Well, Hubby and I had a nice thankgiving, visiting some of his family. Today, we started our Christmas season; first, I tracked down all the presents I'd squirreled away during the year (sometimes I amaze myself!), then we watched the lighting of the world's largest Christmas tree. This is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a graceful fin de siecle (19th, that is) obelisk, decorated with and surrounded by sculptures, at the center of Indy, which every year is decked out with strands of lights, and surrounded by other Christmas decor. Hizzonor the mayor shows up, along with a large crowd, which tonight included a lady from California; there is music, and other celebs, including a Mr. S. Claus, drop by. Finally, after a 5 second countdown, a lucky youngster presses the switch, and on come the lights, accompanied by loud cheering, clapping, fireworks (OK, one good thing about flat roofs on skyscrapers - they make GREAT launch pads for fireworks), pealing bells from the Episcopal cathedral...
I've been at, or watched, this celebration so many times, but I never get tired of it; it's the perfect start to the Christmas season - and the "Christmas tree" is mighty impressive.
Of course, I might be slightly biased, since one of my great or great-great grandfathers helped build the monument...
As to whom and what I'm thankful for - well, first, there's God, in whom I live and move and have my being, Who sent Christ to provide my salvation. Then there's my husband, the kindest and most loving man I've ever met (I'd say more, but if I don't watch out, I'll get all mushy and sentimental....) And of course, my friends; if I listed all of them, and all the reaons I have to thank them, it would take hours...
Then there's my country; some of my ancestors came over here from Germany, probably during the Franco Prussian War, because the Kaiser was drafting boys as young as twelve, and they decided it was prudent to be elsewhere. But since they came here, they've been able to stay put; one of them was the man I mentioned earlier, who helped build the monument.
This may sound trivial, but I can't forget bookstores, that put worlds of information at my fingertips, and even have comfortable chairs where I can sit down and sort through my loot before getting in line at the check out. It's so easy to take this for granted, but just think of how rare and expensive book were throughout most of history, until Gutenburg invented the printing press. And just think of how many people, even today, can't read or write. I mean, this makes me feel very privileged...
I could go on and on, but it is getting late - so I hope all of you out there had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that you all will have a wonderful holiday season!
WHAT ABOUT THE MEMORIAL? THIS POST IS THE CONCLUSION OF THE TWO POSTS IMMEDIATELY BELOW IT
Steven Malanga (“The Downtown Redevelopment Flop”, City Journal, Autumn 2002) contends that the “culture wars” I’ve already mentioned are also affecting the discussion about the specific design for a memorial on the WTC site.
One of the LMDC’s big mistakes, he suggests, is that it has “insisted form the beginning that discussions about the site must center upon a possible memorial…But this memorial is perhaps the most emotional feature…and trying to make crucial decisions about it now promises to complicate the rebuilding further.” He thinks that it would be better to set some land aside for this, so that rebuilding can start on the rest of the site. In the mean time, the committee could think about what sort of memorial would be best. The present ideas, he points out, “ celebrate loss and victimization…and, by “emphasizing nothing more than absence, refrain from making any large, profound statement. But something nobler is required at Ground Zero; something that not only recognizes our loss, but also affirms the fundamental values of democracy and Western civilization that the terrorists attacked.” In fact, he even suggests that the sort of memorial the that the activists propose, which would, of course, have no place for such a vulgar thing as commerce or the buildings associated with it, might even hint that the terrorists were right in attacking these principles. And I think I can see where he’s coming from here; if the activist groups include many who share the dislike or even hatred that people like Noam Chomsky or Robert Fisk express for America and Western civilization, of course they wouldn’t propose a memorial that would celebrate those values. And of course they would do everything they could to keep the capitalism they so detest from actually recovering and expanding again.
On the other side of this cultural divide, Mr. Malanga concludes, are:
“Ordinary New Yorkers, who supply the energy and talent that make Gotham the city that it is. They are the people who will never forget September 11, but who recognize, as the president declared…that ‘our mission goes forward’. These are the people he saw on Sept. 11, 2002, who stopped for a moment of silence at 8:46, “just ordinary people, finding their own way to remember. Then, it was over. Slowly, everyone just began moving again, heading back to work, back to the business at hand.
