Art and Design Flourishes at the World Trade Center

4 WTC Lobby featuring Kozo Nishino's "Sky Memory". Photography by Joel Woolhead

New York City has long been a capital of the art world—from the Met’s polished antiquities to Bushwick’s diverse street art. Even in the city’s more workaday commercial space, art can create new value and appeal—and there’s no better example of this than Silverstein Properties’ World Trade Center (WTC) complex.

To get the scoop on all things design at WTC, we connected with Lisa Silverstein, an old friend and the current executive vice president of Silverstein Properties, the owner and the developer of WTC. Lisa introduced me to Dara McQuillan, director of marketing and communications for Silverstein, who toured us through the 16-acre WTC campus. Dara’s great attention to the details behind the history, art, and design of the area made me further appreciate why there is no place like New York—and why the World Trade Center remains both its corporate and artistic epicenter.

The following interview with Dara is an homage to the consummate storyteller—Larry Silverstein. Larry is a man who possesses a strong artistic vision as well as a profound respect, passion, and kindness towards the family and friends who work alongside him.

After 9/11, what informed your decision to begin the rebuilding process with 7 WTC?

After the attacks, Larry felt it was important to do something positive here by doing what he does best: constructing a great building. While he knew it would take a long time, he had the patience and experience to bring together the many stakeholders. This was, after all, a building that Larry built himself in the 80’s—and while no lives were lost at 7 WTC that day, the building was completely destroyed. So in order to revitalize the building both in spirit and in structure, Larry worked with the best team of architects and designers, sustainability consultants, community leaders, and planning board members.

I know that Larry is a great collector and connoisseur of art. How did he make art an integral part of 7 WTC?

Most developers build a building and put the artwork in later. Larry wanted art to be part of the process and design from the very beginning. David Childs of Skidmore Owings and Merrill and James Carpenter of James Carpenter Design Associates were the architect and designer. Neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer designed the structural security wall, which displays words, poems, narrative, and a scrolling LED screen with her messages about her love for New York City.

One of our newer pieces, “Equilateral Quivering Towers,” is by Kenneth Snelson, an artist and architect who designed the antenna at 1 WTC. Another piece, a large-scale painting of waterworks, was contributed by painter Ran Ortner and is currently displayed in the lobby. Richard Jolley, a leading glass artist, was chosen because glass is a passion of the Silversteins. Artwork is also on rotation from the Marlborough Gallery, which Larry deals with for his collection of pieces by Red Grooms. Finally, “Clarus” by contemporary artist Nicole Chesney is incorporated into the structure of the building, similarly to Jenny Holzer’s work.

You mentioned previously that all the WTC properties were built on spec. Isn’t that unusual?

Larry Silverstein is one of the boldest and most successful developers in the city, and he had the confidence that tenants would come. In May 2006, there was only one tenant on the 52 floors of 7 WTC—Silverstein Properties. Within weeks, others started signing leases, including Moody’s, which leased 700,000 rentable square feet—one-third of the building—and soon we were 100 percent leased. The commercial success and quality of design allowed us to lease 4 WTC.

Tell me about the integration of art and design in the lobby at 4 WTC.

Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki designed this vast, open lobby, using Swedish black granite that reflects the natural light. Additionally, the material used in the floors, which is stone imported from Italy, makes the floors look like they seamlessly extend into the outside sidewalk. Smoked white marble on the walls adds to the lightness and minimalism that’s characteristic of Maki’s work.

The lobby mobile is a piece by Kozo Nishino entitled “Sky Memory.” It’s made of titanium and stretches across the entire lobby. The street artist WhlsBe, who created the “What is Beautiful” piece, actually participated in our 69th floor street artist murals project. We all fell in love with his “Vandal Gummy” bear and thought he would be a good fit for this lobby. Finally, at the bottom of the escalator is a LED sculpture by esteemed artist Ivan Navarro.

I understand that there are artist studios at 3 WTC. Tell me more about this project.

Originally, we invited a group of artists to paint on the floors of 7 WTC. They eventually moved to 4 WTC, and are now at 3 WTC. The artists pay for their own materials but use the raw space as their studios for free. Painter Marcus Robinson has been with us the longest; his project is called “Rebuilding and his paintings celebrate Larry’s vision for the new WTC—his time-lapse video at 3 WTC even won the English BAFTA Award. Kerry Levine, who moved from 120 Broadway to 7 WTC and 4 WTC then 3 WTC, paints beautiful watercolors and makes collages. Nello, a visiting street artist from Pompeii, Italy, created a mural in 3 WTC. Todd Stone paints watercolors from above that look like architectural renderings of the buildings in the area and is currently creating a record of the construction process. Diana Horowitz tells the story of downtown landscapes from an aerial perspective. Dragon76, an artist I found on Instagram, uses aerosol paints to create murals.

For more on all things art and design, please visit www.realartmuse.com.

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