Posted by d on February 20, 2003 at 19:06:54:
Occasionally on this forum there have been discussions of whether, and why, the former Twin Towers should not be rebuilt, as happens often with
destroyed or ageing structures around the world.
The consensus seems to be that the towers were either, on the one hand, simply not architecturally excellent or distinctive enough, and on the other, that what they may have represented (unchecked capitalism) was flawed and so a new model is needed.
But I believe that to some degree the lack of affection for those towers reflects the murky question of why they looked the way they did.
At one level, they appeared rather inhuman, without ornamentation or visual relief. From a distance one had little idea of
their scale because there were no windows or conventional markings to show a human-sized reference. The lack of humanity in esthetic terms, therefore , meant that the purported "inhumanity" of Wall Street was not balanced by or camouflaged in the detailing of the emblematic buildings themselves.
Of course we know that this derived, essentially , from the construction method, which required exterior columns so closely spaced
that the buildings very much resembled extruded or cast metal ojects,
with a finish resembling variously "chased", "grooved" or "finned"
But it is this last aspect which I think might be looked into more closely; why did the architect want to give his work this finish, as opposed to some other decorative treatment?
I submit that, standing as they did at the naive dawn of the computer age, the buildings were intended to imply the dawning power of the computing machine; they were intended to appear symbolically as monolithic "mainframes" using (as all computers did in that time) extraordinary amounts of electric power and- and this is the real point- generating enormous quantities of heat energy, energy that must be dissipated just as from an aluminum engine- by a vast series of closely spaced "aluminum" ribs or fins.
They were meant, perhaps, to imply the Great Brain, ceaselessly thinking through the night, sorting and collating and "clearing" the
infinite numerical ocean of data flowing through the new World Economy.
But this symbolism, which must have seemed precisely fitting to the
world of IBM, ca. 1975, naturally fails as microcircuits shrink through
the following decades; the same computing power is accomplished with a
tiny fraction of that energy, and gives off correspondingly less heat.
So this may clarify why many people feel litle need to replace the towers as they were: in both industrial and political terms, their
esthetic dressing (though not, perhaps, the simplicity of the basic design) was for an age which has passed by.
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