Posted on Mar 14, 2003

Sabrina Kanner '80

The folks in Sabrina Kanner's company have an expression:
“It's better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”

Thus empowered, they jumped into action following the 9-11 terrorist
attacks, “finagling” their way past officials to begin an ambitious one-year plan
to fully restore the World Financial
Center's Winter Garden. The first
major rebuilding project, completed ahead of schedule, created a respite from
the tragedy. Kanner calls Winter Garden an “urban cathedral that is a place for
people to come and feel part of the community.”

Kanner, a 1980 grad who is vice president for design and
construction at Brookfield Financial Properties, which oversaw the $50-million
reconstruction of the 10-story complex, visited campus on Tuesday to share her
experience with faculty, staff and students.

Comparing the destruction of lower Manhattan
to Europe after World War II, she said she was
especially saddened by images of the human toll of the attacks: a woman's
shoe, memos from Canter Fitzgerald, policemen weeping, Red Cross volunteers
sleeping under tables. “It was just about the saddest thing you could see,” she

But for all the horror of the attacks, the spirit of cooperation
was equally moving, Kanner said. She described a weekend trip to a quarry in Italy
where she was to inspect marble that would be shipped for the rebuilding
project. When she arrived on a Saturday morning, all the employees were in the
parking lot, eager to greet her and to express their enthusiasm to help in rebuilding
from what they called “a crime against the world.”

“I thought I'd have to beat these guys up to meet this
extraordinary schedule and they were jumping through hoops,” she said. “They set
the pace for the Americans.” She recalls telling one U.S.
contractor on meeting a tight deadline, “They're doing it in Italy.
You have to do it in middle America too.”

There were no jurisdictional issues among the various
trades. Everyone pitched in to do design work in the field. Workers wore
t-shirts that read, “Whatever it takes, the trees are coming” (a reference to
the palm trees that were placed in the atrium of the Winter Garden).

When the Winter Garden was completed, it was the site of
press conferences by the governor and the mayor. President Bush used the venue
to address the United Nations.

Kanner was critical of some of the proposed designs for
buildings that would replace the World
Trade Center
towers. “Some of them are taller than the original towers,” she said. “Who is
going to work there?” Besides being targets for terrorism, skyscrapers are inefficient,
she said. The ideal height for the buildings should be about 50 stories, she

But lower Manhattan
will be completely rebuilt in 8 or 10 years, she said. “[It] will be better
than it ever was,” she told a group of students. “I'll be happy to walk you
around the Winter Garden.”

Kanner, the former Sabrina Rau, fascinated a group of 30 Union Scholars, many of whom were wondering how the English
major ended up running a large construction operation. “My mother must have
asked me that question 20 times,” she responded to one student's query. “I got
into this by accident. By the end of my second year [at Union],
I realized I would not be an English professor, so I looked at different areas
to round out my career.”

She took a number of courses in math (perhaps her strongest
subject, she admits) business and computer science and graduated Union
to a job that involved writing financial reports for a painting contractor.
That ultimately led to a career as a manager in the male-dominated field of

“My ability to talk and write and see critical junctures in
a program has been really helpful,” she said, adding that the learning
continued after she left Union. “As much as you learn
[in college], you really start learning when you leave.”