October 21, 2003

Lerner '76 Discusses WTC Building Plan

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Speaking to a crowd consisting largely of planning students and faculty, Jill Lerner ’76 discussed the significance of collaboration between different disciplines in the design of urban architectural projects, such as the widely debated World Trade Center redevelopment plan.

As one of the principals of Kohn Pedersen Fox & Associates, a large architectural firm based in New York City, Lerner spoke of her experiences working on a number of domestic and international projects, most notably the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Rodin Museum in Seoul, Korea, in which she highlighted the importance of collaboration between art and architecture in what she calls “a last urban gesture.”

The focus of her talk, however, was her involvement on the WTC redevelopment committee, and the problems that arose from trying to respond appropriately to a tragedy that was simultaneously private and public in nature.

“What is most interesting is the public process, and how the issues of public opinion and emotion drove that whole process,” she said. “The WTC site became a very public site after September 11.”

Lerner referred to the temporary memorials that sprang up around Ground Zero almost immediately after the towers came down as an example of this. For her and other designers and planners involved in the redevelopment committee, the challenge was to work out a more concrete way of commemoration that would address both the issues of public remembrance and the practical issues of building on prime Lower Manhattan real estate.

“Even two years later, people are still digesting what is going to be the right response,” Lerner said. “It would be a shame if New York picked a winner and didn’t stand behind it,” she said, referring to architect Daniel Libeskind’s winning scheme in the WTC redesign competition held by the Lower Manhattan Development Committee earlier this year.

When asked about her attitude toward Libeskind’s winning design, Lerner said, “It won fair and square because it captured the essence of the memorial and emotional issues.” Then, describing how Libeskind exposed the WTC foundation wall in his entry, Lerner said that Libeskind’s design “captivated the public because it wasn’t driven by real estate issues, but instead was driven by memorial issues,” especially in comparison to the six schemes initially proposed by the Lower Manhattan Development Committee, which the Wall Street Journal architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable characterized as “utterly devoid of artistry.”

“We try to bring a diversity of topics, and in this case, [Lerner] was able to touch on the three disciplines [of architecture, art and planning] and how they come together, because most of the time, they tend to work apart without realizing the benefits of working together,” said Prof. Ann-Margaret Esnard, city and regional planning, explaining how Learner’s speech tied into the Professional Planning Colloquium speaker series.On the theme of collaboration between architecture and other disciplines, Lerner spoke of the “tremendous unity” of the similarly sized Rockefeller Center site as a model for the future redevelopment of the WTC site.

Lerner is also one of the members of New York New Visions, a coalition of 30,000 individuals from 21 architecture, planning, and design organizations, which provides a forum for professionals with diverse skills and perspectives to address the WTC redevelopment problem. “Collaboration is an open process of individuals, and it’s important to have collaboration early on in the design process,” she said. “Success comes from getting people in early and having them in on the ground floor.” Overall, the response to Learner’s lecture was positive.

“I thought it was informative in explaining the different ways in which architects, and a whole community can be involved in a large-scale planning process,” said Thomas Chandy grad. “It was exciting to have a former Cornell student come back and showing how she has contributed back to a larger community. She is a role model for both architects and planners.”

The talk was part of the weekly Professional Planning Colloquium speaker series held by the Department of City and Regional Planning, held every Friday in 165 McGraw at 12:15 p.m. The next lecture in the series will be on Oct. 24, with guest Gerald Frug from the Harvard Law School speaking about “City Making and City Planners.”

Archived article by Kim Mok