development] committee for: to look and see what's the appropriate use of that space, and I think I'll sit back and let them come up with suggestions and give them my input. I think that I'm in favor of more of a mixeduse thing.’ 91 At that moment, he seemed to have the city against him. Almost no-one wanted to think about rebuilding while human remains were still carried away over the access ramp regularly; and when people did talk of construction, it was to reinstate a replica of the twin towers as soon as possible. 92 In this chapter, I shall describe the sequence of events from Giuliani’s resignation until the finalisation of a design plan for the World Trade Center site in 2004. 93 The actions taken by the producing parties and subsequent reactions can shed some light on the conflicts that arose over the site, the efforts to find a middle ground, and the eventual deadlocks. For it soon became clear that the process of planning for Ground Zero would be full of conflict: although prominent voices condemned any rebuilding apart from a monument in debates as late as 2003, the public consensus slowly began to sway as Bloomberg settled into his new role. By that time, however, those with executive power over Ground Zero were already hard at work to begin commercial reconstruction, as soon as possible.94


Diane Cardwell, ‘In final address, Giuliani envisions soaring memorial’, New York Times, 28 December 2001. Hajer, ‘Rebuilding Ground Zero, 452. 91 Cardwell, ‘In final address’. 92 Goldberger, Up from Zero, 53. 93 The completion of this plan by no means marked a final solution, but it did mean the process of planning, and the struggle over Ground Zero, entered a new, more structured phase. 94 As one of the few journalists present at almost all of the events relevant to the planning of Ground Zero between 2001 and 2004, Paul Goldberger’s account Up from zero forms an important source for this chapter, especially his quotations of individuals present at meetings not otherwise reported in the press. 90


Envisioning a built environment Although the New Yorkers who wanted the site to remain completely void of construction remained vocal for years after the attacks, it became increasingly possible for many to see Ground Zero as more than a graveyard in the course of 2002. A majority ‘moved gradually toward thinking that the ways in which they might respect the lives of those who died there and the ways in which they might respect the future of the city and build toward it need not be entirely incompatible.’ 95 A telling illustration of the gradual change was the exhibition put together by Max Protetch for his Chelsea gallery, which sold architectural drawings. Demonstrating considerable foresight, he invited artists early in 2002 to provide concepts of possible designs for the site, stating that he: ‘realized that in four months’ time there would be a great deal of pressure on those who would have the power to control the future of the World Trade Center site, and that the drive to maximize commercial square footage might lead to knee-jerk responses’. 96 Though half of the architects Protetch approached turned him down, deeming the proposal unseemly at this early stage, and many others showed designs that would hardly be possible to realise, some conclusions can be drawn from the designs. One is that the overwhelming expectation for a design seemed to be another superskyscraper. A notable exception to the many soaring varieties on the extremely tall skyscraper that many seemed to feel obliged to come up with was Michael Sorkin’s plan for a re-imagined urban plan of Lower Manhattan, integrating park areas, a tunnel replacing the West Street thoroughfare, links to various the various schools and universities and an improved transport hub: a design seemingly aimed at building a healthy residential Lower Manhattan neighbourhood (image 2.1). 97 Protetch’s exhibition was a great success. New Yorkers lined up to see the designs, and the first day journalists and television cameras filled the room to broadcast images to the rest of the nation. As Silverstein was advised by his PR consultants to keep a lower profile while going through his less than photogenic fight for insurance money, and many did not dare think of building while excavations (and subsequent, though ever less frequent, burials) were still underway, large numbers of people satisfied an apparent need to visualise possible future construction on Ground Zero. But while audiences flocked to Chelsea to gaze at what could be, a select group of individuals was already working hard on what should be, according to their employers. David Childs was making remarkable progress with plans that would primarily suit the needs of his client, Larry Silverstein. Childs knew that vision was not the current primary demand for Ground Zero. Since no one was questioning the ownership of the land and Silverstein’s lease in a meaningful way, any realistic planning at this stage would have for a design including the ten million square feet of office space. At the same time, all sides realised that no design would get public approval if there was no memorial on the site whatsoever. The only question was what size it would be, what form it would take, and to 95

Goldberger, Up from Zero, 121. Holland Cotter, ‘Amid the ashes, creativity’, New York Times, 1 February 2002. 97 ‘The Max Protetch Gallery show’, video on (retrieved 22 November 2012) 96


whom it would be meaningful: to the increasingly demanding families and survivors, or to the wider group of international visitors.

2.1 Michael Sorkin’s design for the Max Protetch exhibition, 2002.

The LMDC, too, respected the ten-million-square-feet program, demanding as it was for their new vice president for design and planning, Alexander Garvin. Garvin, an architect turned revolutionary urban planner and professor in the 1960s, had stated in his The American city: what works, what doesn’t in 1996 that ‘urban planning should be defined as public action that will produce a sustained and widespread public market reaction’.98 The influential mentor at Yale to many other planners, who encouraged his students to think of planning as an intricate game of politics and interest groups, seemed fit for the job he was asked to do in January 2002. ‘I’ve got to find a way to implement everybody’s agendas – the city government, the state government, the residents, the families’, he said


Alexander Garvin, The American city: what works, what doesn’t (New York 1996), 6.


in an interview in his first week. ‘How you do this, I don’t know, but part of my job will be to figure out the alternatives.’ 99 Garvin’s first success in navigating these dire straits came with the development of 7 World Trade Center. The building that had stood there prior to the attacks was a bulky wall-like structure that abruptly cut off the trajectory of Greenwich Street, marking the boundary of the Trade Center superblock. David Childs was willing to design a new building that would allow Greenwich Street to be reconnected to its southern appendage, but looked for ways to convince Silverstein of the benefits. Garvin stepped in and told Silverstein that the LMDC might not approve any design that would still dissect Greenwich Street. It was a bluff, threatening that if Silverstein did not agree on here, the LMDC could make it more difficult for him to get his plans approved once building on the actual site of the twin towers got underway. Silverstein agreed to a design by Childs, that won considerable approval from the architecture community. 100 It is interesting to note that the architect made several adaptations to his designs to give the residents of Greenwich Street a view along the street towards the southern tip of Manhattan. The LMDC here explicitly argued in favour of Lower Manhattan residents, and with some success. The LMDC, at this stage, were confident that if they respected the fundamental outlines of the program, they would get a considerable voice in the aesthetics and design of the eventual plan. 101 The Port Authority was not known for its successful architectural patronage at the best of times, let alone now, having lost many employees and its executive director. But it would not be that simple. In March, Garvin invited several architects to serve as consultants to the LMDC by providing possible designs. The Port Authority objected that the body was assuming a measure of control over the design to which they had no right, and forced Garvin to cancel the project. After this humiliating setback, Lou Tomson of the LMDC and the Port Authority’s new executive director Joseph Seymour went into negotiations, settling of a memorandum of understanding in March, in which the LMDC agreed to abstain from any further unilateral planning of the site. In return, Tomson got the executive director to agree to work with the LMDC rather than with its traditional complete independence. The parties also codified, for the first time, their intention to save space for a memorial, and to consider cultural facilities and the re-opening of old roads in the former superblock. 102 It is not easy to gauge, with something approaching acceptable accuracy, the extent of the objections against the Port Authority’s program. It is tempting to substantiate the argument, as many authors have done, by citing letters to the Times and visitors to community hearings. These voices, 99

Goldberger, Up from Zero, 80. Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, for example, wrote that ‘the 7 World Trade Center tower, by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, rank[s] among the sleekest, most architecturally accomplished skyscraper to rise in New York City in decades.’ Los Angeles Times, 23 May 2006; Robin Pogrebin, ‘7 World Trade Center and Hearst Building: New York's test cases for environmentally aware office towers’, New York Times, 16 April 2006. 101 Goldberger, Up from Zero, 87. 102 ‘Memorandum of understanding’, 10 March 2002, on (retrieved 20 November 2012). 100


although ubiquitous, are still anecdotal when not reproduced in great numbers. A brief overview of the different directions from which arguments came against the demanded ten-and-a-half million square feet of office space is more illustrative. The first challenge to the Port Authority’s outline was the wish for a completely empty space, made by several groups mostly made up of relatives of the victims, as described above. As their movement lost momentum over time, another group with more rational arguments became visible. They objected to the program, because so much office space would mean that New York would have to, once again, build high. Although many wished for an element to be reinstated to fill a perceived void in the city’s skyline, there were several reasons to avoid super-tall skyscrapers. One was safety, and the threat of building another potential terrorist target. Monica Gabrielle, who co-chaired a group called the Skyscraper Safety Campaign after her husband died on September 11, wrote to the New York Times that striving for the rebuilding of 10 million square feet of office space was ‘ludicrous. Who would want to go back into one of the world’s tallest buildings after experiencing death knocking at the door?’. 103 But more generally, architects and planners argued that the era of the skyscraper had passed. Even when they were in vogue, the tallest skyscrapers had been a statement of economic prowess, rather than making profitable real estate. These characteristics were mostly appreciated in the booming Asian cities that had kept constructing them long after America put up its last superskyscraper, the Sears Tower, in 1974. 104 Then there was the objection to the nature of the proposed construction. As mentioned above, Lower Manhattan had become a residential, gentrified neighbourhood. Although the World Trade Center inevitably meant that business remained an integral part of its urban fabric, even within its walls a decentralisation had been visible. The major banks that had traditionally held office in the area had long ago moved their headquarters to Midtown, and internet and data storage technology had made it possible for all large companies to move the brunt of their office space to cheaper real estate in other boroughs. A very real argument could be made, therefore, that by exercising his ‘right to rebuild’ office space (condoned by the Port Authority), he would be putting insurance money and federal funds into rapidly declining assets. Not only would the offices not benefit Lower Manhattan, but they would become unprofitable for their owner soon. In reply, the developers repeatedly argued that the construction of all office buildings would take decades, a time in which the market could well grow, and attract businesses back to Lower Manhattan – as they had in the 1960s. 105 Furthermore, the Port Authority could cite an amendment to their charter made while the original World Trade Center was developed in the 1970s that prohibited the Port Authority from constructing housing on the site. The interpretation of the charter was subject to some debate, yet again, no major party could fundamentally challenge the Port Authority. 103

