Alums play key roles in rebuilding ground zero

From the 20th-floor conference room of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Andrew Winters ARC ’94 points out the remains of the World Trade Center basement in the far corner of the pit below. This is the only part of the original buildings still standing, Winters explains. Even the steel footprints have been carted away by the crews working 24 hours a day.

A year after Sept. 11, seven Yale alumni and a Yale professor have come to the 20th floor of one of the tallest buildings around ground zero to help rebuild the trade center site and revitalize the surrounding neighborhoods. These eight Yalies comprise nearly one-third of the LMDC team.

For the three youngest of the Yale staff contingent, the opportunity to work at the LMDC began with a phone call from Alexander Garvin, an adjunct architecture professor at Yale.

Garvin was asked in February to lead the team to rebuild the trade center site. After ensuring that he could continue to teach his courses at Yale, Garvin jumped at the opportunity.

“These murderers tried to destroy a piece of my city and demonstrate that the American way of life was weak,” Garvin said. “The chance to demonstrate to the world what America is all about and to revive my home town and make it even better was — an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

After the initial appointments, which included Stefan Pryor ’93 LAW ’98, deputy to the chairman and secretary of the corporation, and Garvin as vice president for planning, design and development, the LMDC was assembled bit by bit.

Hugh Eastwood ’00 received the call from Garvin while sitting at his desk in Yale’s University Properties, where he spent 18 months working on plans for developing the site behind Grove Street Cemetery. Brett Rubin ’00, an architecture major, was in Manhattan at his job as an associate real estate development manager for the New York Sports Clubs when Garvin telephoned. Brandon Smith ’02, also an architecture major and senior project advisee of Garvin, was in his third-floor dorm room, over the entryway of Ezra Stiles College.

For all three, these places were more or less where they first heard of the Sept. 11 attacks; Eastwood was in New Haven, Rubin at his job in Manhattan, and Smith emerging sleepy-eyed from his room in Stiles.

“It was the third or fourth day of classes and I remember getting up and going in my hallway and people telling me a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center,” Smith said. “That moment had a lot more significance later on when I found out that I would be working here, because [it would] so directly shape [my] life.”

The LMDC staff was initially spread out in different buildings before they moved to their current space.

“When I started we didn’t have offices,” said Eastwood, who took his place at the LMDC in the last week of February. “We were working in a boardroom, on laptops — we had no phones. The LMDC had four employees. We did have almost $3 billion, though.”

Rubin said the LMDC has a unique role in the process.

“Everyone else has ulterior motives,” Rubin said. “The LMDC’s motive is to do what’s best for Lower Manhattan and New York City as a whole.”

But, said Smith, the LMDC’s relative independence has a flip side.

“We’re obliged to be guided by everyone’s interests,” Smith said.

As is to be expected, the views of citizens of America and of the world are widely divergent. There are people like Tiffany White, who came from Atlanta for four days last week just to see ground zero. When asked what she thinks should be built on the site, she has a short, but emphatic answer.

“Nothing,” White said. “Nothing. Those are people’s graves.”

A policeman on duty at the viewing platform said, “I think they should build them bigger, and put guns on top.”

Steven Kadafi, a security guard at ground zero, said he thinks a statue should be built as a memorial with the pictures of all the people who died.

Winters said most of the unsolicited proposals sent in from around the world for building ideas have centered on the memorial.

But for the Yalies at the LMDC, the finished product is not the only part of the planning that holds symbolic significance. For them, the process of submitting ideas to the public and soliciting feedback has itself has become an effort to reaffirm principles of American values that were attacked on Sept. 11.

“The World Trade Center — was a symbol of American community and vitality and strength, and those were the very things that were attacked,” Rubin said.

“The fact we’re having a public process,” Eastwood continued, “right there, we’re bringing democracy back, a sense of freedom and free speech.”

This summer the LMDC released six preliminary “design concepts.” When the designs were posted on its Web site, the site logged in 4,000 hits per second, Garvin said.

In response to the flood of feedback they received from the public, including criticism that the plans were dull, Garvin and his colleagues decided to open up a competition to hire five innovative architects from around the world to join the planning team.

“That was a change in direction that was very clear from the public reaction.” Garvin said. “And there are things [the public] endorsed, the street grid, the skyline, different sizes of open spaces, respect for the footprints, and of course — the promenade.”

Smith said that in the midst of his daily work, which includes putting together outlines for land use and development in neighborhoods around the site, he doesn’t have much time to think about the larger picture.

But, Smith said, there are reminders.

“When we’re talking about something in a meeting that is just us and then three weeks later it’s all over the newspapers, [then] it feels like something big,” Smith said.

EB Kelly ’03, who interned at the LMDC this summer, said Smith’s approach is a function of the job.

“It’s hard not to think about how important the work is that you’re doing,” she said. “But if you constantly spend all day thinking about how significant your work is, you’ll never get anything done.”

Rubin said working for the LMDC is “the most amazing job I could ever have.”

“After the towers collapsed, all I kept telling myself was that I wanted to — be a part of the rebuilding effort,” Rubin said. “When Alex called me — I was literally offered my dream job. It is so unfortunate though, that this job could only be created out of such tragedy. But I never forget all of the people my organization represents, and never forget the true purpose of my job.”

Rubin is working on a study of transportation options for the site, and Eastwood was one of the writers of the 96-page book that presented the six preliminary design ideas. Eastwood said that at this stage, their work is not as much about architecture as about urban design and creating a framework for buildings to be erected later on.

“To be crude about it,” Eastwood said, “it’s like SimCity.”

But, unlike with computer games, the world is watching what emerges from the LMDC.

Garvin’s personal vision for the rebuilt space at ground zero is inspired by the simple Casablanca truism that “everybody goes to Rick’s.”

“What I would like is when we’re finished, that everybody in New York, and everybody who comes to New York, goes to Lower Manhattan,” Garvin said.

Winters, too, envisions a place where people go to spend time, whether it’s to see the memorial, to work, to go to the opera or a museum, or to just sit on a park bench.

“I see it as a place where people reaffirm civic values, in public, to not be scared, to reaffirm what the city is about,” he said. “It’s about being in a democratic place, a civic place to hold rallies, to go to celebrate the Super Bowl or the Yankees winning the World Series.”

Yale architecture professor Alexander Garvin has hired many Yalies to help him guide the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s plans for ground zero.
AFP
Yale architecture professor Alexander Garvin has hired many Yalies to help him guide the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s plans for ground zero.

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