WTC finalists chosen

Karen Matthews and Karen Matthews

NEW YORK — Two designs that would put the tallest structures in the world at the site of the World Trade Center were selected Tuesday as the finalists in the plan to rebuild ground zero.

The plan from Berlin architect Daniel Libeskind calls for glassy, angular buildings clustered around the foundations of the fallen towers. The other, proposed by an international team of design firms known as THINK, evokes the original trade center with twin towers of ethereal latticework.

The final plan will be picked at the end of the month.

“What we’re doing today is advancing two extraordinary designs,” said Roland Betts, head of the redevelopment planning committee. Neither is “set in stone,” he said, but officials will try to retain the main concepts.

The final designs include a conceptual vision for where the victims’ memorial might be built, but a specific plan is scheduled to be chosen in September after an international competition.

Nine proposals for redeveloping the 16-acre site where nearly 2,800 people were killed were unveiled late last year.

The selection of the finalists came after a sometimes-contentious review that involved the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency overseeing redevelopment, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the trade center site.

The finalists each feature structures surpassing Malaysia’s 1,483-foot Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest in the world. The trade center towers were 1,350 feet.

A cluster of stark, geometric buildings — one topped by a spire reaching 1,776 feet — forms the core of Libeskind’s design. The THINK team, led by architects Rafael Vinoly and Frederic Schwartz, conceived a “World Cultural Center” with two 1,665-foot towers.

Neither envisions office space at the top of the structures. The Libeskind design calls for 70 stories of offices, with airy “gardens of the world” beckoning tourists above office level. In the THINK plan, a library, museum and other cultural attractions would be suspended inside the latticework towers with offices concentrated at the site’s perimeter.

Betts suggested a number of practical issues must be addressed.

For example, Libeskind’s plan to preserve part of ground zero’s seven-story pit must also reinforce a wall holding back the Hudson River. Betts said “issues related to cost and height” will be analyzed for the THINK plan.

The plans do not include detailed cost estimates; rebuilding will be funded through a combination of public and private financing.

The height of the buildings has been an issue. While many New Yorkers have called for soaring structures that would replace the twin towers, a New York Times/CBS poll found 53 percent of New Yorkers would be unwilling to work in one of the higher floors at the site.

“Personally, I worked in the building for 20 years, and I wouldn’t like to see the tallest building there,” William Rodriguez, who heads a survivors’ group, said Tuesday.

Other hurdles remain. Developer Larry Silverstein, who holds the lease on the trade center site, complained in a letter to development corporation chairman John Whitehead last week that the proposed designs do not include enough office space. Betts pledged that Silverstein will be involved in the next phase.