Design row as cornerstone for new tower is laid at Ground Zero

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The Independent US

The start of construction of the building to replace the destroyed twin towers in New York was marked by a ceremony yesterday.

The start of construction of the building to replace the destroyed twin towers in New York was marked by a ceremony yesterday.

The Freedom Tower, designed by the visionary architect Daniel Libeskind as a twisting glass and steel tower evoking the Statue of Liberty, is bursting with symbolism. Not only was its cornerstone - a 20 ton block of granite - laid on this year's US Independence Day - but, at 1,776ft tall, its height remembers the year when America first became independent from Britain.

The cornerstone is inscribed: "To honor and remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 and as a tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom - July Fourth, 2004."

The building, set to be the tallest skyscraper in the world, was described by Governor George Pataki at the Ground Zero ceremony as a "new symbol of American strength and confidence".

"How badly our enemies underestimated the resiliency of this city and the resolve of these United States," he said. "In less than three years, we have more than just plans on paper. We place here today the cornerstone, the foundation of a new tower."

"The cause of liberty can never be defeated," added the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg.

But the construction of the new tower has not always been this straightforward. Bold plans drawn up by Mr Libeskind came under fire when they were released in September 2003 as the leaseholder and developer Larry Silverstein hired another lead architect with new ideas for the development.

Mr Libeskind's original proposal, entitled Memory Foundations, featured a soaring spire a third of a mile high, with hanging gardens and a "Wedge of Light" designed to allow no shadow to fall through the building between the hours of 8.46am and 10.26am on each year's anniversary of the 11 September attacks.

Although the height and spire remain, Mr Libeskind's striking initial plans have been considerably toned down in what has been denounced by many as a classic clash between artistic and commercial interests. His "gardens in the sky" do not appear in the latest designs; instead, windmills are set to dominate the open area at the building's summit. The 70ft-deep pit showing the famous slurry wall which withstood the terrorist attacks has been raised 40 feet and looks more like a sanitised putting-green.

Mr Libeskind, a renowned and respected architect who was the brains behind the Jewish Museum in Berlin, has denied that he was pushed out of the Freedom Tower's final design process.

He claimed last week that he is "still intensively and fully engaged as the master planner for Ground Zero".

As if the squabbling between its designers was not enough to detract from the triumph of the Freedom Tower, a recent jury verdict has also brought financial problems to the fore. The judgment cut the insurance proceeds which Mr Silverstein is seeking to pay for the development from a possible $7bn (£3.8bn) to a maximum of $4.5bn.

Mr Silverstein claims he has more than enough money to complete the venture with insurance proceeds and "traditional financing methods" but critics are worried the estimated $12bn project may be left unfinished and not meet the scheduled date for completion of 2009.