June 29, 2005

"A monument to a society that has turned its back on any notion of cultural openness."

Criticism of the new World Trade Center Freedom Tower.
The most radical design change is the creation of the base, which will house the building's lobby and some mechanical systems. Designed to withstand a major bomb blast, the base will be virtually windowless. In an effort to animate its exterior, the architects say they intend to decorate it in a grid of shimmering metal panels. A few narrow slots will be cut into the concrete to allow slivers of natural light into the lobby.

The effort fails on almost every level. As an urban object, the tower's static form and square base finally brush aside the last remnants of Mr. Libeskind's master plan, whose only real strength was the potential tension it created among the site's structures. In the tower's earlier incarnation, for example, its eastern wall formed part of a pedestrian alley that became a significant entry to the memorial site, leading directly between the proposed International Freedom Center and the memorial's north pool. The alley, flanked on its other side by a performing arts center to be designed by Frank Gehry, was fraught with tension; it is now a formless park littered with trees.

UPDATE: The Anchoress is very hard on the Times's architecture critic. Myself, I admire the people who are able to find words to write about music, painting, and architecture. It is not easy. And the change to the tower really is a shame. I'd say the writer, Nicolai Ouroussoff, has expressed in words the disappointment many of us feel on seeing the pictures of the new design. And before reviling the New York Times, let's remember the good work the newspaper has put in over the past few years keeping up the pressure to make the new architecture at the World Trade Center site beautiful. Remember the originally proposed designs? The Times has done a lot here, and its method has been to stir the public's emotions about architecture, the city, politics, and physical security. There are some statements in this article that can rub you the wrong way -- the Times pictures its readers as liberals -- but overall, I think, this piece reads as a cry for strength and beauty in the city.


Dave said...

This would be one of those rare times in which I agree with the Times.

PatCA said...

The site has become quite a problem, hasn't it? Sad. I'm all for the two pools and a park and memorial. Other than that, I dunno...

Let's face it: we know the nutjobs are going to try to bomb it again. How can we possibily deal with that?

SippicanCottage said...

I've been atop the old WTC. We went to its observation deck because the towers were the only buildings in NYC I had no interest in looking at. So we went up and looked ot the Chrysler Building, and the Empire State, and so forth.

Well, the old Twin Towers were the ugliest, most disturbing buildings I've ever visited. I disliked everything about them.

I'd build them exactly the way they were but a bit stronger, ugly as hell, but so what, and woe be to anybody that ever even looked at them funny again.

Harkonnendog said...

It looks great to me.

Drethelin said...

I say we make a giant tower of solid concrete and steel. "Knock this one down!"

lindsey said...

I wish there was some way to build a skyscraper that looks like it never ends. A skyscraper that through the magic of physics and a visual slight of hand looks like it extends directly into the heavens. Then if some terrorists try to hit it with a plane again, they'll have no clue where the real building ends and the illusion begins.

Also, I would make it sparkly because we need more sparkly architecture. And I'd have two of them so they mimicked the original towers but were never-ending and sparkly.

Goesh said...

-just a poor man's opinion, but I thought it was to be a commerce center. Wouldn't that reflect strength, security, ease of function but not necessarily pretty to behold? Slap a little glitter on the base of it and call it a day.

Gerry said...

"the Times pictures its readers as liberals"


L. Ron Halfelven said...

The Anchoress pulls off the near-impossible feat of overinterpreting Ouroussoff as badly as Ouroussoff overinterprets the building.

Am I correct in guessing that the dead-tree edition does not show a picture of the notorious concrete base? At least you can see it in the online slide-show; it's wicked ugly, all right.

Ann Althouse said...

The paper edition clearly shows the whole model including the base on the front page -- top, center. And on page A21, there are more pictures, including a labelled diagram comparing the new design to the 2003 design. The clunkification is very obvious in the comparison

Ann Althouse said...

Of course, the clunkier version looks a lot more like one of the original Twin Towers, which were very blocked off at the base.

Slocum said...

The Anchoress is very hard on the Times's architecture critic. Myself, I admire the people who are able to find words to write about music, painting, and architecture. It is not easy.

But Achoress isn't objecting to the critic's aesthetic sensibilities but to his political ones--or rather to the fact that, in his case, the two are all but indistinguishable.

For example, he says:

"For better or worse, it will be seen by the world as a chilling expression of how we are reshaping our identity in a post-Sept. 11 context."

Pure political spin. Why not:

"...it will be seen as an expression of our will to carry on our lives as before albeit with relatively minor accomodations to the realities of a world where mass murder of civilians by terrorists remains a threat."

Why not? Because it's the NY Times, that's why not.

lawhawk said...

