Skip to comments.Don't Rebuild. Reimagine.(NY Times feature w/ tons of WTC designs)
Posted on 09/07/2002 3:17:05 PM PDT by finnman69
September 8, 2002 Don't Rebuild. Reimagine. By HERBERT MUSCHAMP
fter the catastrophe of 9/11, who wanted to think about the aesthetics of architecture? Many people, it turned out. Buildings were the targets of the terrorist attacks. Fantasies of new buildings became a form of recovery: signs of the city's resilience in the face of unprecedented enemy assault. Proposals came from architects, artists and the public. And in July they came from the architecture firm formally chosen to supply these first-draft plans for what a rebuilt ground zero ought to look like. These official plans were universally derided.
The outpouring of images and emotions revealed a predicament gripping New York. To what extent should the city respond by getting back to normal? To what extent had the historical magnitude of 9/11 redirected the city's future away from normality? The six plans had been rejected as simply more sameness at a time when difference was called for. Had we not had our fill of ''going back''?
In June, a group of New York architects met to discuss their dissatisfaction with the planning process unfolding under the auspices of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the state agency created to supervise the rebuilding of ground zero and the financial district. The group included Richard Meier, Steven Holl, Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey and Guy Nordenson, a structural engineer.
It had become clear to this group that the official planning process was following a pattern conventionally used by real-estate developers and that, in this instance, it had to be broken.
The pattern, a privatized version of city planning, routinely excludes architecture from the formative stages. Planners chop up the development sites into parcels, develop guidelines for each one and then hand them over to developers, who subdivide the building project among an assortment of specialists, including lawyers, interior-space planners, retail consultants, construction companies, architects and construction managers. In this way, large building projects of potentially major civic importance are delivered into the hands of competent but unimaginative firms. The assumption is: Anyone can do it. Just follow the guidelines.
This system is based upon the catastrophic misconception that architectural values can be objectively quantified. From this initial mistake, erroneous ideas accumulate: architecture is the production of images; discrimination among images is entirely a matter of taste; one person's taste is as good as another's; the most popular image (or as it usually works out, the least unpopular image) must be the best building.
But of course, architecture is not a matter of images. It is the relationship of visual and spatial perceptions to conceptual abstractions. Or as Frank Lloyd Wright once put it, ''Architecture is the scientific art of making structure express ideas.''
Hearing of their heated conversations, The New York Times Magazine asked these architects if they would like to organize their frustrations into what might best be described as a study project. They readily agreed.
Throughout the summer, the group, which had taken on other members, including more of the architectural world's best-known practioners as well as some very talented, less well-known architects of the next generation, gathered at a series of loud, contentious meetings. Almost immediately, they decided to look beyond ground zero and reimagine a scheme for the entirety of Lower Manhattan. They argued over core principles, lobbying one another by phone and fax. Eventually they reached something like an agreement, or at least the broad strokes of one. Then each architect was assigned a specific site and task and asked to supply a corresponding image.
Images stimulate desire; the story of this study project could not be told without them. The project itself, however, is based on the belief that images are portals into consciousness. The project conceives of the city as pedagogical center: the paramount learning device of civilization.
Lower Manhattan is a site of convergence for two sets of urban infrastructures: the transportation systems (including streets) that provide access to the financial center and the communications systems that connect distant cities into an evolving global economic framework. The study project proposes to link these two systems with a third: a cultural infrastructure designed to reinforce connections between cities around the globe.
The project does not set forth a comprehensive plan. Rather, it presents an integrated set of options for the future of New York, a widening of possibilities beyond the shopworn, consumerist notions of ''cultural programming'' that have been proposed for ground zero: an opera house, for example, or the downtown branch of an uptown art museum. The product envisioned by the study is a recast cultural identity for 21st century New York: a revised mythology of our place in the era of globalization. The entire framework is presented as a living memorial to those who died in last year's attack.
The team began by adopting a strategy developed by Frederic Schwartz, architect of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal at the southern tip of Manhattan. Schwartz, who worked on the Westway highway project in the 1970's and 80's, had long recommended burying a segment of West Street, a six-lane state highway that divides Battery Park City from the rest of Lower Manhattan.
After 9/11, Schwartz calculated that the land created by burying this segment could easily yield 16 acres of developable land, enough to match the size of the World Trade Center site. He then figured out how the trade center's commercial bulk could be distributed over a new West Street development corridor.
In one stroke, this strategy accomplished two goals. It temporarily eliminated commercial pressures from the highly contested ground-zero site. And it healed a gash in the cityscape that had long obstructed the integration of Battery Park City with the financial district. The plan did not prohibit building on ground zero. It simply created a space for planners to devote more time and thought to conceptualizing how best to utilize the site.
The design team adopted the same commercial program used by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's planners: 11 million square feet of office space, 600,000 square feet of retail space and a 600,000-square-foot hotel. Buildings along the new West Street corridor could equal or surpass this bulk, with the advantage that they could be built incrementally, as demand for office space increased. Most of the office space would be in a mix of high-rise and supertall buildings on and adjacent to ground zero, closer to transportation. Most of West Street, then, could be dedicated to housing.
The team also took into serious consideration how the plan would be financed. A new West Street corridor, augmented by so-called connector buildings south of the World Trade Center site, would add new land worth at least $2 billion. (That figure was provided by a developer who cooperated with the project; other experts speculate that the figure could be much higher.) This land could then be sold to developers, raising enough to cover the estimated $2 billion cost of building a platform over West Street. Or, if the platform were financed with state and federal dollars, the tax revenues could support a city-administered program for subsidizing developers who choose to invest in architecture rather than dull simulations of it.
