Message - Re: WTC shortlist

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Posted by  Paul Malo on September 28, 2002 at 17:42:12:

In Reply to:  Re: WTC shortlist posted by d on September 28, 2002 at 10:13:09:

Good observation, about the WTC not being the "center." It was built on the edge of the island--moreso before landfill created Battery Park City between it and the water. The downtown financial district dies at night, and is not very lively during the day, except when workers come and go to office buildings during several hours of the day. Those who live at the margins of the high-rent district downtown have tended to be marginal socially--artists, students, some ethnics groups, and of course the Bowery bums.

In recent years gentrification has transformed some declining commercial districts into neighborhoods of loft dwellers, who support some upscale retail shops. But, as you say, the tendency historically has been for the City centroid to gravitate northward, away from downtown. Of course, because Manhattan is an island, the southern tip is really a dead end, despite transport linkages under, over, and across the water.

Although I'm not a resident of Manhattan either, as a visitor the centroid seems to be even farther north than Union Square. It seems to be north of Forty-second Steet, and even farther, north of Rockefeller Center now. The centroid seems closer to the Plaza, Columbus Circle, Central Park. I suppose my interest in the cultural institutions uptown, such as Lincoln Center and museums, affects my perception. But as 9/11 suggested, this seems like another world from downtown. Just try to go down there by cab (or even subway) and you sense how remote it is.

So the prospect of a new "center" for New York City at the WTC site, either geographically or culturally, seems unlikely . You may be right, that this reality has subliminally haunted limited visions for the project.

Of course, a vital new activity at the WTC site might alter the cultural patterns of Manhattan, but for affluent uptown residents the practical problem of getting downtown frequently would be a handicap. At any rate, I don't expect any visionary program to appear from the bureacracy in command--or from the architects now on the short list. We probably will get clever, polished buildings--more office buildings, mainly--with a token memorial and some ancillary functions.

But I don't expect the midtown Empire State and Chrysler Buildings to be upstaged, even if Foster gives us one of his oscene cigars. The Golden Oldies are classic icons now. Another generation of classics, Seagram and Lever House, are even farther uptown. I expect Piano's new Times Building to be this generation's major contribution to this midtwon collection of architecture--tough competition to anything to rise on the WTC site.

You're right that the image of New York, approached from abroad by water, is mere nostalgia now, when international visitors land at airports. They are shuttled through endless sprawl before even sighting an Manhattan towers (which disappear as one plunges into dark tunnels), rarely to be seen again. Probably many visitors in the future will never find the WTC project--especially if it's as unimaginative as we expect, judging from developments so far.

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