New York Times, 10 January 2003. Goldberger, Up from Zero, 57. 105 Mosco, ‘Empire at Ground Zero’, 205. 104


The only person with the power to mitigate the Port Authority’s strict demands was Governor George Pataki. Although the Port Authority had often swayed the governor’s opinions, Pataki legally had several options to exercise some control over the program for Ground Zero. It was within his power, for instance, to order the Port Authority to begin negotiations with the mayor or the federal government for a price to make the site public property. Failing that, he could have condemned the land. But although the governor was following the developments surrounding Ground Zero closely, and was personally close to many Port Authority and some LMDC board members, he chose to keep silent in the face of the approaching gubernatorial elections. In the words of Goldberger, ‘Pataki talked about bringing consensus and public input to the process, but he seemed often to be working to assure that the process would be slow, convoluted, and more than a little bit opaque.’106

Listening to the city Golberger’s harsh words put little faith in the democratic process, but there was another side to the proceedings. President of the LMDC John Whitehead, had stressed from the outset that his board had no set agenda, and would be in a ‘listening stage’ until March 2002. He organised councils for several groups that thought of themselves as stakeholders in the future of the site: families, neighbourhood residents, small businesspeople from the area, one consisting of representatives of the bigger firms, a council to advise on tourism, art, and education, and even one for transport and commuters. All nine hundred seats were filled at the first public hearing organised by the LMDC at the end of January 2002, in cooperation with several civilian groups. One of these groups was Community Board 1, a body representing the residents of Lower Manhattan, and most of the meeting was dominated by residents’ voices. ‘I wish they would build the World Trade Center again, as tall or taller’, said one man, expressing a feeling shared by a relatively small group, that has remained quite vocal unto this day. Others, including architect and critic Michael Sorkin, expressed the wish that nothing be built on the sacred ground of the site. 107 Although the demands and requests were diverse, most attendants wanted to make themselves heard as a stakeholders’ group, just as the victims’ families and the visitors to the site were. A more important conclusion, however, was that a long list of individual opinions could hardly be of use of any planning bodies. While these ineffective public hearings continued to be held, Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, came up with an alternative. Present at the first public hearing, he had realised the different sentiments present among interested New Yorkers would remain unfocused, and decided to introduce modern communication techniques at his information session called Listening to the City. The event, held in February 2002, attracted a more mixed audience of six hundred. Using polling technology, attendants could vote on set issues, and discuss the future of Ground Zero in small 106 107

Ibid, 89. Goldberger, Up from Zero, 67.


and intentionally diverse groups. As was the case at the public hearings, it was for a large part an occasion for officials such as Charles Gargano, vice chairman of the Port Authority as well as head of the Empire State Development Corporation (the mother organisation under which the LMDC operated), to make public appearances. But again, the outcome of the session was unsurprising and hardly visionary. Most groups reached some compromise that asked for a mixed-use plan for the site, with commemorative as well as commercial aspects. 108 Nonetheless, Listening to the City proved significant in two respects. Firstly, through the polling techniques and clear comparison of the discussion results from different tables around the room, the event produced a simpler and more nuanced image of the desires of those present. It thus helped to move the discussion away from shrill voices demanding either an empty site or a replica of the twin towers. Secondly, Listening to the City was the first step in a complex and unrewarding process: it encouraged citizens to discuss site design, without resorting to images or speaking of architecture instead. For before architecture could enter the stage, the struggle centred on the functions of the sixteen acres. At the public hearing, most attendants missed this important realisation; by speaking of buildings, they missed the opportunity to contribute to the debate on planning. Because everyone wanted to ‘move on’, the all-important discussion on the inclusion of consumer groups was neglected. Relevant as this progress was, Listening to the City was yet to have its finest hour. It came when the Port Authority, which had taken over Garvin’s invite to architects to make an initial proposal for a site plan, presented its ideas for a site plan. The response to the Port Authority’s call had been meagre, not least because the architects associated with the site, such as David Childs and Alexander Cooper - who had been hired to redesign the damaged World Financial Center - did not partake. Out of the fifteen architectural firms, the Port Authority selected Beyer Blinder Belle, known for restoration projects more than for any significant architecture or urban planning. The LDMC and the Port Authority agreed they wanted to present six designs to the public, and Governor Pataki set a deadline for July 4. As Beyer Blinder Belle feverishly set to work, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill simultaneously created a design commissioned by Larry Silverstein, just as Cooper, Robertson & Partners worked on one for the World Financial Center. To get a grasp of the possibilities of the site, Garvin had also hired a small firm called Peterson/Littenberg to act as consultants. They had started to explore ways to fit everything onto the available space soon after Garvin joined the LMDC. It seemed sensible, then, to have all parties present their work to the committee that was formed of LMDC and PA representatives in June to select the final designs. Jack Beyer protested vehemently when the committee proposed to include some of the other schemes in the presentation, however, and the Port Authority agreed. In return, they drilled Beyer to always be positive about the program, not even allowing him to publicly state the difficulty of fitting in the required office space 108

‘Listening to the city: report of proceedings’ on (retrieved 26 November 2012), 4-5.


with a memorial. 109 Stranger still, the ideas of the other architects, which outshone most of Beyer Blinder Belle’s bland work, were subsequently integrated in the final six designs without a mention of their intellectual owners. Hajer’s compulsory ‘memorial’-prefix was present in all designs, called ‘Memorial Plaza’, ‘Memorial Square’, ‘Memorial Triangle’, etc. The Peterson/Littenberg plans for a ‘Memorial Promenade’, which did not leave empty spaces on the footprints of the twin towers, offered much space – introducing the idea of a pedestrian promenade to the southern tip of Manhattan and a view from Ground Zero to the Statue of Liberty. Otherwise, the plans differed very little. All proposed building over Green Street and included between four and eight acres of memorial space and a very tall structure to complement the skyline (image 2.2)

2.2 Four of the initial designs, presented in July, 2002.

When Pataki and Bloomberg were shown the designs, on the eve of the presentation at City Hall, Pataki praised the plans and gave the project his fiat. Bloomberg, however, was dismayed at the narrow scope of the possibilities for the site. Although he could not stop the Port Authority from putting them on show the next day, Bloomberg incredulously asked why there was no option for an


Goldberger, Up from Zero, 97.


empty site, or one with residences. 110 But the LMDC had forced six possible scenarios to fit the tremendous amount of office space, a memorial, cultural facilities and new infrastructure onto the site. On top of this, they wished for a skyline element and some of the original pre-1970s roads, breaking up the superblock, while the Port Authority wished to be able to develop the site in stages to meet market demands. Unsurprisingly, the proposals showed little meaningful differences. In essence, they were as similar as their uniform titles suggested, although the uniformity lay in demands of a commercial nature, not in memorial aspects. The plans were made public on the 23rd of June, 2002. Just days later, Listening to the City took place for the second time. The Civic Alliance organised the event on a much bigger scale than the first, and rightly so. More than four thousand people gathered in a conference centre, to vote and speak their mind, again in mixed small groups. The unanimity in the results was stunning. 83 percent of the attendees wanted a skyline element, and 75 percent were in favour of restoring the superblock’s original street grid to some extent. Things took a surprising turn when the chair asked the audience how they would rate each of the designs as ‘settings for a memorial’. Every one of the plans was subsequently voted ‘poor’ or ‘unacceptable’ by a majority. Despite the fact that the meeting was cosponsored by the Port Authority and the LMDC, and despite the former’s executive director’s stern opening words that the site was ‘not a blank slate’, the public had made a clear point. 111 There was a desire for boldness and visionary planning, and –although it was not made explicit- an unease with the outcomes of the Port Authority’s rigid program.

Settling for a design Although the Authority had no intention to change anything about their program, it was clear that it could not continue with the Beyer Blinder Belle designs. The six designs were abandoned unceremoniously, as the LDMC could claim that the original invite had clearly stated that it was ‘not a design competition and will not result in the selection of a final plan’. 112 Roland Betts, the most politically high-profile member of the LDMC, stepped in and proposed an architectural competition. He managed to negotiate some leniency in the amount of commercial space necessary (though there still was to be no housing on the site) and sent out a call for architects in October. Called the Innovative Design Study, the competition gave the impression of being more open, and more flexible, as the Port Authority had agreed to give specific instructions throughout the design process. In effect, though, the five teams that were selected by the LMDC had to keep to almost exactly the same restraints as the contestants of the first, less official round had.


Edward Wyatt, ‘Ground Zero: the site. Ground Zero plan seems to circle back’ New York Times, 13 September 2003. 111 ‘Listening to the city: report of proceedings’ 112 Wyatt, ‘Ground Zero: the site’.


Out of the five design teams, Child’s firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill were disqualified for their association with Silverstein’s developments, although Childs had already distanced himself from the LMDC’s competition in order to remain working on designs for Silverstein. Because Garvin found their designs impractical and aesthetically inferior, it soon became clear the Meier team was soon out of the running as well. Rafael Viñoly headed a team of renowned architects called THINK. It originated in a collective formed several months earlier, when New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp had set up his own competition for designs to inspire more visionary architecture.

2.3 Design proposal by Norman Foster (‘Kissing Towers’), December 2002.

2.4 Design proposal by THINK Group, 2002.


Muschamp had been harshly criticised for being involved in both the proposing of plans and reviewing others, but the THINK group had gained valuable experience, and presented a daring plan. They proposed to restore the silhouettes of the twin towers with soaring latticework reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, in which museums and other cultural facilities could be constructed, as well as a memorial in the form of ‘reflecting pools’ (a term seen in many designs) at the bottom and two platforms at the very top (image 2.4). The THINK towers thus integrated relevant usage of the footprints, skyline elements, memorial and cultural spaces in one, essentially reinventing the site as a bulwark of the public, not the private sphere and challenging the Port Authority in a manner true to their highbrow architectural origins. Interestingly, THINK all but completely neglected the demand of the guidelines for office space, leaving areas in the north and east free for commercial development – hence, surrendering control to the Port Authority in these areas. Sir Norman Foster’s ‘kissing towers’ were popular with the public, despite their gargantuan height of 1.764 feet (image 2.5). Foster had barely provided a plan for the rest of the site, save for a space for a memorial on the original footprints of the tower, and more or less left the superblockstructure of the original WTC layout intact, with the difference of providing only 6 million square feet of office space. The popularity of his design would, therefore, seem surprising – the LDMC were not too pleased with it. But again, the public love for the kissing towers may well be explained by the fact that Foster, rather than coming up with a coherent plan, provided imagery.

