The Low-Risk High Risk

Designers of the freedom tower, soon to rise at ground zero, say cutting-edge engineering will make occupants safer. Will they be safe enough?

Immediately after 9/11, it looked like the age of the high-rise trophy building was over. But at the politically symbolic height of 1,776 feet (designated by master planner Daniel Libeskind), the World Trade Center's replacement will be among the three tallest buildings in the world upon its completion in 2008. The $1.2-billion Freedom Tower will also "probably be the safest building in the world," lead architect David Childs has said--a bit of hyperbole later downplayed by his colleagues into assurances that it would be the safest commercial building in the U.S.

The design does integrate a number of important, if not exactly innovative, safety measures. But detractors have nicknamed this building the "Bring It On Tower" for the implicit dare it embodies, rising so high in a location that makes it an automatic target. And although the Freedom Tower will serve as a soaring icon of national resilience, on the inside it will be a workaday office building. The stockbrokers and lawyers, secretaries and busboys who will work there, on the site of our collective nightmares, deserve the best safety measures available. On the following pages, our assessment.