When We Build It, They Will ComeThis post is not as timely as a blog should be, but I'm posting it anyway. So it's Libeskind for Lower Manhattan. I think that's the wiser choice from the two finalists, and an inspiring vision, although I was rooting for Norman Foster and crew. I thought it crucial that the design chosen incorporate a twin towers element, and that those twin towers be as architecturally audacious in our day as the WTC towers were in theirs. This would be a deliberate "fuck you" to the Islamofascists, a testament not only to our greater economic strength, but to our superior conception of the human heart, mind, and soul -- the very source of that greater economic strength. I thought the Foster towers did that beautifully. I'm content with the Libeskind design, though, because although it does not do the obvious homage with twinned towers, it is still breathtaking in its audacity. The THINK plan, the second finalist, failed that test. While it had a twin towers element, they were mostly empty, functionless latticework, and openly derivative of the Eiffel Tower, a photo of which THINK actually included in their slide show. The Eiffel Tower was the WTC of its day, but boldness, not imitation, is what's called for here. I also disliked THINK's decision to place the 9/11 memorial at the apex of their Eiffel knock-offs. Foster's memorial, by contrast, planned voids, on the footprints of the WTC, that I thought much more appropriate. See today's New York Times for a commentary about descending to memorials, rather than ascending. I think this article sums up the point nicely. Libeskind, like Foster, sees the memorial in the same way.
A good friend and I had a dialogue about the choices back when the current group of plans was unveiled last fall. We both agreed that they represented an improvement on the sterile, uninspired choices from the first attempt earlier in 2002, but he felt that we had an opportunity, in the wake of the horror of 9/11, to reclaim the historic character of the neighborhood that the WTC itself had destroyed. Like me, my friend can have no real memory of that character -- we were 9 when the WTC opened in 1971; I lived in Boston, he in sunny California. And although I agree that we are generally too quick to shed old buildings in this country (Steve Martin exclaiming to Victoria Tennant that "some of these buildings are over twenty years old in L.A. Story is one of the funniest lines in film), you can't go home again. The WTC had a transformational effect on Lower Manhattan. It is no more possible to restore the old character of the neighborhood than it is to make Hester, Rivington, and Delancey once again the center of the American-Jewish experience. My friend also pointed out that it took 12 years for the WTC to reach full occupancy after it was built, and that we don't need that much office in lower Manhattan. I respond to that argument in part with the title to this post, and also with the observation that the core buildings of New College, Oxford are more than 600 years old.
The friend in question is one of the few loyal readers of my ramblings, and I suspect he has yet more to say on the subject. So I shall post his reply here without delay. permalink