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Public fed false promise over the 'ownership' of Ground Zero scheme

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Is Daniel Libeskind being sidelined from the World Trade Center? It is a familiar tale. The excitement of a highprofile competition win, followed by the tortuous process of determining the exact status of the winning project and the precise nature of the obligations between architect and client. Studio Libeskind insists that there is no confusion.Which may be a tactical means of ensuring the client's continuing goodwill, or may indeed be true. In which case, the stakeholders in the project are happy and there is nothing more to be said. Except that in this instance the notion of 'ownership' is decidedly blurred.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation have carried off the masterstroke of using a high-profile competition, imbuing the project with ever more psychological and patriotic significance and ensuring that the entire country is gunning for the project's eventual success.Which also means that everybody feels that they have the right to be aggrieved if what gets built differs in any way from what they think they have been promised. And they know what they've been promised because they've seen it in the papers - Libeskind may be perfectly clear about the fact that aspects of the project were always 'up for discussion', but the public is not so sure.

It is easy to see why the competition seemed like a good idea at the time. The competition process is a timehonoured means of side-stepping political indecision. It gave the illusion of transparency; it nods to democracy; it suggests that the matter is being taken seriously; and, fundamentally, it plays for time.

Decisions can be delayed, but cannot be put off for ever.What began as a quick-fix show of bravado to buy political support is likely to compromise any attempts to progress the scheme, or at least to alienate support. The site's lessee and developer Larry Silverstein's insistence that 'the developer will decide everything about the design'would not be contentious were it not for the widely held misapprehension that such decisions had been ceded to 'the people'. As it is, it smacks of bullying and betrayal.

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