WTC visionary: Architect Morrish thinks with Think

Towers of red folders containing the hopes of would-be architecture students occupy every horizontal surface in William Morrish's office. But on the wall beside his desk hang images of towers of a different kind:

* an old black-and-white aerial shot of the World Trade Center towers,

* a photo of their empty footprint, and

* schematic drawings of soaring columns of metal lattice containing the hopes of a resilient city.

Elwood P. Quesada Professor of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban and Environmental Planning (the first-ever cross-disciplinary appointment at UVA's School of Architecture), Morrish is also a member of New York-based Think, an international consortium whose design for rebuilding Ground Zero has just been tapped as one of two finalists selected by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

The 54-year-old Fresno, California, native has built a career around grappling with complicated issues of politics, cultural history, environment, and public space in urban design.

"I've always brought culture and art into the middle of culture art and public space which," he laughs, "produces lots of angst."

With architectural degrees from Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley, Morrish has left his creative imprint on cities ranging from St. Paul to San Francisco to Phoenix. The latter's Public Arts Plan is among his favorite projects because there "we made public space out of ditches and overpasses."

After spending 12 years as the founding director of the University of Minnesota's Design Center for the American Urban Landscape, Morrish joined UVA's faculty in 2001, drawn by the architecture school's innovative combination of departments. "So many schools are trying to be like this," he says.

Last year Frederic Schwartz, an old Harvard friend, invited Morrish to contribute to Think, whose principals include architectural heavyweights Schwartz, Shigeru Ban, Ken Smith, and Rafael Vinoly, as they imagined what might be built at the World Trade Center site.

"People use the word 'learning' a lot when they talk about what they'd like for the site," Morrish says, explaining Think's design for a World Cultural Center featuring lattice towers, within which a hotel, a museum, performance spaces, and other civic venues hang suspended over the original WTC footprint. "We see the towers as infrastructure extensions of the city," he adds.

"He is an incredible humanist," Schwartz says of Morrish. "He cares a great deal about knowledge and educating, and not just in a school setting."

Think and fellow finalist Daniel Libeskind, presented their respective revised plans for the WTC site on February 25. The winner will be named in early March.

As he reflects on Think's lattice structure proposal, Morrish's eyes shine. "This isn't a tower," he says. "This isn't an office that's lost its skin. It's really an environment where people can ride and climb and see the city and understand it."