16 February 2003
If you build it, they will hurl
I haven't posted anything on the proposed World Trade Center replacements, mostly because everything I know about architecture could be slipped into the corner of a thimble and still leave room for all my good romantic advice and the souls of half a dozen managers at 42nd and Treadmill.
And maybe it's just as well, since according to Nedward, architecture is so riven with jargon and nonsense that hardly anyone, to include its practitioners, understands it anymore:
The death and destruction of WWI caused a huge shift in Western values, specifically because science and technology was employed so successfully in the killing of a generation of men. In the decades after the war, the long-held idealized notion that technology would usher in peace and prosperity was dashed, and many of the prevailing assumptions in the arts were also vacated. It was in this void that the Modernists arrived along with their avant garde aesthetics and their intent to social engineer.
So what has Modernism accomplished? Well, not much good. We've still got the rich and poor, yet we have ugly civic space. For instance, the original WTC was a wind-swept, anarchistic structure, cut off, and horribly out of scale from the surrounding streets and neighborhood. When you stood in the Plaza looking up at the structures, it was difficult to feel anything but dread. In fact, that seems to be a prevailing requirement of the Modernists your building must impart DREAD. Unless, of course, you are one of the initiated. You have to be educated for seven years at MIT to understand the beauty of the Brutalist form.
There's a lot to be said for Mies and "Less is more," but sometimes less just isn't more. And while some contemporary buildings around town seem perhaps a trifle baroque, especially considering the age of said town (114 years doth not an eon make), entirely too many structures look like Stalinist housing for the proletariat. If that's the alternative, I want gargoyles, I want turrets, dammit.
The original twin lights to the heavens that were turned on in the wake of September 11th were far more inspiring, I think, than anything solid so far proposed for WTC replacements. I hope that those lights will inspire someone who can draw, and that the newest additions to the New York City skyline will not only stand tall, but sparkle.