2.5 Design proposal by Peterson/Littenberg, December 2002.

An artist’s rendition of the towers circulated widely on the internet, and was discussed at length in public forums and the press. In contrast, Peterson and Littenberg had created an ‘intelligent plan that


wove Ground Zero graciously into the surrounding cityscape’ as Goldberger put it. 113 The design is beautiful, but in a conventional, perhaps outdated way, a sensation heightened by the presentation’s impressionistic watercolours of classically shaped, classically archetypical skyscrapers reminiscent of the 1909 Burnham plan for Chicago (image 2.5). One element in Peterson and Littenberg’s design received relatively little attention, though perhaps they deserved much credit for it. For their design was the unique in its integration of the oftoverlooked historical mode of consumption. They intended to reinstate Fritz Koenig’s sculpture, the Sphere (see chapter 3), as well as showcase the colonial edge of the river Hudson. But as enthusiastic as commenters were about the kissing towers, so hated was the Person/Littenberg plan. It was described by writer Will Leitch as ‘the bland, dull work of people who live in the suburbs and are long past the point of caring anymore’. Leitch added that the couple had probably only made it to the last round through ‘a polite gesture on the part of, well, of whomever is in charge of this whole mess. Yeah, uh … who IS in charge of this whole thing? Legitimate question.’ 114 The ‘institutional insecurity’ was still widespread, the rules of the game vague. The emotional discourse that had prevailed since 9/11, however, had influenced the redevelopment process in at least one fundamental aspect: memories of 9/11 and after took precedence over pre-2001 history. Although in many ways the most realistic, the outcome of Peterson/Littenberg’s lengthy urban study was, if anything, ahead of itself and unfit for a competition that officially still called for an Innovative Design Study. It appears they understood too late that the nature of the competition had changed, from one of urban planning to one of bold ideas. Essentially, the ‘democratic’ involvement of the public had turned it into a parade of impressive imagery. At a two-day forum on the LMDC plans it had been Barbara Littenberg who said, after much cloudy sycophantic rhetoric by her cocompetitors, that ‘people are waiting for an architectural messiah, but the problem is also with democracy. It is very hard to have a plebiscite about what to build. I’m not sure that a perfect vision would lead everybody to stand up and cheer’.115 Garvin selected for the LMDC two finalists that had met his criteria. They had most pragmatically kept to the restraints of the competition, while including elements of a certain demagogical quality. From the February 4, 2003 announcement onwards, THINK and Libeskind entered a well-publicised fight over publicity, appearing in various media and hiring PR agents. Libeskind and Viñoly called each other’s designs ‘skeletons in the sky’ and ‘the wailing wall’, respectively. 116 When a winner was announced (after weeks of muckraking and fine-tuning of the designs under the auspices of Garvin), Whitehead and especially Pataki again spoke of democratic values and how the winning design ‘resonated with the public’. 113

Goldberger, Up from Zero, 151. Will Leitch and Eric Gillin, ‘They’re big. They’re bad. They’re buildings! A comprehensive look at all the World Trade Center proposals’ on (retrieved 2 October 2012). 115 Goldberger, Up from Zero, 147, 156. 116 Julie Iovine, ‘Finalists for Ground Zero design pull out the stops’ New York Times, 26 February 2003. 114


But democracy, as Barbara Littenberg had pointed out, really was the problem. In the absence of rules, the political process of planning depended heavily on rhetoric, performance, and ultimately, a measure of public support. 117 The LMDC and the Port Authority had set forth with an essentially democratic performance in the initial design study. It was still a performance, however, designed around the 10-million-square-feet Port Authority program. It was publicly derided for its transparency, and a second design round had to provide a sturdier democratic base for a site plan. Still, it was Garvin, president of the LMDC who selected the finalists, and who presented them to Bloomberg and Pataki in December 2002. Bloomberg did not express any strong opinion, but Pataki - who had been re-elected in 2003 – squarely chose Libeskind. His decision again thwarted the LMDC, which, at the insistence of Roland Betts, had backed THINK. Libeskind more than the other architects, had presented his designs not as tailored to the wishes of his client (the LMDC and the Port Authority) but instead cast the public as his primary client through personalised and highly emotional speeches. 118 Pataki was apparently grasped by this, too, whereas he felt that the latticework THINK-towers evoked a dead building. It might well be that he had conferred with the other main player on the producing side of Ground Zero, for when asked after the announcement, Larry Silverstein (who would have to pay for it all) was reported to have said: ‘they picked the right one’. 119 The public had been presented with a performance of a democratic planning process twice, but each time the Port Authority had compromised extremely little. The process, meanwhile, had repeatedly resulted in humiliation for the LMDC. Its deliberately vague position in the planning process became increasingly untenable as the Port Authority and Pataki interfered with its decisions. Lou Tomson resigned as president of the Corporation after Libeskind was selected as winner by Pataki. A few months later, in 2004, Alexander Garvin resigned as well; partly because his close connections with Mayor Bloomberg were increasingly causing tension within the LMDC – showing that ultimately, it was still a state agency. The competition for a memorial design (for which Libeskind had reserved about a quarter of the site) was relatively free from any program or demands, and therefore considerably less strained. This time, the competition was completely public, and a jury of experts including the famed Maya Lin (designer of the Washington Vietnam Veterans Memorial) spent the last months of 2003 going through thousands of designs. Though their deliberations were kept behind closed doors, Lin allegedly used her privileged position among the jury to full effect to have Michael Arad’s ‘Reflecting Absence’ selected as the winner.


On political processes as performances, see J. C. Alexander, ‘From the depths of despair: performance and counterperformance on September 11th’ in Sociological Theory, 1 (2004), 88-105; J. L. Austin, How to do things with words? (Oxford 1962). 118 Hajer, ‘Rebuilding Ground Zero’, 459. 119 Goldberger, Up from Zero, 168-169.


2.6 Daniel Libeskind’s design ‘Memory Foundations’ in 2003, and in 2004, with the addition of Arad’s ‘Reflecting Absence’.

It seemed, by 2004, that a design plan had been completed. This proved not to be the case at all, however. Libeskind, who had never designed a skyscraper, had provided but a conceptual form which had to be transformed into a buildable design (image 2.6). David Childs (who, as Silverstein’s hired architect, still had the last word) had his own ideas about how to make this happen – eventually adapting Libeskind’s design to something that pleased both security experts and the Port Authority, but which hardly resembled Libeskind’s architecture (image 2.7). 120 Still, much of the political and institutional chaos had been cleared up, and after 2004, it appeared as if the development would follow a more structured, set course. In a way, it did. When Elliot Spitzer replaced Pataki as New York State Governor in 2006, for instance, he tried to reverse many of his predecessor’s policies, but could not go against the current. 121 But despite security concerns, and despite the financial crisis that hit the United States in from 2007 onwards, Silverstein and the Port Authority should have been able to realise their selected design in a few years’ time. They


‘Back to the wrestling mat’, New York Times, 5 May 2005. ‘Spitzer assails leadership in Ground Zero stalemate’ New York Times, 26 March 2006; ‘ Spitzer slams Ground Zero work’, The Gothamist, 30 May 2006.



could not, as the process continued to be challenged effectively, just as it had in the previous years. These sustained contestations to the intended production of Ground Zero shall now be discussed.

2.7 The Libeskind design as adapted by David Childs, around 2010.


3. Contested objects, 2004-2010 While architects and commercial firms deliberated over high buildings and the significance of modernist architecture, Ground Zero was still a giant pit in the surface of Manhattan. Although arguably great process had been made in transforming the site from catastrophic chaos into the everyday drone of construction work, the public (as it manifested itself in letters to the editor, public protest and on-line commentaries) clamoured for something tangible to show ‘rebuilding’. In January 2004, Michael Arad’s ‘Reflecting Absence’ was announced by the LMDC as the winning design for a memorial, and in July of that year a cornerstone was laid for the proposed Freedom Tower, then scheduled to open in 2008. 122 Some might have realised at the time that this date was a fantasy, useful to soothe the public temporarily, but far from feasible. Few could have suspected, however, how much conflict still lay in the way of the Port Authority and the LMDC. 123 For even though the site mostly looked mundane and devoid of any remnant of the past, it still contained objects that would form the focal point of protest over the next years, greatly stalling any redevelopment. This would not be possible until every one of the contested objects was removed from the site. Even though the Port Authority and Larry Silverstein were becoming more confident in their political movements, the interaction between all the players at Ground Zero was still to a very large extent based on performance, rhetoric, and symbolism. To analyze these interactions, a useful instrument is the concept of material agency. Though traditionally applied to human actors, material, or non-human agency has been used with increasing frequency in recent scholarly research. Carl Knappett and Lambros Malafouris, for instance, have written about the ‘haptical engagement’ that can exist between humans and things. 124 The relationship between human and non-human actors is not a one-way process. Objects, material, and non-human entities such as electronics can, and do influence courses of action significantly, yet have for a long time been systematically neglected by researchers. Bruno Latour lamented that:

for too long, objects have been wrongly portrayed as matters-of-fact. This is unfair to them, unfair to science, unfair to objectivity, unfair to experience. They are much more interesting, variegated, uncertain, complicated, far-reaching, heterogeneous, risky, historical, local, material and networky than