South of the World Trade Center site, city planners envision the development of a robust residential community that might be known as South Greenwich. The study project builds on this idea by designating sites for residential buildings that would link this new neighborhood to West Street, Battery Park City and the river.
Some of the West Street projects will appear bizarre or perhaps self-indulgent to those unfamiliar with contemporary architecture. But this is not a lineup of architectural beauty contestants. All are conceptually rooted, in step with the level of architectural ambition in Vienna, Tokyo, Rotterdam and many other cities overseas. You have to look beneath the skin, for example, to appreciate the extraordinary elegance with which Charles Gwathmey has manipulated a single duplex unit into a variety of apartment layouts, which then generate the modeled facades.
Rem Koolhaas's project satirizes New York's nostalgic obsession with the Art Deco skyscraper by turning three of them on their heads. Peter Eisenman's three office towers can be viewed as a formalist exercise, for example, but they are also a critique of the Cartesian grid. The history of ideas is the context for architecture today.
Information is the second nature of the cosmopolitan age. Like grain, it requires cultivation. That process includes studying the why of things, the relationship between causes and effects. For the team, the violence of last year exposed the need for new instruments of cultivation, tools for interpreting raw data on world events. This is why this project devotes key space at ground zero to cultural institutes of learning, buildings designed by Richard Meier and Steven Holl.
The group also decided that the ground-zero site should specifically address the teeming infrastructure that lies below the city's surface. Rejecting the classical Grand Central Terminal notion of the ''big room,'' Rafael Viñoly designed a transportation hub that distributes the circulation space in a series of switchbacks and visually celebrates the industrial grandeur of converging rail systems.
The study does not address the design of a permanent memorial, apart from recommending alternative sites. Since there are no physical footprints remaining of the World Trade Center, we have proposed articulating them in a reconstructed landscape. Though the team agreed that ideas for a memorial must come from a public process, Maya Lin was asked for her thoughts on what might be done.
About the rebuilding of the towers themselves, the group was especially divided. In the end, it was decided that one proposal would be published -- for two towers, identical in size to the original ones, with one foot in ground zero and one foot outside it. Two shapes -- place holders for buildings that might occupy these sites -- were inspired by a variety of sources, including a sculpture by Isamu Noguchi, two airport control towers by Bartholomew Voorsanger, an office building by Frank Gehry, a conceptual design for ground zero by Richard Dattner and a pair of candlesticks of unidentified authorship. The idea was to present an ''unauthored'' symbol, an image of collective imagination. The symbolism is mutable: people can project a variety of meanings on these shapes, and they are all equally valid. For me, they signify resilience and the civilizing conversion of aggression into desire.
Finally, though the team did not fully endorse this idea, we present David Rockwell's rendering of a giant cybertheater over the New York Stock Exchange, which he calls the Hall of Risk. It is designed to educate the public about the social trade-offs caused by modernization. Adjacent to it, Guy Nordenson and Henry Cobb have designed an elegant broadcast tower that they fancifully imagine as the tallest structure in the world. Rather than shying away from ambition, this project embraces it with all its might.
Hospitality toward strangers . . . insistence on excellence. The urban historian Bonnie Menes Kahn has identified these two qualities as the indispensible cornerstones of cosmopolitan life. Judged by this standard, New York may be the most cosmopolitan city ever built. The diversity of our population and the relative sophistication of our cultural appetites still generate a magnetic energy unsurpassed by other great cities. We are one great polyglot aspirational surge.
Our architecture, however, no longer reflects this cosmopolitan spirit. In fact, our buildings have turned it upside down -- into a rage for dreariness and provinciality, an intolerance for the progressive ideas that have regenerated many cityscapes overseas. It is fair to say that in appearance and intention, New York's architecture has adhered to a viciously anticosmopolitan program. The architectural study presented here is meant to turn back these forces.
If you don't like the images, check out the concepts. You might dislike them too. But at least you'll gain a sense of architecture as an art of connecting dots. In this study, meaning is derived less from individual projects than from the relationships between them.
This is a work in progress. The publication deadline did not allow the team adequate time to focus on a number of critical issues, including sustainable design, transit links to regional airports, the elaborated design of an underground retail complex and the specific design of parks and a memorial promenade along West Street. Modernity, the philosopher Jurgen Habermas once wrote, is an incomplete project. So is New York.
Herbert Muschamp is the architecture critic of The Times.
I agree. And as one radio comentator I heard have First Union bank rent the top floors of each tower with one initial on each tower - facing EAST.
Only when we are on drugs or in a state of sexual agitation.
As to tall buildings, I don't really see the relevance of commenting on how they destroy other buildings when they come down.
Face it, we're well beyond the time when William van Alen could pull out the spire of the Chrysler Building literally from within, like a giant magician. If our pop culture and the remnants of our serious culture were mute after September 11, what hope do we have in our trend-following hack architects?
Again, the famous Torie, expostulates on something he knows nothing about... or at least not enough...
"At 9:49 a.m., on July 28, 1945, a ten-ton, B-25 bomber smashed into the north side of the Empire State Building. The majority of the plane hit the 79th floor, creating a hole in the building eighteen feet wide and twenty feet high. The plane's high-octane fuel exploded, hurtling flames down the side of the building and inside through hallways and stairwells all the way down to the 75th floor."
"The plane crash killed 14 people (11 office workers and the three crewmen) plus injured 26 others. Though the integrity of the Empire State Building was not affected, the cost of the damage done by the crash was $1 million."
Actually, I would prefer the 200th floor!
When I was watching and listening to the twaddle that represents his approach, I was thinking of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" and the results of architecture by committee...