When the project began, it was 320,000 square feet and comprised both the International Freedom Center, to house displays on the history of the struggle for freedom throughout the world, and the Drawing Center, an exhibition space for historical and contemporary drawings. It is now 48,000 square feet, with about 30 percent devoted to mechanical systems, mostly for adjacent buildings. Along with its air vents, the pavilion provides ticketing and security for a belowground museum, which is devoted to the catastrophe and was designed by another firm. (The freedom center and the Drawing Center were both deemed too controversial.) “It’s an extremely elegantly upholstered snorkel,” says Anne Lewison, the project architect.
Viewing the site from the 20th-floor offices of a nearby skyscraper, I was struck by the smallness of the memorial compared with the towering commercial structures rising around it. “What it will do well is slow down the pace of the city,” says Thorsen. “It’s calm; it’s not extraordinarily expressive or spectacular. If the public is slowed down mentally and physically, we’ve done our part.”
Snøhetta’s plan for Times Square, meanwhile, is about speeding things up—or at least smoothing things out. “We will be looking at reducing the amount of obstacles for the public,” Thorsen says, emphasizing the need to facilitate the flow of people. “That means a curbstone is a bad thing.”
A good thing—at least in Scandinavia—is when listening and collaborating are at least as important as the design itself. Thorsen speaks of architects enabling, rather than dictating to, their clients. “Design is the last tool of architecture,” he says. “Once you sit down and draw the line, you take possession of the design. It is better to wait until much later in the process. You might get a better design from somebody else, but the issue is always how you got there.”