David Dunlap, ‘A 20-ton cornerstone for Freedom Tower’ New York Times, 20 June 2004. Fittingly, the cornerstone was the subject of a minor scandal in the press, when it was discovered to have been removed sometime before 2008 and stored with the Long Island stone company that donated it. Michael Daly, ‘Freedom Tower cornerstone is rocked by betrayal’ New York Daily News, 2 July 2008. 124 Carl Knappett and Lambros Malafouris eds., Material agency: towards a non-antropocentric approach (New York 2010), xi. 123


the pathetic version offered for too long by [political] philosophers. Rocks are not there simply to be kicked at, desks to be thumped at. 125

This chapter is about the material agency of several objects on Ground Zero. I shall describe the resolution of some of the stalemates between the site developers and consumer groups, through the displacement or destruction of these objects. The Port Authority, the governor and Larry Silverstein had attempted to maintain control over the production of the site, but despite their unrivalled political power there was a constant pressure from other consumers to be included in the eventual makeup of Ground Zero. As the New York Times wrote late in 2004, the Port Authority faced ‘the greatest test yet of its preservation mettle as decisions are made about extraordinary - if subtle - physical remnants that stand in the way of redevelopment plans.’ 126 I argue that much of the power of the claims of alternative modes of consumption lay in the materiality of Ground Zero. Because of the traumatic events that had taken place on, and in the weeks after 9/11, the tangible remnants down to the very soil of the site had much (material) agency in the ensuing struggles. In this chapter, the role of non-human agents is demonstrated in a series of case studies between 2004 and 2010. Different modes of consumption were connected to the site through objects on it, and the removal of these objects was therefore instrumental to the producing parties when they finally wanted to move forward; breaking stalemate and any lasting resistance. These case studies all serve to illustrate how site production was stalled as long as meaningful material remained on the site. From the perspective of site production, this demonstrates how every single object that remained on the site had to be removed before any plans could be followed through.

Temporary memorials As mentioned before, efforts began almost immediately after 9/11 to divide Ground Zero, the wasteland, from the rest of New York. Very soon, barriers were erected between the streets (which were cleaned up in the course of September 2001 in most cases) and the former World Trade Center site. Much of the latter area would be off-limits to the public until 2011. 127 ‘There was a lot of activity for one day and then it was wiped off of the public’s consciousness’, said Joel Meyerowitz, the sole photographer who was allowed to record the first stages of demolition and excavation. He made his photographs ‘for those outside the forbidden city’ as he calls the fenced-off Ground Zero. 128 The barriers themselves, however, immediately became the most important objects in the communication with, and consumption of the tragedy that had played out behind them. Walls of bare plywood quickly were transformed into a multitude of paper notes, photocopies of ‘Missing’ posters, 125

Bruno Latour, Reassembling the social: an introduction to Actor-network-theory (Oxford 2005), 20-21. David Dunlap, ‘Rebuilding, yes, but taking pains to preserve, too’, New York Times, 30 December 2004. 127 ‘9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero Set to Open to Public’, on (retrieved 2 December 2012) 128 ‘Joel meyerowitz on “Aftermath”’, (video) on (retrieved 2 December 2012). 126


and photographs of the lost. Just a fraction of time later, these walls of paper were transformed again into sites of public mourning. By placing candles, teddy bears, flowers, t-shirts and other tokens near Ground Zero by the thousands, visitors created temporary memorials. The barriers thus became ‘places physically transformed by their gifts of flowers, notes, and other objects; places accorded special, even sacred, status by the ritualized acts and offerings of everyday urban pilgrims’. 129 Temporary memorials of this kind soon became an important feature of the urban fabric around Ground Zero. Harriet Senie has observed that by offering these everyday, often banal things, mourners ‘create a public space for individuals and communities united in grief and often anger’.130 These spontaneous collections of offerings have become, in recent years, an expected element of public grief. They have a surprisingly long history, from 19th century roadside memorials in Spain and the southern United States and other, mostly Catholic, spontaneous shrines.131 But the creation of modern temporary memorials has evolved into a secular and surprisingly strictly coded ritual in the last decades. Yet, they have been the subject of relatively little analysis and study.

3.1 A temporary memorial in Union Square, 14 September 2001. 129

Doss, Memorial mania, 67. Harriet Senie, ‘Mourning in protest: spontaneous memorials and the sacralization of public space’, in Jack Santino ed. , Spontaneous shrines and the public memorialization of death (New York 2006) 41-56, 45. 131 Jack Santino, ‘Spontaneous shrines and the public memorialisation of death’ in Jack Santino ed., Spontaneous shrines and the public memorialization of death (New York 2006), 13. 130


In Memorial mania Erika Doss noted the remarkable uniformity of temporary memorials, be it at the site of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, the Oklahoma bombing, or Ground Zero. Their recognisability perpetuates itself through mainstream media: each time an event of mass death or violence is transformed into a media event, cameras and reporters are forced to provide continual visual coverage of the place of the tragedy. Paradoxically, the most dramatic instances (inside Columbine High School, inside the twin towers) are often invisible, or difficult to make viewable. Therefore, news reels have turned increasingly to video and photo footage of massed things to convey the extent of feeling that the event caused in the affected community. 132 Thus, the massiveness of temporary memorial, their suggestions of grassroots community involvement and direct emotional display all correspond to the perceived greatness of the tragedy in the event. Furthermore, the visual and physical obstruction of ordinary, banal public space in transformed into a destination. The massed piles of objects demand physical interaction, even if it meant just walking around it (image 3.1). 133 The Port Authority attempted to channel this wave of public grief by commissioning a temporary memorial of their own. Six months after 9/11, large light fixtures sent beams of light into the sky from a garage roof several blocks south of Ground Zero, giving the impression of towers in the New York skyline. 134 It was well-loved, but too expensive to be maintained for longer than a few weeks. Around the same time, LMDC chairman John Whitehead announced plans for a temporary memorial in the vicinity of Ground Zero. There were several plots available in Battery Park City, but it seemed there was no right way to go about it. Victims’ families found a memorial away from Ground Zero objectionable. ‘I personally would have no connection to any memorial outside Ground Zero’, the founder of Give Your Voice said. ‘My brother James has yet to be found. And if he's anywhere, he's buried somewhere at Ground Zero. And I wouldn't want to go to anywhere else but there.’ 135 Battery Park City residents were equally opposed, fearing that the memorial might turn into a permanent one. One resident had called these blocks had become a ‘dumping ground for memorials’. 136 A resident expressed his concern that ‘their beleaguered neighborhood will be overrun with visitors’. Another told the press: ‘To have a temporary memorial in a residential area where you have traumatized children and traumatized adults, I think is asking a little too much for one neighbourhood.’ 137 In a series of outreach sessions in 2002 with representatives from different groups, New York New Visions found that rescue workers, on the one hand, ‘expressed concern that a temporary memorial might distract attention away from a permanent memorial’, while Lower Manhattan 132

Doss, Memorial mania, 78. Carole Blair, ‘Contemporary U.S. memorial sites as exemplars of rhetoric’s materiality’, in Jack Selzer and Sharon Crowley eds., Rhetorical bodies (Madison 1999), 44-53, 46. 134 New York Times, 9 September 2006. 135 New York Daily News, 19 February 2002. 136 Golberger, Up from Zero, 56. 137 New York Daily News, 19 February 2002. 133


residents stressed ‘the need for temporary memorial sites’. The report continues: ‘they were concerned about the amount of tourism that a memorial site would generate, and therefore favored reclaiming the current site for public uses such as a park, performing arts center, cultural center, or learning center for children.’ 138 As difficult it was for the Port Authority to regulate memorialisation, the biggest challenge would be to deal with the piles of stuff growing on the sidewalks near the site. Although made up of cheap objects, often of a perishable nature, temporary memorial of this kind have recently been subject of preservation efforts. In 2000, the National Education Association produced a manual for school district on how to manage the temporary memorials invariably erected after school shootings. The Crisis communications guide and toolkit advises schools to regulate temporary memorials, but reminds them also that after the Columbine shootings, ‘there was a significant need to preserve and display these items’. 139 After the Oklahoma bombings, a special fence was set up to collect the many tshirts, signs and other offerings – becoming an attraction of its own. 140 Although the unorganised nature of these piles of objects is a fundamental part of what gives them meaning (and the eventual decay that sets in only adds to it) there has been an increasing call for preservation of the memorials. The enormous practical questions that the preservation of temporary memorials raises are summarised by Doss: ‘can we realistically expect already underfunded and overburdened public institutions to process and house the vast stuff of temporary memorials? Should museums be “managing” these memorials, which means removing them from their original public environments (when? after how long?) and then storing them in sanitized and often less accessible archives?’ 141 The problems with either storing or exhibiting the temporary memorials are manifold. Firstly, the chaotic power of a thousand teddy bears placed by a thousand individual people is obliterated as soon as a curator marks the things and attempts to reassemble a pile of them in an exhibition space. The same goes for the direct experience of gazing upon a memorial, spontaneously erected in a place as public as a sidewalk. Jack Santino calls them ‘performative commemoratives’ that place death at the heart of social life.142 The shock of feeling, the urge to add a thing to the pile, or to take part in the performance of grief by crying, praying, or even picking up and caressing an object surely cannot be meaningfully reproduced in a museum setting. Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett has noted that by removing objects from their location, they become alienated, decontextualised. 143 By putting an object in a museum, it becomes heritage, ethnography, the result of the culture of another, not of one’s own 138

‘New York New Visions Memorials briefing book’ on (retrieved 3 December 2012). 139 ‘Crisis communication guide and toolkit’ on (retrieved 3 December 2012). 140 Doss, Memorial mania, 87. 141 Ibid., 73 142 Santino, ‘Spontaneous shrines and the public memorialization of death’, 13. 143 Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, Destination culture: tourism, museums, and heritage, 21.


