Declaring the plan would restore "lower Manhattan to its rightful place in the world," Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday the selection of architect Daniel Libeskind's design to rebuild the World Trade Center site.
The plan envisions sloping, angular towers with a 1,776-foot (533-meter) airy spire soaring into the sky. It also preserves part of the sunken pit that was the foundation of the original 1,350-foot (405-meter) twin towers, where Libeskind imagines space for a museum and a memorial to the nearly 2,800 victims who died there Sept. 11, 2001.
A separate design competition for the memorial itself begins this spring.
Gov. George Pataki said the Libeskind plan protects ground zero itself and "brings back the life to lower Manhattan that is so important to our future."
The design, chosen over the THINK team's 1,665-foot (500-meter) latticework towers, includes five stark geometrical towers and several smaller cultural buildings.
A beaming Libeskind, who was born in Poland but grew up in New York, called his selection "a tremendously proud and moving moment."
The choice was made by a committee with representatives of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, and the offices of the governor and the mayor.
LMDC chairman John Whitehead praised the way Libeskind's plan aims to create a bustling, vibrant streetscape around the site, complete with a five-star hotel, a transportation hub, a memorial museum and cultural spots.
He also mentioned a space designed to capture a wedge of sunlight each year on Sept. 11, from the time that the first plane hit until the time the last tower fell.
"The plan succeeds both when it rises into the sky and when it descends into the ground," Whitehead said. "In doing so, it captures the soaring optimism of our city and honors the eternal spirit of our fallen heroes."
The spire, which recalls the year of America's independence, would have a garden all the way to its top, not office space.
The design competition was launched after an initial set of plans released in July was criticized as being dominated by office space and bland, boring structures. Libeskind's firm, based in Berlin, is well known for the design of the Jewish Museum Berlin, an extension to the Denver Art Museum and the Jewish Museum in San Francisco.
Libeskind, 57, has estimated the cost of building his design at $330 million. Officials have said insurance payments on the twin towers and public money are expected to finance the redevelopment, but the specific funding plan is one of many questions that remain.
Some revisions in the plans are likely, Rather was told. Once building begins, the new World Trade Center is expected to take about four years to complete.
Libeskind said he included the sunken space because he was inspired by the site's massive slurry walls holding back the Hudson River. He likened their strength to the strength of democracy.
"Truly a wall of freedom. Freedom really etched in this wall," he said.
Lee Ielpi, whose firefighter son died in the Sept. 11 attack, praised the design because it preserved much of the sunken area within the twin towers' foundation.
"That land was consecrated by the blood of the people who were lost that day," Ielpi said.
Developer Larry Silverstein, who owns the lease on the trade center site, was present at Thursday's ceremony but did not speak.