Actually, you left off the most outrageous part of that article. I write about the reviews on my blog, and question the logic and reasoning behind this last paragraph to the article:

Absurdly, if the Freedom Tower were reduced by a dozen or so stories and renamed, it would probably no longer be considered such a prime target. Fortifying it, in a sense, is an act of deflection. It announces to terrorists: Don't attack here - we're ready for you. Go next door.

Just when you think that the Times couldn't get any further removed from reality, they go out and show that it is increasingly easy to remove yourself from reality when you're out there.

Sorry, but has the Times lost down the memory hole all the other planned and thwarted attacks on this nation? Millenium bombing? The first WTC attack? The subways? What is the author thinking.

As for whether the site has become a problem - it was always a problem, it is only now that people outside NYC and not intiminately involved in the process know just how bad things are. It's a side effect of the mess with the IFC and Drawing Center.

Alcibiades said...

"the Times pictures its readers as liberals"

Yeah, and it's the fact that the Times assumes that about it's readers, and spread it's gospel, even in it's columns on architecture, or reviews of non-political movies, etc. that makes me unable to buy the damn thing any more. I read bits online. But who wants to pay money only to be reminded in article after article that one is part of the non-elect, those who don't share the blessed Times Creed.

It's such a narrow, privileged, exclusive way of thinking about the world that it's just a turnoff -- this assumption that of course all right-minded individuals think like us.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

Add to lawhawk's good questions: if the Freedom Tower were reduced by a dozen or so stories and renamed, wouldn't that also be an act of deflection?

Had the Anchoress limited herself to commenting on the political statements that were actually in the review, that would have been fine. She did a good job of commenting on those, as I'd expect; I've had her bookmarked for quite some time. But we all get carried away once in a while.

I'm glad to hear that the NYT actualy shows the building instead of just telling us what we're supposed to think about it. This has been a sore point sometimes in the past.

leeontheroad said...

Architecture is always an expression of the patrons and the architect, of course, and community projects like the Towers Memorial etc. will be influenced by a mix of the aspirations of the folks who influence the project. A large number of them live there, even.

I suggest taking architecture out of the AMerican 9/11 context, for a minute. The most affecting A/V I've ever seen about architecture is in My Architect, about Louis Kahn. Kahn was the architect for the capitol building in Dhaka, Bangladesh; and there's a scene in the documentary film in which a Bangali architect talks about Kahn "giving" democracy to Bangladesh, because the building creates a place for democratic function. The man has tears in his eyes as he says this. This is what a building can do.

Even in these comments there're expressions of rebuilding as defiance against those who would even contemplate more attack. If we see it this way, why is the Times critic so wrong to suggest others will see this as an expression of national feeling, as well?

Slight digression: I'd been in Chicago (another city of tall buildings) in the week before 9/11 and-- I don't know why, exactly: I asked to have my hotel room moved from the edge of just the 30th floor (cantilevered construction) to as close to the ground as I could be. I flew into Newark Airport on 9/9, like a million other people. I was visitng a friend in West orange, NJ on 9/12, and we walked up the hill and watched a horror the city TV coverage hadn't suggested: the view from afar was less grisly than in midtown, but wide angle offered its own living nightmare for those used to the city skyline after 1974. The acrid smell from Ground Zero lingered for days and days; and the black smoke for longer. (In the city, the smoldering was yet longer, of course.) And we called everyone we knew who had ever worked in Midtown, because that's how it was for lots of us, perhaps especially when Missign Signs went up and rumors of the purchase of 10,000 body bags brought a different kind of dread.

My point: I'm not from Manhattan, but even my connections to the place make it easy for me to imagine that those who live and work in the place-- like the Times critic-- have thoughts and feelings about it that aren't going to be simple, explicable, or agreeable for others.

PatCA said...

Very eloquent, Lee.

My feeling is that all this "safety first" stuff is a sign of weakness. Of course they will try again. So, in theory, I think we should build a beautiful building, period. Do not even mention bombs, etc., because that only challenges UBL. If nothing else, we know his sense of "manhood" is quite fragile.

Every person working there would be a hero, a Patton, down but never out. Nuts to you, Osama.

Slocum said...

For point of comparison, a piece from the Chicago Tribune architect critic covering the same aesthetic issues but without the politics:


Dirty Harry said...

The Anchoress has updated. Is she the best, or what?

Steve H. said...

One hideous piece of junk replaces another. Ho hum.

It's sad that architecture is in such a sad state that attractive, functional structures are now virtually banned.

Tom Wolfe (From Bauhaus to Our House) was right, and so was Prince Charles.

The original towers were boring and derivative, the first planned replacement was an abortion, and the new one looks like something a twelve-year-old designed.