society. A last problematic characteristic of museums is that they literally exclude certain modes of consumption. They are not public space, and often demand entrance fees and specific, subdued forms of behaviour. It can be presumed that sites of terrorism-induced trauma are comparable to sites of war heritage, in this respect. Peckham perceives war museums as places that make the explicit connection between the physical material of commemoration, or heritage, and the rituals of commemoration surrounding it. He quotes Adorno, who wrote that ‘Museum and mausoleum are connected by more than phonetic association’.144 But is this really the case? It has been described above how many visitors to Ground Zero felt the need to be present on the locus of the trauma to gain a sense of the ‘real’. To cater for this demand for perceived authenticity, museums and heritage sites increasingly present what has been termed ‘staged authenticity’. 145 Yet, the Department of Parks and Recreation began removing and storing the many shrines and piles a few weeks after 9/11. The Giuliani administration had clamped down on street vendors, public performances and unsolicited public art. True to form they officially banned the creation of memorials in parts and other public sites, in the face of widespread protest. People who were not present in New York City at the day of the attack felt they could connect meaningfully to the events by physically engaging with these memorials. Survivors, victims’ relatives and outside visitors equally ‘worked through’ their grief in this way. 146 But although many of the shrines were soon dismantled, Sturken rightly noted that powerful photographic images of them still circulated. Decomposing flowers were composted to feed official memorial flowerbeds, objects were stored in warehouses around the city, yet the coded rituals of temporary memorials perpetuated itself: visitors still feel a need, as well as entitlement to place flowers and other objects on, or near Ground Zero (image 3.3). 147 Despite the difficulties and paradoxes present in any attempt at exhibiting temporary memorials, the 9/11 Memorial Museum is expected to do just that. From the analyses of Doss and Sturken follows, however, that it is impossible to exhibit anything other than a representation of what once was a powerful, spontaneous expression of grief. Doss summarizes the ‘material culture of grief’ as embodying ‘the faith that Americans place in things to negotiate complex moments and events, such as traumatic death. (…) Things satisfy the emotional need of this negotiation.’ 148 This implicit meaning of the mysteriously collecting, and collectively enacted memorials would, in a museum, be reduced to a reassembled pile of kitschy consumer items (image 3.2).


Robert Peckham, ‘Mourning heritage: memory, trauma and restitution’, in Robert Peckham, Rethinking heritage: cultures and politics in Europe (London 2003), 205-220, 206. 145 Deepak Chhabra, Robert Healy and Erin Sills, ‘Staged authenticity and heritage tourism’, Annals of Tourism Research 3 (2003), 702–719, 704. 146 Sturken, Tourists of history, 172; Doss 68. 147 Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, ‘Kodak Moments, Flashbulb Memories: Reflections on 9/11’, The Drama Review 1 (2003), 11-18, 12. 148 Doss, Memorial mania, 71.


3.2 The Memorial Foundation exhibition features a wall decorated with reproduction of posters and notes that were left on fences around the Ground Zero, August 2012.

3.3 Continuing practice of spontaneous memorials at the site, 11 June 2002.


Survivors’ objects, sacred objects ‘Preservation is scarcely the stock in trade of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’, wrote New York Times reporter David Dunlap (who, with Herbert Muschamp, covered Ground Zero extensively for the newspaper) in December 2004. ‘But in recent years it has shown itself capable of sensitivity to the historical value of its properties. With persuasion from inside and outside, the agency has made substantial investments in existing landmarks, sometimes kicking and screaming.’ 149 Kenneth Ringler Jr., the newly appointed Executive Director at the Port Authority, told the press: ‘We all have the responsibility to move things forward. But on the other hand, if we can protect these facilities, we ought to do it.’ Just as mourning was enacted through creation outside the barriers, removal and demolition took place within. The sacralisation of all material of Ground Zero, discussed in Chapter 1, made this process problematic. As early as October 2001, Richard Scherr, a finalist in the competition for the Oklahoma City Memorial, noted that the material rapidly taken off the WTC site ‘represents a fabric that exists from the site that can speak to us from the site’.150 He suggested that material being ground to scrap or buried could very well have been used in a future memorial. Many New Yorkers felt the same, as evidenced in such groups as Save the facades, which claimed to ‘fight to preserve history’. The facades, the groups claims on its web site, ‘provided comfort and resolve in the weeks and months following the terrorist attacks. The public was assured that these poignant remnants would be included in the future memorial. But now the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation wants to hide them in an underground museum.’ 151 The fight between the police- and firemen on the site in November 2001 escalated because of issues of access to the site - but in fact, the underlying question was that of the removal of material. Architecture critic Herbert Muschamp wrote that ‘a piece of architecture was created in Lower Manhattan last week, and architects had nothing to do with it. This major new work materialized during the scuffle that broke out between police officers and firefighters over access to ground zero.’ The firemen wanted control over the process of carting off debris, which, they claimed, could contain the remains of the dead. The conflict, Muschamp concluded, ‘affirmed a perception that has been taking shape in public consciousness since September 11: a memorial to those lost in the terrorist attack already exists. We will probably see no more eloquent reminder of that day than the twisted steel walls that at present rise from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.’152 It was from 2004 onward, however, that objects from the site would gain unprecedented visibility, and power. Showing remarkable vision, Dunlap concluded his article thus: ‘at ground zero, the Authority faces the greatest test yet of its preservation mettle as decisions are made about extraordinary - if subtle - physical remnants that stand in the way of redevelopment plans.153 Whether 149

New York Times, 30 December 2004. Ibid., 25 October 2001. 151 ‘Save the facades’, July 2005, on (retrieved 2 December 2 2012). 152 New York Times, 11 November 2001. 153 Ibid., 30 December 2004. 150


it was the sacred dust, rapidly being carted off to Fresh Kills Landfill or the steel girders of the walls shipped off to Chinese steel ovens, unease over the material implications of redevelopment was mounting. The debates that followed from this unease, between the producing Port Authority and LMDC, and the modes of consumption that they excluded to varying extent, make interesting cases. What makes these struggles fascinating is the role that objects played in them. In Making things public: atmospheres of democracy, Bruno Latour stated that ‘things, especially public things, map political cultures and shape political bodies. (…) they constitute “atmospheres of democracy” and Dingpolitik provides more credible possibilities than Realpolitik’. The agency of the objects at Ground Zero was becoming more visible with every week of site development. Not entirely blind to the mounting concerns, the Port Authority had named a committee shortly after 9/11 to select objects to be salvaged from the site. It consisted of three people: Marilyn Taylor, chairman of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (the company employing to Silverstein’s architect, David Childs), architect Bart Voorsanger and art consultant Saul Wenegrat, who had been one of the consultants responsible for choosing art for the World Trade Center. The group could hardly be called illustrious, as all three were clearly familiar to the Port Authority rather than authorities in their field. They tagged some of the public art of the Trade Center that had survived the attacks (such as Fritz Koenig’s sculpture called ‘Great spherical Caryatid’, known simply as the Sphere) and also designated as important the beams forming a cross created by the work crews early on, which had become a powerful image of the rescue and recovery efforts. Voorsanger was interviewed giving a tour of salvaged metal in a storage yard in New Jersey, making statements that do not seem to give an impression of thoughtful selection. ‘

“Look at this,” Mr. Voorsanger said, pointing to a huge steel beam bent into a U-shape (…) “there is no equipment strong enough to bend it like this”’, and of a flattened passenger car: ‘There is no way someone wasn’t in that car or taxi.


Such interviews obviously did not do much to soothe the feelings of unease. Muschamp summarised the perceived failure of the methods of site production in a New York Times op-ed, writing,

People died on that site. Even if their bodies are removed to Staten Island, this is where 6,000 people lost their lives. Corporate culture has no way of dealing with this (…) time and space will be found to organize a competition to design a memorial. The making of memorials, in fact, has lately become an industry in itself. Consultants will be enlisted from Hiroshima, Vienna and Oklahoma City. The memorial and new office towers will be artfully combined. There will be something for everyone. Everything will have been thought about, except thought itself.

154 155


New York Times, 25 October 2001. Muschamp, ‘Power, imagination and New York’s future’.


Resistance to the removal of soil or girders did not take a shape powerful enough to halt, or even stall the ongoing site recovery and construction significantly. Perhaps the process, which was handled by engineers and police officers with surprising efficiency, went too quickly, but most likely concepts like steel and sand, even if it still contained body parts, were too abstract to grasp public imagination and rile protesters. The much greater agency of concrete objects could confirm this suggestion. From the earliest days after 9/11, the heavily dented Sphere, for instance, formed a familiar symbol for feelings of grief, hopefulness and anger to rally around. While the sculpture did not enjoy much notoriety when it stood between the twin towers (the first journalists to write about it all had to describe the object in detail for their readers), articles with titles along the theme of ‘where is the Sphere?’ abound in the media to this day. 156 Koenig’s sculpture was removed from Ground Zero early in 2002, partly repaired, and placed on a small lawn in Battery Park (image). 157

3.4 The Sphere, emerging from the debris; 21 September 2001. Although initially presented as a temporary solution, the sculpture stands there to this day, to the dismay of many. Residents, as mentioned above, did not appreciate too many memorials in the


‘Miracles emerge from debris’, USA Today, 9 June 2002 (retrieved 2 January 2013); Matt Chaban, ‘Where’s Fritz Koenig’s Ground Zero Sphere going?’ New York Observer 25 May 2012 (retrieved 19 December 2012); Alfred Doblin, ‘The sphere belongs at ground zero’ The Record, 7 May 2012 (retrieved 19 December 2012). 157 The story that it withstood the falling debris in its current state, however, seems to have turned into a received truth.


neighbourhood they were trying to rebuild, victims’ relatives as well as tourists preferred to see it back at the site, where it could better fulfil its role as an homage to peace - the meaning Koenig had intended for his work - and its new, added meaning, as a symbol of endurance. In 2010, almost 3,000 signed a petition initiated by Michael Burke, whose brother died on 9/11 to move the Sphere back. The Port Authority was not swayed by their arguments, nor was the National September 11 Memorial & Museum when it was installed in 2005. Several of Burke’s followers, including several collectives of victims’ families, organised a boycott of the anniversary of the attacks. 158 Though the concrete effects of protests like these on the development process are not easy to identify, widespread media attention of the protests and fragmentation of public support may well have been one cause for the enormous fundraising difficulties the National September 11 Memorial & Museum has since encountered.

