NEW YORK — Seven teams of internationally prestigious architects offered bold proposals Wednesday to rebuild the World Trade Center site, ranging from designs for the world's tallest buildings to memorial parks floating in the Hudson River.
As they discussed aesthetics and outlined plans for the 16-acre site, some of the world's most famous architects also jousted over which team was offering the best proposal for New York City and America -- their presentations accompanied by rock music, spiritual messages and flashy computer graphics.
The provocative designs, four of which call for buildings taller than the former World Trade Center's twin towers, were unveiled before an overflow crowd at the Winter Garden, a large public atrium across the street from where the towers once stood. The Lower Manhattan Development Corp., a government agency that oversees development at the site and sponsored the competition, is expected to select a final design for the area in February. Agency officials culled the seven teams of finalists from more than 407 entries this year.
"Some of these designs call on the traditions of 19th century Europe, while others leap into the 21st century, and beyond," said Roland Betts, an agency planner who helped direct the competition.
"But they all address the same question: What do we want this site to look like generations from now? Today's presentation is for the visionaries," Betts said.
The nine proposals reflect an astonishing range of human emotion and spirituality, Betts added -- as if Rembrandt, Cezanne and Jasper Johns were asked to paint the same building. When the final proposal is picked next year, he said, officials will launch a separate international competition for the design of a memorial at the site of one of the terrorist attacks.
John Whitehead, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., praised the designs as "a preview of what Manhattan will look like in 10 years," and said the public will be invited to comment in two public hearings, as well as on response cards that will be available at the Winter Garden through Feb. 3. He also pledged that agency officials will pick the final design -- or a combination of several designs -- "in a spirit of real democracy."
The architects who made 20-minute presentations Wednesday looked and sounded as diverse as their proposals. Daniel Libeskind, the German designer of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, was dressed all in black and he lectured the audience intensely on what the site meant to him. Norman Foster, a renowned London architect, came across as an Oxford Don, talking about architecture and public need.
One proposal vowed to restore the New York skyline, with mega-buildings reminiscent of the doomed World Trade Center's towers. Another called the site sacred ground, saying that commercial buildings should take a back seat to public space honoring the Sept. 11 dead and the country's hope for the future.
Although there were seven competing groups of architects, the Think team -- with 10 partners, including architect Rafael Vinoly -- offered three proposals. Besides Libeskind and Foster, the other finalists included a consortium led by Richard Meier, who designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles; Peterson/Littenberg, a husband-wife team based in New York; United Architects, led by Greg Lynn; and a huge consortium headed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
While the issue of how to rebuild the site still triggers intense disagreement, many observers believe that the presentations Wednesday will revive public interest in what had become a sluggish, highly technical debate. Six proposals unveiled last summer had been strongly criticized for being unimaginative and were quickly discarded by the development agency. The new designs got a much better reception.
The architects' often colorful pitches during the locally televised three-hour event "brought us to a much better place, a more thoughtful place about what we'll build," said Jack Lynch, a member of the Coalition of 9-11 Families, whose firefighter son, Michael, was killed at the site.
"There are a lot of ideas we can work with here," added Mary Fetchet, with the Voices of September 11 families group. "Some of the ideas are quite good."
Yet the discussion, however lofty, had its bare-knuckle moments.
"We're the New York team, and some people call us the dream team," said Meier, introducing a team of his prestigious architects to the audience. "But we're very real. This is our city, our home. It's where our children grew up. All of this matters."
Not to be outdone, architect Steven Peterson said he and his wife, Barbara Littenberg, are also from New York, and that "while [Meier's group] might be the New York team, we're the New York project." He said his proposal -- which called for immense twin towers -- would restore local pride and fill a physical void in the city's spiritual life.