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Experts discuss planning, designing and rebuilding the World Trade Center

NEW YORK -- Trying to rebuild the World Trade Center not only ignited a profound debate on city planning but also involved a multitude of obstacles, said experts involved in the project, all Cornell alumni, at a panel discussion at the Silverstein Properties, 7 World Trade Center offices in New York City July 18.

"After 9/11, we found ourselves with a clear mission to rebuild 7 World Trade Center quickly," said Robin Panovka '83, a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz, who provides legal counsel to Silverstein Properties. That firm is rebuilding the World Trade Center Towers 2, 3 and 4 and completed 7 World Trade Center, a 52-story skyscraper in 2006 across the street from the site of the pre-9/11 Twin Towers.

"But there were tremendous obstacles in the way, and it's really how those obstacles were overcome, through cooperation with the Port Authority and the other players, that led to rebuilding of 7 World Trade Center and is now leading to the rebuilding of the larger site where the Twin Towers once stood," Panovka said.

For example, Panovka continued, a small strip of land that Silverstein didn't own was necessary for the footprint of the new 7 World Trade Center, and it would take years to acquire that land due to regulatory hurdles. Silverstein decided to rebuild on land it didn't yet own and without full agreement with other stakeholders on a variety of complex issues. Instead, agreements had to be reached every week during construction because it was not possible to resolve all the issues in advance, prior to rebuilding, without delaying construction. Silverstein's leap of faith paid off, and the necessary strip was later acquired by the Port Authority and leased to Silverstein.

"The result is this beautiful building, 7 World Trade Center, built partly on land the builder didn't yet own or lease, without customary agreements among the major stakeholders. It's that kind of cooperation, vision and guts that led to the success of this building and is fueling the rebuilding of the whole World Trade Center site," Panovka said.

Drew Warshaw '03, chief of staff at the Port Authority, noted the difficulty in managing all the different decision-makers and stakeholders, and how it was really a game of "pick-up sticks" where "you move one thing and you have to understand how it impacts everything else."

David Worsley '83, M.Eng '84, senior vice president at World Trade Center Properties, said there was much concern about whether New York City could handle the nearly 8.5 million square feet of construction work necessary for rebuilding the World Trade Center. He said that "a rethinking of the sequencing of the projects, which was a result of the economic downturn of 2008," helped allay fears.

As a result, a new schedule was worked out where construction was more phased. According to Worsley, Tower 4 will be occupied by 2013, Tower 1 in 2014, Tower 3 by 2015 and Tower 2 sometime after that.

Jeffrey Holmes '88, principal at the architecture firm Woods Bagot and a senior designer for 1 World Trade Center, highlighted various design aspects of the World Trade Center, including the use of new glazing technologies to optimize energy performance while also animating the surface of the building to engage pedestrians passing by.

"It's these notions of imagining what something might be, and how we can make great, vibrant, vital city streets even among the most challenging circumstances," said Holmes, who credited his Cornell education.

"I've had this incredible opportunity over the past 15 years to be involved in precedent-setting projects in New York City and around the world, and I thank Cornell for that opportunity," Holmes said.

The event was organized by Cornell Wall Street.

Farhan Nuruzzaman '12 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.

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John Carberry