The Survivors’ Stairway is another case in point. The last flight stairs from Tobin Plaza to street level still stood in its place, and naturally, hundreds of survivors who had made their escape attached meaning to it - everyone had used emergency staircases. The more material was being removed from the site, the more poignant and visible the recognisable remnants became, and in the course of 2004 several such artefacts could be identified. Among plaza tiles, the floor of the central ‘crossroads’ of the subterraneous shopping mall and the gnarled roots of an uprooted tree, the stairway stood out. It was mentioned first in the New York Times in 2007, when David Dunlap wrote about a ‘badly battered stairway that rises from the south side of Vesey Street (…). In some quarters, this is called the “survivors' stairway.’ 159 A group called The World Trade Center Survivors stated on their web site that ‘The image of stairs is a critical element of the story of September 11th. Everyone who escaped that day did so by going down stairs. (image 3.2) And in going down, they were passed by the hundreds of fire-fighters and rescuers who were going up… heroes all, who ultimately met their deaths’. 160 In 2006, the National trust for historic preservation, an influential non-profit organisation, put the staircase on its list of ‘most endangered historical places in America’. The protests had reached a climax when Silverstein Properties announced an office tower designed by Sir Norman Foster for the lot on which the staircase stood. The Trust claimed that ‘Silverstein Properties has not made a commitment to preserve the staircase’, and stated that ‘it will be the most dramatic original piece of the site that will have meaning to generations to come’. 161 It certainly looked dramatic, battered and covered in dust as it was, and the image of the staircase featured prominently on posters and on web


‘9/11 family members start petition to save World Trade Center Sphere’ on (retrieved 4 January 2013). 159 New York Times, 11 February 2007. 160 ‘The survivors’ stairway’, 16 May 2007, on (retrieved 20 December 2012). 161 New York Times, 5 November 2006.


sites (image 3.3). Larry Silverstein, fearing a confrontation with the powerful survivors’ and families’ lobby, announced that the stairway site would be excavated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and stored.

3.2 Survivors descending a stairway, possibly the Vesey Street Survivors’ Stairway. The architect Norman Foster demonstrated how important the stairway had become, when he declared that his designs for the WTC 3 tower (which would be built in the space on which the stairway stood) could be amended to save it, going as far as to suggest including it in his design. 162 It is also interesting to note that local media referred to the protesting groups as ‘historic preservation groups’.163. For the historic awareness in the debates surrounding the staircase was questionable. The heroic image of the battered staircase fit the protesters’ narratives well. It matched the images of dust-covered ruins seen during and shortly after 9/11. Almost no one realised in 2007 that the staircase had survived the attacks completely unscathed – which is why so many people made a successful escape over them. The derelict state was a result not of 9/11, but of excavation and 162 163

New York Times, 7 November 2006. New York Daily News, 21 October 2006.


deconstruction efforts. For years, systematic demolition of the structures remaining on the site had continued more or less shielded from public view, and the staircase was partly dismantled as part of this routine process (image 3.4). It was only when tensions mounted over the development of the site after 2004, that the objects that remained on the site (as a matter of coincidence as much as anything else), gained powerful agency in ensuing debates. And sure enough, as the events described above demonstrate, by latching onto these objects, civilian groups could significantly stall and eventually influence the development of the site. In 2004, activists suddenly noticed the now-derelict staircase, as a perfect focal point for their causes. The National Trust wrote, in a pamphlet entitled ‘Moving the stairs = moving forward’: ‘we need the “Survivors’ Staircase” as a reminder of the say America lost her innocence, as well as a symbol of America’s strength, resilience and determination to survive’.164 Peg Breen, the president of an organisation for landmark conservation, said she was sorry it was not better looking, ‘but it is what it is. It’s real. It’s there. People did escape by it. It still exists. And I think that stands for a lot.’ 165

3.3 The ‘survivors stairway’ as it appeared in 2007.


‘National Trust for Historic Preservation’, 21 July 2011 on (retrieved 30 November 2012). 165 New York Times, 14 September 2006.


3.4 The stairway was later shown to have been relatively unscathed shortly after 9/11.

Meanwhile, residents saw the tug-of-war as yet another obstacle in the way to a redeveloped, healthy neighbourhood. Community Board 1 urged that eventual preservation should in no case ‘cause or add to delay in reconstruction’, or increase the already incredibly high costs of the Memorial Foundation, and The West Street Coalition was opposed to any efforts to save the staircase. Their chairman was quoted by the New York Times: ‘if it can be moved to a museum, great. But to the extent that this is going to delay rebuilding the World Trade Center site, I think New Yorkers have had enough [of waiting].’ 166 Significantly, he also questioned the uniqueness of the staircase as a ‘surviving’ structure (the Liberty Street pedestrian bridge was another aboveground remnant still standing) and pointed to recently published photos by Meyerowitz that showed the undamaged stairs after 9/11.167 The tug-of-war over the staircase lasted through 2007, while the LMDC once again tried to mediate by conducting a series of meetings between the parties. In the end they proposed, late in 2007, that:

LMDC shall facilitate and ensure that the Port Authority and the Foundation will cooperate and engage appropriate consultants to: (1) extract intact and move the entire run of stairs and the ‘connector plate’ at the top of the stairs; (2) store these elements (…) (3) return and install intact the full run of stairs and a portion of the “connector plate” in the Museum in a central location (…) (4) provide for meaningful

166 167

New York Times, 14 September 2006. Ibid.


incorporation of the story and significance of the staircase, and, if feasible, including part of the “connector plate,” within the “primary narrative” of the Memorial.


The case of the Survivor’s Stairway again shows the agency objects could attain, when they were suddenly included in a narrative about the importance of ‘the real’. In reaction, the statement by the LMDC shows the peculiar wording used to underline the importance of ‘meaningful incorporation of the story and significance’, when the staircase had been removed and the Memorial Museum would have to try to represent a mediated version of this ‘realness’.

Lost history At a surprisingly late stage in the construction process, when few would have suspected any more debate over objects on Ground Zero, a last hurdle appeared. On a rainy July morning in 2010, workmen digging down to lay foundations for a tour bus parking facility encountered sturdy timbers. It was the hull of an 18th-century ship. Some readers of the news coverage of the find recalled the 1973 story of the Tijger, but this time, no foreman was present to embody a historical interest from the side of the Port Authority. Instead, a small team of archaeologists was sent in through AKRF, an engineering firm hired for ‘ongoing monitoring and strategy planning support for the Port Authority in meeting the compliance requirements of its environmental documents’.169 They were in charge of documenting any historical material for the Port Authority in accordance with the regulations for archaeological research described in chapter 1. Several other unofficial colleagues flocked to the site as well, to see what could be salvaged of the ship. It was an urgent matter indeed, for as the New York Times reported, ‘construction work could not be interrupted’. 170 One of the AKRF archaeologists, Mary McDonald, somewhat apologetically told the Associated Press that she ‘wanted to at least salvage some timbers; it was unclear if any large portions could be lifted intact’. 171 Again, the stories of the old New York harbour and Manhattan’s historical coastline were brought up, although unlike the Tijger, this ship was thought by many to have been sunk on purpose, as landfill. Although there was plenty of media attention to the story, no one doubted, let alone challenged the insistence that construction work should continue within a matter of hours (image 3.5). The first wood had been spotted on Tuesday, and by Thursday the AKRF archaeologists planned to have the artefact removed. In the end, it would be just over two weeks before all that could be salvaged from 168

‘World Trade Center Memorial and Redevelopment Plan - Historic Resources Report January 2011’ on (retrieved 5 January 2013) 169 ‘AKRF archaeologists discover historic ship’ on (retrieved 21 December 2012). 170 New York Times, 14 July 2012. 171 ‘17th century ship unearthed at WTC site’, 14 July 2010, Associated Press, on (retrieved 21 December 2012).


the ship was moved to a water tank in the Bronx, to be packaged and sent to a research institute in Maryland. The impatience with the proceedings is captured well by several commentators on the news items, one of whom simply wrote: ‘Great. Another reason for the WTC to be delayed.’ 172 Process 106 was carried out remarkably rapidly, and the paperwork was resolved within days. 173 Once it was in storage, the archaeologists had to wait for the LMDC to give permission to start a preservation process of the ship, indicating that even this piece of history in the ground was deemed to be the property (or at least the responsibility) of the developers of the site alone. Eventually, in 2011, parts of the ship were brought to Texas A&M University’s Center for maritime archaeology and conservation, where the preservation process began in earnest. One of the University’s archaeologists, Peter Fix, said that ‘if the timbers are to be reconstructed and exhibited, they could provide future generations with a tangible connection to their maritime past’.174 Although still the responsibility of the Port Authority (the archaeologists working on the ship are under contract with AKRF), that tangible connection will certainly not be exhibited at the site where it was sunk and found.

3.5 Excavation work on the ship’s hull, 2010


Comment by ‘Big Tim’ on (retrieved 21 December 2012). 173 World Trade Center Memorial and redevelopment plan - Historic resources report, January 2011, on (retrieved 6 January 2013). 174 ‘Ship remains found at new World Trade Center site being preserved at Texas Am’, 9 September 2009, on (retrieved 12 November 2012).


