Frederic Schwartz, 63, Dies; Designed September 11 Memorials

By Douglas Martin New York Times

Frederic Schwartz, an architect, designed the concrete and steel “Empty Sky” memorial in Jersey City, N.J., with Jessica Jamroz. Credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Frederic Schwartz, an architect, designed the concrete and steel “Empty Sky” memorial in Jersey City, N.J., with Jessica Jamroz. Credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Frederic Schwartz, an architect whose plan to rebuild the World Trade Center site finished second among hundreds of entries, and who went on to create memorials in New Jersey and Westchester County to victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 63.

The cause was prostate cancer, his wife, Tracey Hummer, said.

Mr. Schwartz helped design the new Whitehall Ferry Terminal for the Staten Island Ferry in Manhattan, airports in India, city plans in China and gleaming loft renovations. He developed low-income housing and was chosen by the New Orleans planning commission to lead the rebuilding of parts of the city after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Mr. Schwartz was on a street corner near his home in Manhattan, just 10 blocks away, when he watched the trade center’s towers collapse in 2001. He saw people jumping.

His response was to begin drawing, at first on scraps of paper, like restaurant tabs. He sketched the towers on a cardboard coaster, engulfed in black clouds. “I kept drawing horrible things,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2002.

As time passed, his effervescent personality darkened, and the weight of the tragedy took over his life, Philip Nobel wrote in a 2005 book, “Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for Ground Zero.” At an early show of art related to September 11, Mr. Schwartz submitted a rendering of a giant black question mark on a white board.

“He would become a kind of tragic conscience in the redevelopment” of the trade center site, Mr. Nobel wrote.

After the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation announced a contest seeking designs for a trade center reconstruction, Mr. Schwartz joined with the architects Rafael Viñoly and Shigeru Ban and the landscape architect Ken Smith to produce an entry. They named their team Think. (Last month, Mr. Ban received the 2014 Pritzker Prize, architecture’s top award.)

Their plan involved building two 1,665-foot latticework towers, inspired by the Eiffel Tower. Buildings were to be erected within them, as if to hang in midair. They would include a museum, a performing arts center and other public spaces.

The official selection committee narrowed the 406 entries down to two and then picked the Think team’s design, calling the soaring structure inspirational. But Gov. George E. Pataki of New York reversed the decision in favor of a design by the other finalist, the architect Daniel Libeskind, who proposed a sunken memorial with a museum that would serve as an entrance.

“Those towers look like death to me,” the governor is quoted as saying in Mr. Nobel’s book. “There’s no goddamn way I’m going to build those skeletons.”

The site being built today reflects some of Mr. Libeskind’s ideas, although the tallest building was designed by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. A pair of deep sunken basins with waterfalls marking the twin towers’ footprints, by the architect Michael Arad and the landscape architect Peter Walker, won the memorial design competition.

Mr. Schwartz was “crushed” when the Think design was rejected, his wife said, but he remained eager to commemorate September 11, and won two national competitions to do exactly that.

His design for the Westchester memorial, at the Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla, includes 109 gleaming stainless steel rods rising from a circle of engraved granite blocks and converging into a soaring column, like a rocket blast. It is titled “The Rising,” after a Bruce Springsteen song released after September 11.

“I’m waiting to watch the first child walk in, and look up to heaven,” Mr. Schwartz said before the dedication, in September 2006.

His September 11 memorial in New Jersey, designed with Jessica Jamroz, was erected in Liberty State Park, across the Hudson River from the World Trade Center site. It includes two solemn cement and brushed stainless steel walls — each 210 feet long, the width of each side of the twin towers — etched with the names of 749 people who lived in New Jersey or had ties to it and who were killed in the September 11 attacks. Titled “Empty Sky,” after another Springsteen song, it was dedicated on September 11, 2011.

Besides his wife, Mr. Schwartz is survived by his mother, Charlotte Schwartz; and a sister, Barbara S. Glicksman.

Frederic David Schwartz was born on April 1, 1951, in Jamaica, Queens, and grew up on Long Island, in Plainview. As a boy, he liked to make houses out of refrigerator boxes and was inspired by the gift of a book on Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect. A high school social studies teacher interested him in labor issues, and he staged a boxing match and a rock concert in the school gymnasium to benefit migrant farm workers.

He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with an architecture degree in 1973 and earned a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1978. He was a skilled draftsman; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill employed him while he was still a student.

After he left Harvard, the architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown hired him to work in their Philadelphia home office and then as director of their New York office. For years, he worked with them in designing Westway, a project that would have put the West Side Highway in a tunnel, and a park on landfill above it. The project was abandoned in 1985, after a federal judge blocked its permit, citing evidence that the construction would endanger striped bass in the Hudson River.

Mr. Schwartz resurrected the idea in his failed proposal for the World Trade Center site, proposing again that the highway become a tunnel, over which a new trade center could be built. The site of the destroyed buildings to the east could then be used for his towers. This idea was not part of his official master plan proposal, but it drew considerable comment from architectural critics.

After the Westway project died, Mr. Schwartz was awarded a Rome Prize in architecture. Despite winning architectural prizes, writing several books and teaching at Columbia, Yale and Harvard, Mr. Schwartz remained relatively unknown to the general public for years, though he garnered some attention for turning old industrial lofts in Manhattan into modern living spaces. The ferry terminal, which Mr. Schwartz designed with Ronald Evitts, “seemed to be forever coming soon,” Mr. Nobel wrote.

The publicity surrounding the competition to develop a memorial and other public spaces for the trade center site changed that. In 2006, writing in The New York Times Magazine, Deborah Sontag called the contest “intense and meanspirited.” Mr. Libeskind compared the Think team’s towers with human skeletons.

But Roland Betts, chairman of the committee that recommended the proposal of Mr. Schwartz’s group, said that watching the towers going up would be uplifting, comparing them to “a rising phoenix.”

A version of this article appears in print on April 30, 2014, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Frederic Schwartz, 63, Dies; Designed September 11 Memorials.

This entry was posted in 9/11 Memorials. Bookmark the permalink.