From the Depth to the Sky

R. A. Hettinga
Tue, 4 Mar 2003 11:31:36 -0500

New York, D.C.: Wherein Mr. Libeskind plants a 1,776-foot flagpole on what was once the epicenter of the world's commerce.

"Stick a fork in it, it's done, Martha..."


March 4, 2003 


>From the Depth to the Sky 


New York 

I'd like to acknowledge the other architects who participated in this project with such spirit, generosity and conviction. Most deeply and most profoundly, I want to thank the people of New York for their extraordinary commitment and the passion they have shown for the future of this fantastic city. That has been an experience I have never had, never dreamt of -- the democratic participatory experience of citizens in a civic process that is exemplary on a world scale and a historical scale. Because without the New Yorkers that soul and heart which represents this enormous site would not be there. Buildings are built out of concrete and steel and glass. But they're actually built out of the spiritual content of the heart and soul of citizens. 

I really did come on a ship called the S.S. Constitution to America as an immigrant with my parents. And when I came to America I saw that skyline. And it was the overwhelming spatial quality of that skyline. But it was more for an immigrant. It was what America stood for, what the freedoms of America represented to someone coming from Eastern Europe. 

I studied architecture in New York City at the Cooper Union and I saw the World Trade Center being built. And it was such an inspiring and controversial and wonderful moment for students of architecture to see those buildings being built. And today we are here. . . . 

The memorial area is 30 feet below the ground level, exposing the slurry walls. Across the street you see the bustling activity of this great city -- the transit station, you see the performing arts center, the hotels, the office buildings and the street. And I think that's really what it's about, it's about paying homage to the memory of those great heroes who died on 9/11 and at the same time seeing the city move forward in an optimistic, creative open-minded way. 

The memorial site is not as deep as it was before, because I wanted to stabilize the slurry walls with lateral structure. But it will include an area devoted exclusively to access and visibility of the bedrock level. I thought it was very inspiring, very important to see the depth of that site and to make it dramatic. So I created a navelike space which is about 300 feet long and about 30 feet wide. 

I was very moved from the very beginning in seeing those slurry walls. Despite the tragedy, despite the attack, despite what happened on the site, they stood. And these are the walls that speak of democracy. And I came across, just coincidentally, a passage in the Bible which said "Freedom carved on stone tablets." That's indeed what the slurry walls are. They are the foundations which remained. They testify as eloquently as the Constitution itself to the value of individual life and the freedoms and powers of democracy. 

The high-rise building spirals upwards to the high point, 1,776 feet. The date of independence is important. It's not a date, a number that will ever be surpassed in world history. The structure is a composition that glows, reaffirms the skyline. And I remember the song that I learned a long time ago about the American flag which said "With freedom's soil beneath our feet, and freedom's flag high above in the sky." And I think that's really what the site is: It's from the depth upwards through the streets to the sky. 

Mr. Libeskind was chosen last week to design the World Trade Center site. This is adapted from his remarks at the announcement ceremony as recorded by NY1. 

R. A. Hettinga <mailto:>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'