As mentioned before, there was no broad base of proponents of historical consumption of the site to make a fist against the Port Authority. In this case, it might not even have been necessary. Although the removal of the ship was rushed, and some valuable historical data may have been lost, the ship could not possible have stayed at the site. The fact that it was packed away completely, however, points to a far more fundamental problem concerning the history of the site. The history of the space of Ground Zero is interesting, and the location played a very relevant part in several episodes of the development of Manhattan, New York, and the United States. But in the two waves of development by the Port Authority, in the 1970s and from 2001 onwards, the tangible remains of this history were removed and, in many cases, destroyed. Though this is not uncommon in modern cities, especially New York, it still means that any remaining artefact becomes almost unique and valuable. Cornelius Holtorf concluded from his work on ancient monoliths that there is a significance and often overlooked difference between retrospective and prospective memories.175 This conceptual framework is applicable to younger heritage as well: places are re-interpreted by each new present according to the ‘history culture’ specific of their social context. By re-interpreting Ground Zero as a prospective monument, built with an eye to this present only, the Memorial (as well as the Freedom Tower, which is perceived as much as a monument to the events as is ‘Reflecting Absence’) effectively recasts 11 September 2001 as Stunde Null. This is evidenced poignantly by the case of the small memorial, built for the six victims of a car bomb placed in the World Trade Center parking garage in 1993. The fountain was badly damaged on 9/11, but as with other remains of a pre-9/11 past, there was little advocacy for a replacement. 176 In 2009, the six names of the 1993 attack victims were etched into the 9/11 Monument without distinction. The proponents of Ground Zero as a residential neighbourhood, or at least of mixed residential and commercial use, could not claim a connection to the material of the site for precisely this reason. The residential mode of consumption found no nonhuman agents of the site to lay claim to. In a way, this is very surprising, for housing forms a larger part of the biography of the site than do mourning or tourism. But the powerlessness that resulted from the absence of material remnants of this past on the site resulted in the absence of any meaningful struggle for housing on Ground Zero. The low-rise buildings of Radio Row had been torn down, and even the layouts, contours and foundations of the blocks had been irreversibly erased by the work on the World Trade Center buildings. Its skyscrapers and twin superskyscrapers needed much deeper digging to plant its basement levels and foundations.


C. Holtorf, ‘Megaliths, monumentality and memory’, Archaeological Review from Cambridge 2 (1997), 45–66. 176 Elyn Zimmerman, ‘The World Trade Center Memorial, 1993’, ‘September 11th: Art loss, damage, and repercussions, Proceedings of an IFAR Symposium on February 28, 2002’ on (retrieved 2 January 2013).


The great significance that surfaces from an analysis of this last mode of consumption, then, lies in the realisation that elements of the physical biography of the site had been erased once before. If in 2001, many were worried that meaningful material concerning 9/11 was removed from Ground Zero, and others were indignant that objects from the longer history of the site were not granted a space there, no one mentioned that the place had been effectively scoured between 1966 and 1973, when a neighbourhood was demolished to make space for a space dominated by its post-industrialist office function. And effective it was. For although there were many relevant arguments to reinstate the residential character of the site in 2001, and among the advocates for this mode of consumption were powerful professionals, legal experts, and wealthy home-owners, they could not point to some existing, material object on the site that could, literally, substantiate their claims. Over the years, the residents instead became proponents of simply speeding up any development that would make the area liveable again as soon as possible. Of course, a long-term construction site is detrimental to both property value and living comfort in the surrounding area. Their new tactic is clear from the advocacy of Community Board 1 and the West Street coalition for removal of the Survivors’ Stairway in 2006. 177

From tragic tourism to destinisation It is difficult to meaningfully describe the development of touristic consumption of Ground Zero in the years following 2002. On the one hand, visitors ‘were acting both as tourists and as mourners’, as Lisle, Sturken and others have observed. 178 On the other hand, the proposed development of the site is clearly aimed more at a touristic mode of consumption, in the traditional sense, than for mourning, or for a hybrid of tourism and mourning. Although access to Lower Manhattan was, for some time, a restricted area, the space of Ground Zero was consumed by tourists from its inception, in photographs and other media representations. Sturken observed that people heading downtown anyway often went to ‘try to get a look’ – as tourists. 179 By visiting the site, strewn with memorial activity and temporary shrines, however, almost all visitors inevitably partook in rituals of mourning as well. The act of mourning at Ground Zero had become so material, so spatial, that to walk among the barriers, posters and shrines was to be a pilgrim of sorts in a procession of mass grief. Visitors from outside New York appeared, and would keep appearing in extremely high numbers to see, photograph and otherwise engage with both the ‘pile’ itself, the surrounding area and its plaques and exhibition spaces, and even the visible signs of mourning. They could take a photo of a temporary memorial, buy a 9/11-themed snow globe at one of the kiosks littering the perimeter, or 177

New York Times, 14 September 2006. Lisle, ‘Gazing at Ground Zero’, 10-11; Sturken, Tourists of history, 178, 212. 179 Sturken, Tourists of history, 211. 178


watch as family members descended into the excavation pit on an anniversary. If one had to capture the main development over this period in a single word, however, it would be ‘regulation’. For between 2001 and 2004, tourism and mourning again diverged. Although visitors to the viewing platform could have been well-meaning, well-informed consumers of the space as Lisle argues, their consumptive patterns drifted from that of family members of the deceased and other involved New Yorkers. 180 The demands of victims’ families and survivors became more specific and very focused, as has been described. Tourists, on the contrary, were increasingly encouraged to perform traditional touristic consumption practices. From 2002 onward, even respectable newspapers published travel features advising visitors where to eat after visiting Ground Zero. The Los Angeles Times constructed such practices as an act of patriotic symbolism, stating that dining near the site ‘would be unthinkable if it weren’t an act of defiance in the face of terrorism and a vote of support for the beleaguered neighborhood’.181 Lisle reported that many early visitors from outside the city felt a need to make the pilgrimage to the Ground Zero viewing platform as a way to come to terms with the ‘realness’ of what they had until then only undergone as an overwhelming media event. 182 From the dismantling of that platform onward, however, the site underwent what some scholars have termed ‘destinisation’. The site of trauma was transformed into a representation of itself, using modern techniques such as touch screens to construct a new type of ‘tourist realism’. 183 The removal of tangible reminders of the tragedy; the smoking piles, the twisted steel, and finally, the survivors’ stairway, made the site less interesting for tragic tourism. In fact, anecdotal evidence harvested from online tourist forums suggests that as a destination, the site was often a disappointment: ‘I had expected more’ a reaction on one message board reads. Sturken observed that a set of photographic displays put up by the Port Authority around the perimeter of the site ‘compensates for the fact that the site has little to show that can conjure up its intense meaning’. 184 And indeed, for many years to come, international tourists especially would typify the site, that had once embodies realness, as ‘just a big excavation’ as one visitor put it. ‘More like “been there” kind of thing’, he concluded. 185 That traditional forms of touristic consumption have come to dominate is perhaps confirmed by reactions from New York residents, which are, likewise, traditional. Commenting on Ground Zero tourism in the debate on the Park51 mosque that was to be built close to the site, a columnist for the Village Voice wrote: ‘Maybe we'll care what you have to say when you stop bothering us for 180

Lisle, ‘Gazing at Ground Zero’, 11. Quoted in Sturken, Tourists of history, 211. 182 Lisle, ‘Gazing at Ground Zero’, 9. 183 Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture. Tourism, Museums and Heritage (Berkeley 1998), 2223. 184 Sturken, Tourists of history, 213. 185 ‘Een grote bouwput. Meer iets van “Je moet 't gezien hebben” (als je er toch toevallig langs komt).’ Comment by ‘Peter J’ on (retrieved 16 May 2012). 181


directions in the subway on how to get to Ground Zero so you can go there and buy some dumb, tacky knickknack you can take home and give to friends to let them know that you spent money on a shakea-snow where a few thousand people died. Maybe then. But probably not. Shut up, go away’. 186 These cases all demonstrate the importance of objects on the sixteen acres to all of the groups described in chapter 1. The different modes of consumption, that came into conflict with the proposed production of the site by the Port Authority, very often transformed into debated that centred on objects such as a sculpture, or a ship’s hull. These were things that were once part of the World Trade Center, or the New York harbour. They were part of the biography of the site, and were instrumental in protesting its complete renewal to fit (largely corporate) desires. In a remarkable series of events, consumers invoked the importance of objects on the site to support their claims to site usage. The Port Authority was forced to respond to their demands each time, as it could not continue its plans if these would destroy objects such as the Survivors’ Stairway. With some diplomacy, and at much extra costs in time and money, the Port Authority moved to remove each object in turn. The ‘sacred’ dust was shipped to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, currently being redeveloped into Freshkills Park. The steel girders, that were once proposed as material for a memorial, have been melted down in China. The many impromptu memorials along the barrier have either been taken down, or are exhibited in the 9/11 memorial museum, out of context thus erasing their intended meaning: to be personal, direct and confrontational. The Survivors’ Stairway will be exhibited here as well.


Foster Kamer, ‘Unmitigated outrage’, Village Voice 16 Augustus 2010.


Conclusion The destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 was the starting point for a long discussion of its future use. As noted at the outset of this thesis, on 12 September 2001 the World Trade Center seemed almost completely obliterated. The site might have appeared to be a tabula rasa, but it turned out to be anything but. The very term ‘Ground Zero’, Hajer noted in 2005, ‘suggested a need to start from scratch, an annihilation of history’. 187 The study of the material aspects of the site reveals that, in the decade after 2001, this suggestion is disconcertingly close to the truth. Although control over the redevelopment process initially fell to the LMDC, the Port Authority and Governor Pataki, and Larry Silverstein, they could not proceed with a set program. Several other groups of people vied for alternative modes of consumption that could give shape to Ground Zero. Survivors and victims’ relatives soon became very outspoken against commercial development of the site, arguing that it should remain a place solely of mourning. They viewed Ground Zero as a graveyard and attached much meaning to the space and its material, yet access was restricted to them, as to all other civilians. On the boundaries where the site connected to New York’s public space, spontaneous memorials sprung up. Apart from those directly affected by the attacks, millions of visitors arrived at the site before 2001 was over. A viewing platform was built for these visitors, who wished to consume Ground Zero as tourists. The residents of surrounding neighbourhoods, as well as many urban planners and scholars argued for a more mixed-use development of the site. They preferred shops, public institutions, and perhaps housing on the site to office space that would only be lively at daytime on weekdays. Next to these groups of mourners, tourists, and residents, there remained a potential historical mode of consumption. Although not a cause with a broad base among the public, this mode of consumption deserves attention, as the site has a long history that could have been meaningfully engaged. Between 2002 and 2004 it became clear that the program for the site, imposed by the Port Authority and Larry Silverstein put much strain on the design process. A competition for a site design resulted in six proposals that were so similar and unimaginative, that they were almost unanimously decried by New Yorkers from all four consumer groups in the Listening to the City session in June 2003. A second design round resulted in the selection of a site design by Daniel Libeskind. His plan was still dictated by commercial demands, however, and fundamentally adapted to meet security demands the following years. More and more, the different consumer groups were frustrated by the rigidity of the commercial plans for the site. As chaos and institutional insecurity slowly made way for a more structured development process, challenges from consumer groups took on more complex forms. In their struggle to sway the parties with control over the site, they often managed to stall the process and garner media attention, thereby increasing their pressure.


