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Old Posted May 1, 2007, 12:02 PM
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Silverstein Eyes Progress on His Towers

By Etta Sanders
APRIL 30, 2007

The digital clock, red and glowing, counted down silently to the next deadline: 72 days, 13 hours, 37 minutes to go.

It was 10 a.m. on a recent Thursday and 25 architects, engineers, consultants and project managers were seated around a conference table on the 10th floor of 7 World Trade Center. At one end of the room, tall windows overlooked the World Trade Center site directly below. At the other end of the room stood a blank screen where a team from the architectural firm of Maki and Associates waited to make their monthly presentation to their client, Larry Silverstein.

Silverstein arrived shortly after 10. He took a seat at the front of the table closest to the screen. Behind him sat Mickey Kupperman, an executive with Silverstein Properties and overseer of one of the largest and most high-profile construction projects in the world: the building of three enormous office towers and hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail space. The towers are designed by the renowned architects, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Fumihiko Maki.

At 10:10, Silverstein clapped his hands twice, loudly.

“OK, let’s go,” he said.

The two-hour presentation would be dominated by a single topic, the glass curtain wall of the 974-foot, 61-story Tower 4 that will rise at the corner of Greenwich and Liberty Streets. It is just one of the countless details, large and small, that teams for the three architects will wrestle with in the months leading up to the construction of the giant towers. Here, on an entire floor turned into a design studio, is where the three projects are being developed in tandem in a collaboration that is perhaps unprecedented in scale. “Foster Rogers Maki,” a sign on the glass entrance reads.

On this day, Gary Kamemoto, director of the Maki project, showed images of views from inside and outside Tower 4. Midway through the meeting, Fumihiko Maki, who had flown in from Tokyo, entered the room, taking a seat across from Silverstein.

The presentation prompted regular interruptions from the developer, the push and pull of budget versus aesthetic a recurrent theme.

“I’m concerned about the longevity, the wearability of the surface. It’s totally exposed.” “Do you know what the cost difference will be?” “What is the affect from within? I’d like to see what it looks like standing from within.” “What troubles me is the lack of symmetry,” Silverstein commented about a tall, diagonal element on the building’s front.

“We are taking great care not to have a prosaic office building,“ Kamemoto responded.

After the presentation, the group moved to an outer room where they examined samples of the glass. Silverstein sat facing the Trade Center site and looked through the glass, trying to picture its appearance from inside the new building.

“This would be throughout the tower? One hundred percent from floor to ceiling,” Silverstein said, answering his own question. He pondered a few minutes more. “You know what? A mock-up makes sense,” he said.

“So we can proceed with constructing this almost immediately,” Kamemoto responded.

Despite his sometimes brusque questioning and no-nonsense manner, Silverstein pronounced himself pleased with what he had seen.

“I think things are going very well,” he said, then turned to Maki. “Your associates have done a superb job.” The two white-haired men of about the same age left together for a brief private meeting.

For everyone else, it was time to get back to work.

Roughly 75 to 100 people work out of the studio at one time, including representatives from the three main architectural firms as well as outside engineers. The largest contingent is from Adamson Associates, the architect of record for the entire project. There are a dozen rows of desks aligned into long tables that fill a room which spans an entire block, from Vesey to Barclay Streets. Along more than half that distance is a plain sheetrock wall papered with 3-foot by 5-foot renderings and schematics. Throughout the day reams of schemes and fresh printouts are tacked up around the room for frequent technical meetings.

Each month’s work is punctuated with a presentation to Silverstein on the three buildings.

The Maki meeting on Tower 4 was the last, affording everyone a breather from what some describe as an intense work atmosphere. As each building’s group ramps up for the next presentation, the pressure builds.

“On Wednesday, we were frantic,” said Rich Garlock, a structural engineer on Tower 4. “On Tuesday, Rogers was frantic. It definitely gets crazy.”

A few rows away, Margaret Sedyka, an Adamson architect and one of fewer than 10 women in the room, was puzzling over how stairs, parking and exhaust shafts will come together at grade.

Nearby, engineers Jason Hogle and Adriano Scacchi consulted together on fire protection systems for all the towers.

Towards the back of the room an architect with Foster and partners, Tomasso Fantoni, worked on the building’s intricate slanted, notched top. “Today we are trying to put together the top of Tower 2,” he said. “It’s really a challenging composition.”

While there is a lot of coming and going in the studio (most of the Adamson team shuttles between New York and Toronto; the Foster, Maki and Rogers teams do most of the design work back in their home offices in Tokyo and London), the three teams often collaborate at the 7 WTC studio, where they sit at adjacent tables. “We share the problems and try to resolve them together,” said Fantoni.

And there are no secrets, said Michael Jelliffe, of Foster and Partners. “You can’t be secretive in a place like this,” he said. “Everything goes up on the wall.”

The three buildings, unveiled by Silverstein Properties last September and known as Towers 2, 3 and 4 (the Freedom Tower being Tower 1) will spiral in rising heights from 974 feet to over 1,200 feet, for a total of more than 200 stories. The projects are divided into four phases, ending with the development of construction drawings that will lead to expected groundbreaking for Towers 2 and 3 by early next year.

The clock is now counting down on the design development phase, which ends July 1. It hangs at the front of the room where it is hard for the architects and engineers to ignore as they come and go.

“It’s scary,” said Hogle. “You try not to look at it.”

When the clock hit zero at the end of the second phase of the project on March 31, Grace Shabo, an electrical engineer, said she and about a dozen of her colleagues gathered beneath it, shook hands and “breathed a sigh of relief.”

That relief didn’t last long; the clock was reset a week later. For now, with many days, hours and minutes remaining, Shabo said the stress does not seem so bad.

“But when there’s about two weeks left,” she said, “it starts to tick louder.”

Following a presentation by Tower 4 architects, Silverstein peers through the proposed glass that would be one of the features of the building.

Twenty-five architects, engineers, and consultants atten a meeting on Tower 4.

Clock in the design studio ticks towards the next deadline.

Architects and engineers frequently go over plans pinned to a long wall in the 10th floor design studio.

An architect working on Tower 2 hangs drawings in preparation for a meeting about commercial space in the building.
NEW YORK. World's capital.

“Office buildings are our factories – whether for tech, creative or traditional industries we must continue to grow our modern factories to create new jobs,” said United States Senator Chuck Schumer.
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