Message - Rebuilding WTC: Man does not live by bread alone

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Posted by  Eugene Tenenbaum on February 01, 2003 at 06:04:54:

Which is the best of the 7 project proposals to rebuild the Twin Towers, on display through February 2nd behind the main stairs of Winter Garden at the World Financial Center? Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture critic for the Wall Street Journal, claims in the 01/07/03 article that only “one design breaks the rules and sets the priorities straight” – that of Daniel Libeskind. Is it true? Not at all, and this is why.

Daniel Libeskind’s memorial proposal is a huge (read expensive) museum over a gigantic (read expensive) hole in the ground surrounded by the ugly, exposed raw concrete slurry walls. A big ramp from the ground level down to the pit’s floor leads to a big and abstract gate like sculpture.

Such ramp seems to be undesirable by Ms Huxtable’s own words: “we avoid a plaza even slightly above or below grade like the plague”. You can see that big, empty, and therefore useless space of that pit on Daniel Libeskind’s own drawings until Feb. 2 in the Winter Garden, or a few clicks away from

On the pit floor there are big arrows indicting the directions of the rescue efforts. What is a significance of the directions of the ladder engines approaches? What difference does it make where they came from? It seems like Mr Libeskind had nothing to fill in the void of floor’s empty space, so he drew the arrows.

From that depressed and depressing pit floor rises a big museum (for the artifacts), but do we really need to be gruesome? It leads to the more general question. What may constitute a memorial?

For the last 2483 years, the great Leonidas and his heroic comrades, defending Greece against the Persians, are not remembered by even a small monument, but just by the Simonides’ poem: “Go tell the Spartans, you who passes by, / That here, obedient to their laws, we lie”. We - humans can express our dippiest emotions in ways that do not have to be bombastic, crushing, overpowering, oppressing, or even material, but symbolic, small & humane scale (greatness does not depend on size especially in arts or architecture), refined and sophisticated that are very difficult to find in Mr Libeskind’s memorial design proposal.

From the more recent history, there is the reasonable small Iwo Jima memorial depicting the optimistic, inspiring and looking into sky - though accidental - photograph image representing the gruesome and one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific during WWII, and, there is the ingenious Vietnam memorial that is the only solution allowing all the attendees to be close together and at the same time with all the soldier names – the only decoration of that sophisticated, minimal in size, and brilliant pit.

The Twin Towers replacement proposed Mr Libeskind comprises of a gigantic (read very expensive) mast like tower – “gardens of the world”, and several high-rise buildings up to +/- 70 stories high to be built flexibly in stages - per Mr Libeskind’s own account – as the economy will allow. Several questions arise from such a concept:

First - if the first stage of rebuilding the WTC is just to build Mr Libeskind’s memorial (incl. museum) and the mast like tower (“gardens of the world”), we will get virtually nothing for a half a billion of dollars (guessing) or so. As Ms Huxtable wrote it in the referenced above article: “Will we really go up 60 stories for coffee or relax in a vertiginous park raised high over West Street”? The questions arise. Can we afford such a luxury? Do we really need the very expensive, more/less useless mast like tower and bombastic, depressing, empty memorial occupying a big chunk of one of the most expensive real estate that presents the directions of fire engines approaches?

Second – should the owners of the existing office space in the mid- and downtown Manhattan benefit from the WTC tragedy whose real estate unwillingly increased in value after the disappearance of 11 mil. sq. ft of the commercial space on the September 11? Hence, is the economical argument valid in this particular case? Shouldn’t the commercial space be rebuilt at once, so no American will benefit from this tragedy willingly or unwillingly? Therefore, has the flexibility of Mr Libeskind’s proposal been desired or needed? If yes, as Ms Huxtable wrote, whose interests her referenced above article represents? Hyenas’?!