Hajer, ‘Rebuilding Ground Zero’, 446.


The contestation of the development of Ground Zero becomes clearly visible when viewed from a perspective of material agency. The fact that the debate increasingly focused on the material aspects of the site indicates their agency in the struggle. When the Port Authority, Silverstein and the disempowered LMDC moved on with a site plan that would still mostly exclude all forms of consumption except the commercial, groups of consumers mounted their renewed protest by appropriating objects on the site. The increased claims on meaningful objects on Ground Zero were a reaction to the frustration that arose, when the Port Authority and the LMDC would not (and perhaps could not) produce the urban space that was called for by different consumers. Mourners, tourists, residents and archaeologists repeatedly caused the Port Authority to remove objects and material from Ground Zero. Survivors and victims’ relatives saw the facades melted down, the ‘sacred’ dust used as landfill. The Sphere was moved off the site, the Survivors’ Stairway first threatened with demolition, then moved to the Museum along with less meaningful reproductions of the spontaneous memorials from the site perimeter. Tourists, though remarkably close to the mourners initially, demanded to gaze upon the site. A viewing platform was constructed to channel their movement, and subsequently torn down in 2002. Many tourists, too, lamented the lack of material aspects of the site that enabled them to connect meaningfully to the tragedy, to ‘the real’. Arguably, the site plan was most inclusive of touristic consumption, although only on the quarter of the space reserved for the memorial, and then only on the terms dictated by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The removal of meaningful material, and meaningful objects from Ground Zero had two major consequences. One was to sever the connection of consumer groups to the site. By removing the objects that had been identified by the public as meaningful, The objects in question could be displaced to another location, elsewhere in the city or in the Memorial Museum; or they could simply be destroyed. Either way, through this removal, the producing parties managed time and again to take away the base of consumers’ protests (their political ‘performance’), and effectively silence groups. Peckham has noted that war heritage often involved reconstructions of the past, ‘to remember to forget’. A similar process may be unfolding at Ground Zero. Traumatic events in the past can become so deeply imprinted on a group’s collective memory that they become an indelible part of its identity. but the development of Ground Zero shows that New York might not be able to remember anything but a stilted version of the trauma of 9/11 on this site. The objects that appeared in the excavation provided several starting points towards constructing an inclusive urban space. Despite this, or perhaps precisely because of this, the objects such as the Sphere had to be removed before commercial site production could go through. As the petitioner for the sculpture Michael Burke was told by representatives of the Memorial, they ‘do not want any 9/11 artifacts cluttering the 8-acre memorial plaza’.188 After a decade of pragmatic arguments, political manoeuvring and the pursuit of


The Gothamist, 28 February 2011.


commercial interests, the producers of this urban space can still invoke the trauma of 9/11 to command reverence, and silence debates and dissenting voices. The meaning of a place can be multifaceted and dynamic only when memories of past activities and narratives are connected (by being in the same space), with prospective narratives of its anticipated future.189 By removing objects from Ground Zero, the owners of the site eliminated their agency in the struggle for inclusion on the site. But they removed meaning along with them. Cleansed of its material agency, the site could be produced as a commercial space, but not reconstructed as a healthy constituent of the fabric of urban space. What was lost, along with the material, was the value of the memorial to those it was meant for most, and the site’s relevance in space, and in history.


Holtorf, ‘Megaliths, monumentality and memory’, 56.


Epilogue Late in March, 2012, a pear tree began to blossom, amid the still bare swamp white oaks that line the waterfalls of ‘Reflecting Absence’. 190 This pear tree is called the Survivor’s tree, and it is the only object, organic or inorganic, that stood on the site before 2001 – it was planted in the 1970s - and stands there now. It has not been here continually. The pear tree was recovered from the rubble in 2001 covered in ash, with only one living branch, and shipped off to a tree nursery in the Bronx. Around it, throngs of visitors swerve along manicured patches of grass and long expanses of dark stone. Around the memorial still stand the barriers, now painted the blue colour of the house style designed for the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The barriers divide the site from the surrounding streets and the construction sites on which the Freedom Tower, now renamed WTC 1, the Museum and a transport hub slowly take shape. 191 There is only one entrance to the memorial, through a walkway that is heavily guarded and leads visitors through ticket controls and a separate checkpoint with metal detectors and bag scanners. After this daunting process, one enters a space that is not quite the tranquil grove yet that was envisioned – it will take many years for the young trees’ foliage to muffle the sounds of traffic rushing by. The sound is somewhat more successfully masked by the similar noise produced by the tonnes of water falling into the basins filling the twin towers’ footprints. In an outreach session in 2002, New York New Visions had recorded a general feeling among Lower Manhattan residents that ‘artefacts from the tragedy and fragments from the debris could be left at the site (…) Recognizing that public art can be social rather than sculptural, they felt that the memorial didn’t have to be just “another granite fountain,”’ 192 Unfortunately for them, this is more or less exactly what the memorial is. Getting access to the site is not a process relatives would go through regularly, to visit the last resting place of their kin. Indeed, it does not seem unfair to assume most visitors consume the site as tourists. They pose for group photographs in front of the tree and the fountains and there has been an attempt to stop the typical act of throwing pennies in the fountains, by placing signs on the site (image 4.1). And yet, not all visitors here are tourists. The tour guides, leading small groups past the fountains and narrating the sights through headphones (so as not to attract non-paying listeners), are not employed by the Memorial Foundation. They all start their working day a few blocks away, at the 9/11 Tribute Center. One of the most successful and healthy of the relatives’ groups, it was set up by several families in 2002. Dismayed by the lack of meaningful explanation the memorial and the rest of 190

‘The September 11 Survivor Tree in bloom’, 24 March 2012, on (retrieved 2 January 2013). 191 ‘As we market the building, we will ensure that it is presented in the best possible way - and 1 World Trade Center is the address that we're using’, said Anthony Coscia, chairman of the Port Authority, claiming that the name was easier for people to identify with. ‘Freedom Tower is out, World Trade Center is in: agency changes name of building to replace towers destroyed on 9/11’, New York Daily News, 27 March 2009. 192 ‘New York New Visions Memorials briefing book’ on (retrieved 3 December 2012).


the space provide, they have started organising tours themselves. Eventually, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, which many still see as a puppet organisation of the Port Authority and Larry Silverstein, allowed survivors and victims’ relatives from the Tribute Center conduct tours on the site. 193 As the museum struggles for funding to finally complete its buildings and exhibitions it provides visitors with a small introductory exhibition, a few blocks away from Ground Zero.194 The space features artefacts such as a motorbike and a six-foot statue of liberty covered in memorial painting and decoration, as well as a large gift-shop. It also explains some of the story of the site, though not as much as the Memorial Foundation’s similar exhibit. White letters on one of the black walls tell visitors that the 9/11 Museum ‘preserves the archaeological character of the World Trade Center site’. What this means is explained further on: ‘the last surviving in situ remnants of the Twin Towers will be accessible to visitors, including the slurry wall (…) and the original structural footings of the two quarter-mile high towers. Objects that tell individual 9/11 stories will also be displayed.’ The fact that no mention is made of objects that were taken away to make place for the museum, the memorial, and the office towers, gives an odd ring to the words ‘the last surviving in situ remains’. The guides tell their own stories, and stress the need of what they call ‘person to person history’. Yet some feel, as one guide and former Port Authority employee remarked, ‘I could stand here talking for three hours about 9/11, and still I could not say as much, as the Sphere could, if it were here in the site.’ 195 Several other guides lamented the lack of meaningful objects on the site.

. 4.1 Visitors are discouraged from falling into familiar patterns of touristic consumption, August 2012.


Interview with Robert Beauregard. ‘Challenges remain for the September 11 Memorial Museum’, New York Times, 2 June 2012. 195 Interview with Brian Edwards, 30 August 2012. 194


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Appendix – chronology of important events 12 September 2001 – July 2010 September 2001

Roads around Ground Zero site cleared; fences put up


Mayor Giuliani bans spontaneous memorials from Ground Zero perimeter


Creation of the LMDC by Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki; Firemen riot


Construction of viewing platform

January 2002

LMDC consults with councils representing a. o. residents, victims’ families


Listening to the City I


LMDC calls for designs; Sphere moved from Ground Zero to Battery Park


Port Authority and LMDC unveil six designs; Listening to the City II


‘Design Study’ proposed by LMDC


Viewing platform removed


Nine winning designs presented

January 2003

Public hearings on designs hosted by LMDC, Pataki re-elected governor


Daniel Libeskind’s design ‘Memory Foundations’ announced winner


Memorial design competition starts

January 2004

Michael Arad’s ‘Reflecting Absence’ announced winner


Cornerstone of Freedom Tower placed

January 2005

National September 11 Memorial & Museum founded

March 2006

Construction of ‘Reflecting Absence’ started


Survivors’ Stairway on ‘most endangered historical places in America’ list by National Trust for historic preservation

July 2008

Survivors’ Stairway lowered into Memorial Museum exhibition space

July 2010

Remains of 17th century ship uncovered in excavation



The Pile. Material agency in the redevelopment of Ground Zero, 2001-2010  

Master's thesis exploring Ground Zero through an interdisciplinary approach, combining history, politics and heritage studies.

The Pile. Material agency in the redevelopment of Ground Zero, 2001-2010  

Master's thesis exploring Ground Zero through an interdisciplinary approach, combining history, politics and heritage studies.