The new Ground Zero rises from the rubble
STRUGGLE: New Yorkers feared it could stay a wastleland for ever, but as David Usborne reports, the 9/11 attack site is now home to memorial
IF THE 9/11 memorial is meant to prompt reflection on the event that traumatised New York and the world 10 years ago this month, we are begged to forget much else in its history.
Bungling and bureaucratic warfare have for so long delayed all efforts to rebuild the space where the Twin Towers stood.
Yet a looming big anniversary -- and even the swipe of a hurricane -- can have an impressive effect. When President Barack Obama leads remembrance ceremonies at the site a week on Sunday, he and hundreds of relatives of the victims of September 11, 2001, will for the first time see and feel what is emerging from Ground Zero.
The memorial accounts for eight of the 16 acres at the site and includes two square voids where the Twin Towers once stood and a granite-paved plaza shaded by 416 swamp oak trees.
The underground 9/11 museum will come in 2012.
"I never thought we'd make it," admits Matthew Donham, project manager at PWP, the landscape architecture firm responsible for the plaza.
The project has not always been easy, Mr Donham says. The state, the city and the Memorial Foundation all had to be heeded as well as the often dissonant demands of all the families. "You can't get it wrong here," notes Mr Donham.
Almost as wondrous has been the sudden sprouting of One World Trade Centre, the tower that carries a burden at least as heavy as the memorial. Visitors to the memorial will have their gaze drawn to the tower, now rising at a startling one floor per week. The glass cladding is being applied at the same pace, giving some idea of the shimmering figure the tower will cut on the Manhattan skyline.
For Ken Lewis, the director of architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the challenge of designing One World Trade Centre was not knowing what the rest of the site and the memorial would look like.
Beyond that, the main challenge from the start was creating a new icon for the city. "There was this huge burden of expectation of creating a super-tall building in Manhattan," he said.
The acres around the memorial remain a building site and will for some years. Of the three towers planned for the site's eastern strip, only the first is growing towards completion. Lacking committed tenants, the other two will stop for now, at ground level or just above.
Conde Nast, the owner of Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines, gave the building a boost in May when they agreed to occupy 21 levels.
No one was more buffeted by the conflicts at Ground Zero than Larry Silverstein who acquired the lease for the original World Trade Centre just weeks before the terrorists struck. He not only had to fight for the insurance money but also watch as politicians launched messy competitions for architects and designers for the memorial and the towers.
Daniel Libeskind, the American architect first chosen to draw up the master-plan and deliver blueprints for the main tower, was later sidelined. Even Mr Silverstein was partly edged aside, losing control of One World Trade Centre but holding on to the other main towers.
A cornerstone for the tower was unveiled in 2004, only to be taken away when security concerns forced the entire structure to be moved 25ft to the east.
Only in November 2006 did the first steel foundation rods begin to poke from the earth.
It will be two more years before Vogue et al can move into the main tower. And so it will be the memorial that will have top billing on Sunday.
The waterfalls that will form curtains around the black-stone walls of the two voids, rimmed by bronze parapets bearing the names of those who died on 9/11, will be turned on.
There will be detractors, of course, but in the mind of Mr Donham, his company and the team, a new space has been forged that will at once denote new life -- "the trees are key" -- and the uncluttered conditions for what he calls "quiet abstraction" suitable for a place of remembrance. "It will be good for remembering," he says. "And it will be good for healing."