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9/11 families: Bring World Trade Center sphere back to its home

Where will the Koenig Sphere, long a symbol

Where will the Koenig Sphere, long a symbol of the World Trade Center, find a permanent home? Credit: Michael Kirby Smith

For decades, the giant bronze orb stood in the plaza between the Twin Towers, a gleaming symbol of world peace through trade.

Remarkably, the sculpture emerged from the 9/11 attacks battered but not broken, assuming new meaning as a symbol of hope amid devastation. Almost a decade later, however, a wrenching dispute is brewing over the sculpture’s future.

A contingent of 9/11 families wants “The Sphere” returned to its ancestral home at Ground Zero, a plan they say the Port Authority opposes. What’s more, concerns are growing because the sculpture, now situated in Battery Park, will have to be moved this summer because of restoration work on the lawn. Some fear that “The Sphere” could be placed in storage on the eve of the 10th anniversary.

Family members waging the campaign want “The Sphere” back at its former home.

The Port Authority, they say, wants to place it at Ground Zero’s Liberty Park, which won’t be completed until 2013.

“Where they want to put it is out of the way: There is nothing else outdoors above ground that shows the devastation,” said Tim Sumner, 58, a retired U.S. military policeman whose brother-in-law, FDNY Lt. Joseph Leavey, died in the tragedy.

“The Sphere,” built by German sculptor Fritz Koenig, “survived the attacks in place: It’s embraced as an icon,” added Michael Burke, 54, of Riverdale, the advocate leading the campaign. Burke’s brother, FDNY Capt. William F. Burke Jr., also died in the attack.

Port Authority spokesman John Kelly would not confirm or deny that the 5,000-pound globe will be moved to the new park at Liberty and West streets, saying only that an announcement will be made next month. But he assured that “the Koenig sphere will be a part of the memorial experience.”

In the near future, “The Sphere” could end up in storage if it is not immediately re-sited from Battery Park.

Storage, said Catherine McVay Hughes, chair of the WTC Redevelopment Committee for Community Board 1, is not acceptable.

“It needs to be available to the public to see, and it needs to be in a respectable location," she said.

The Port Authority declined to elaborate on what will happen to the sphere when it is evicted from Battery Park. The Parks Department confirmed the move is targeted for this summer, and that a new location had not been decided.

Burke believes the memorial — which features twin waterfalls in the tower footprints as well as a forest of trees — sanitizes the apocalyptic horror of the day. What better artifact to symbolize the day terrorists attacked America, he asked, than the wounded sculpture designed to symbolize world peace?

An architectural critic’s view

It is impossible to know if the 9/11 Memorial will satisfy the twin objectives of honoring the dead and instructing visitors about a horrific event until it opens, said Blair Kamin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune. But often, he noted, memorials designed to heal wounds instead “open up new wounds.”

The families, Kamin said, deserve to have input into the design but cannot be its final arbiters. “They don’t have sole ownership of 9/11,” Kamin said.

“Their desire to remember is certainly important,” he added, “but it is not the only perspective that counts. The ultimate experience that matters is that of the visitors – and the visitors in 100 years.”

Families Weigh In

Relatives of 9/11 victims make their case for returning “The Sphere” to the center of the new World Trade Center.

“The sphere belongs in the plaza to remind us that the people and the buildings that once stood there may be gone, but their spirit remains. While it has scars and a challenging history, it still stands gracefully tall. It is a symbol for what my father would want for me.”

---- Vandna “Cheena” Jain, Harlem, daughter of Yudh Jain, who was on the 103rd Floor, North Tower

“It is an eloquent reminder of what we withstood as a city and as a nation. We can’t airbrush all the bruises away from this historic and spiritual site, even if certain “powers that be” so desire.

---- Sharon Watts, Beacon, NY, friend of FDNY Capt. Patrick J. Brown

“This 9/11 Memorial is 95% museum and 5% memorial. Put the sphere back to where it was before the attack.”

---- FDNY Dep. Chief Jim Riches, Dyker Heights, father of FDNY Firefighter Jimmy Riches

Fast facts about the Sphere:

- Commissioned by The Port Authority in 1966; installed at the World Trade Center in 1971.

- Designed by German sculptor Fritz Koenig to symbolize peace and world trade.

- WTC architect Minoru Yamasaki, a fan of Islamic architectural influences, imagined the sphere serving as the focal point of Austin J. Tobin Plaza just as the Kaaba – the focal point of all Muslim prayer – anchored open space at the Grand Mosque of Mecca.

- Weighs 45,000 pounds, stands 35 feet high and is made out of 52 bronze segments.

- It was placed in Battery Park in March 2002. An eternal flame was installed nearby “in honor of all those who were lost.”

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