Third – can we afford to allow “the people without shoes” to forcibly change our hallmarks representing identity of the greatest city in the greatest nation? Can we afford to replace our icons? Are they replaceable at all, and what will we get in exchange? No national identity or character! Can the French replace the Eiffel Tower or the Italians - the Colosseum? If yes, as Mr Libeskind’s project proposal has implied, and Ms Huxtable’s article has applauded, is the personal, local or national pride and dignity an empty word, like Ms Libeskind memorial pit to be filled in, as the economy will allow? Only, if you want to be spineless! After the St Mark’s Campanile tower (built in the 8th century) in Venice had collapsed in 1902, the Venetians rebuilt it “where it was, and like it was”, using the original materials. For a moment, could you imagine visiting Venice, and a tourist guide points to a steel beam of a new campanile - rebuilt “modernly”, as a steel mast - and you are explained that where that beam is now there was the part of the old tower, which Galileo observed the Moon from for the first time ever through the first ever telescope? Would you go to Venice to look at a steel beam? Ms Huxtable wrote, in the referenced above article, “The construction of the World Trade Center by the Port Authority in the 1970s depressed the real estate market for decades downtown”. Could you imagine for a moment, how erecting the Colosseum by the Emperor Vespasian in the year 80 AD depressed the entertainment real estate market in ancient Rome for… centuries not mentioning Roman prostitutes who lost their clients to Colosseum’s spectacles… until Attila the Hun “restored” their market – what a “gentleman” – or… rather started the Dark Ages! But seriously, a pride does still count for something in this country, and money is not everything in tragedy. Does it?

Fourth – the mast like tower and the adjacent building, mimicking the Statue of Liberty, would be visible only, if you were way in the see beyond the Statue of Liberty, as depicted on Mr Libeskind’s project proposal drawing. It seems like this concept would entertain… the fish, since there are no people in the area where such a view is possible from. (Similarly, Peterson/Linttenberg project proposal drawing shows a bird eye view perspective of their concept that depicts a view accessible only to the birds. What about people’s point of view? These architects have learnt how to construct a perspective view, but do not yet know which one to choose!) As far as the Mr Libeskind’s concept - mimicking the Statue of Liberty visible specifically to the fish - goes, architecture is an independent discipline that has its own forms of expression, and does not need to borrow any from sculpture, with maybe an exception of the Disneyland. Realism in the mainstream painting and sculpture ended in the beginning of XX century, in the mainstream photography – +/- in the 1950s, and in architecture – several thousand years ago when the Missing Link had stopped imitating the cave, and had built the first hut. It does not seem like a good trade to replace the famous, original and uniquely New Yorker skyline of the former Twin Towers for a naive form resembling the Statue of Liberty visible specifically to the fish. Does it?

Mr Libeskind’s claim made during the recent TV interview with Charlie Rose - that his design addresses the dislike to the Twin Towers by their former users - may be construed that he was in a competition to design a new WTC not only with Norman Foster, but also with Mother Teresa to make the future users of the Twin Towers replacement happy to work there. The truth and matter is that per the building codes and technology we do not build unsafe buildings, and we can get buildings of any height we want. The safety of the air space is and should be secured by the national territorial defense, so we feel safe in all our buildings. Anybody, who does not like heights, can work… in suburbs. The lower Manhattan needs the commercial, prime jobs to sustain the dependent, secondary jobs in retail, restaurants, delivery and other services to the prime ones. It is still very convenient to do all business within just one super-equipped building.

Ms Huxtable argued in the referenced above article that “parks and housing and cultural institutions” should be subsidized, instead of skyscrapers in the WTC area. In such a case, could you still imagine tourists coming to the lower Manhattan to look at the most expensive in the world grass, trees and apartments for low-income families located on one of the most heavily invested in infrastructure real estate in the world? Nobody has to visit the lower Manhattan to look at grass, trees or housing! Since when the Wall Street Journal supports the liberal agenda, or maybe is Ms Huxtable’s article an ineptly camouflaged, full of contradictions expression of the hyenas’ interests!

Mr Libeskind’s project proposal lacks a refinement, synthesis and processing of the subject before his final design decisions took place. His high-rise buildings are plain, and do not have an exciting form, as much as "The Emperor Has No Clothes”!

To Ms Huxtable’s question in the referenced above article: “However impressive the twin towers were in sunlight and moonlight, whatever symbolism is now falsely ascribed to them through a catastrophic act, do we really need to make the same mistake again?” there is the answer: - Yes, because “Man does not live by bread alone” (Deut. 8.3).

Bronx, January 31, 2003

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