Design-less WTC Arts Center Still Searching for an Architect

Evan Bindelglass, Curbed.com

Scrapped Frank Gehry design for the prospective performing arts center. Photo Curbed.

Scrapped Frank Gehry design for the prospective performing arts center. Photo from Curbed.com.

The World Trade Center Performing Arts Center officially scrapped Frank Gehry’s design for the venue, stalling the already stalled project. Little has happened since then, but on Monday, officials from the center told Community Board 1’s Planning Committee that they are close to being able to move forward again, having narrowed the search for a new architect to three firms.

Maggie Boepple, president of the WTC Performing Arts Center, made clear that the split from Gehry and his controversial design was “amicable.” She only said that no contract could be reached. In terms of a new design team, they have narrowed the prospective firms from 50 to three, and the board will make a decision “soon” and choose an executive architect to oversee the project.

Boepple also said that project is now known as “PAC WTC,” with PAC pronounced like “pack.”This is less wordy (and less stuffy) than “The World Center for the Performing Arts,” but they are open to offers to buy the naming rights, so the name could change again.

While a building can’t be built without a design, below grade design work has been completed, and construction will actually begin soon. The temporary PATH station currently occupies the site of the arts center, so significant work can’t being until that’s out of the way. Currently, Boepple projects a 2018 or 2019 opening for the center, though productions would be staged elsewhere prior to that to “whet whistles.”

Lucy Sexton, the associate artistic director, gave details about the theater space, which she said she hoped would be a “theater of the world.” She wants it to be a “producing house” because New York City can make its own great works, but also collaborate with world artists. There will be three theaters which she envisions being used for theater, musical theater, dance, and new opera. They will have 550, 350, and 150 seats each, but will be combinable for any number of experiences. Sexton wants it to be an “immersive theater.”

David Lan, artistic director at the Young Vic in London (where he sells 96 percent of his tickets), will run things at PAC WTC, where Sexton said programming will be “artistically adventurous” and open to co-producing with other theaters, such as the Apollo. Lan has already done work across the East River at BAM.

Sexton wants it to be the “most digitally advances space in the countries” so it can connect with and display new work from the best artists.

Sexton sees the theater as a “connecting node” in the World Trade Center campus, and wants PAC WTC to be a “building that’s alive all day.” It will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. and have breakfast, lunch, and coffee options. Sexton sees it as a “place to land” and have a drink at the bar after the show or after work next door at One World Trade Center.

Boepple wants an audience that represents the community and said they will be sensitive to the nearby 9/11 Memorial, but she said, “The memorial is about what happened. We’re about the future.”

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