Wind and a Prayer

Freedom Tower Engineer Wants Turbines To Double as Prayer Wheels

It's doubtful that the Statue of Liberty echo will resonate much, over time. In truth, Liberty Enlightening the World already has its counterpoint across the harbor in Battery Park City. The comparatively small, tiered hexagon of the Museum of Jewish Heritage urges contemplation of the genocide unleashed by intolerance and the achievements that are possible for even a minority community when freedoms are secure. But the spire's offset placement atop the Freedom Tower will be distinctive—centering it would push the design toward mimicry, and lopping it off would leave a silhouette that's unjustifiably banal. As Skyscraper Museum director Carol Willis says, "I think that its slender proportions and pointing to sky really satisfy the definition of a skyscraper as a romantic notion."

And height, in this case, does matter. "As architects, we don't talk about designing the world's tallest building," Lewis says, but there's an undeniable groundswell of desire to see the Freedom Tower become the world's pinnacle.

If only for the moment. In a stark reminder of the ways of this world, the ecologically friendly Freedom Tower, even if recognized as the world's tallest by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, will be closely bracketed by two monuments to oil power. For now, the title belongs to the Petronas Towers, designed by Pelli for the Petroliam Nasional Berhad, the national oil company of Malaysia. Upcoming is the Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which breaks ground this month and is slated for completion by 2009. The latter tower is also being built by SOM, and will be "comfortably taller" than anything else in the world, according to the firm.

Higher calling: the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower
photo: Jock Pottle/Esto/Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Llp
Higher calling: the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower

The Burj Dubai derives its graceful symmetry from a six-petaled desert flower. Other examples of the newest generation of record-setting skyscrapers, like the bamboo-stalk-inspired Taipei Financial Center, have eschewed the boxy international style to reflect local cultures and organic forms. But perhaps the unseen prayer wheels will allow the Freedom Tower, as no building ever has, to speak profoundly for, and of, the people of its city.

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