This is the New York that needs to be embodied for the ages in the rebuilding of lower Manhattan.”
Michael Lewis (“Visions of Ground Zero,” Commentary, April 2002) also believes that the memorial shouldn’t be built right away; “Through the filter of time, we can see large acts and achievements in relief, purged of distraction. That is precisely what we cannot yet so in the present instance – which is why it is foolhardy, in my opinion, to devise a war memorial while the war is still in progress.”
Along the same lines, Myron Magnet (“Give Them the Monument They Deserve,” City Journal, Spring 2002), also argues that the monument needs to affirm the virtues of our civilization and honor the rescuers who “showed that our civilization still nurtures ordinary men with moral qualities capable of amazing the world.” But, he continues, even though most people realize this, the members of the “elite” who will make the final decision might not:
“Their fear, one imagines, is that in a world of multiple perspectives and equally valid values, to fix on one value, thus suggesting its preeminence, would be to transgress the whole multiculti Decalogue…If you can’t say anything relativistic, don’t say anything at all.
To avoid affirming any value beyond an indiscriminate tolerance and compassion, the tendency of today’s elite culture is to drop into noncommittal vagueness. But in the face of September 11, our monument can’t limit itself to the abstract gesture of a trickle of water weeping out of a polished stone, or a ribbon of rusted steel contorted in agony.”
I’ve been concerned about what I see as an excessive concern with victimization in our culture; it sometimes seems to me that anyone who can claim accredited victim status can use this as a trump card against any other concerns. And I think this has given rise to an overdone sentimentality, which the “elites” might find comfortable, since it fits in with the “noncommittal vagueness” Mr. Magnet mentions, but which carries legitimate grief and loss to excess. Alicia Mosier (“Truth, Beauty & the American Way”, First Things, Oct. 02) suggests an explanation for this:
“In another context, Theodore Dalyrimple has called sentimentality ‘an evasion of moral responsibility.’…(and) there is something in this observation. Our sentimentality, it seems, is born from uneasiness with the powerful truths that carried us through that day. We don’t know how to absorb them all; we are not accustomed to being wounded, much less to making public monuments to our pain and our survival. And in the absence of a shared vocabulary of truth and beauty – especially one which does justice to the fact that truths both hideous and glorious exist at Ground Zero, and which helps us to see that true beauty can take account of both – it is difficult to memorialize what happened on September 11 without sliding into the conventionalities of elite culture or resorting to our ‘personal response.’ …
We should avoid the temptation to dwell on what looks like the only truth remaining – the hole in the ground, the many lives lost – at the expense of the truth we understood as a city and as a nation in the days after the attack. We owe those who died not a monument to what became of them, but a testament to who we – the dead included – are.”
Ms. Mosier is right on target here – actually a number of our “elites” don’t even really believe in such outdated notions as truth or beauty in the first place, much less want to have a shared vocabulary to talk about them with the rest of The Unenlightened Mass of Humanity. And I suspect that this scorn has at least infected, to some extent, many of those who don’t share it completely, in a malign version of “trickle down”. As to excessive sentimentality, Mark Twain does a hilarious takedown of its Victorian manifestation in Huckleberry Finn, which I would quote if I had a copy – stay tuned, I’ll try to dig it up.
Philip Weiss, also concerned about excessive sentimentality (“Oklahoma Memorial Isn’t Right Tone for Towers Shrine”, New York Observer, 7/8/02), suggests that the victims’ rights movement might have had too much influence on the design of the Oklahoma City memorial, with its field of chairs that looks like a graveyard; “Now the psychological errand of offering survivors closure has become a weighty public responsibility. But providing closure seems to mean never getting closure. Everyone is stuck in 9:02.” Then he warns that, “There is already a tendency in New York to go on about post-traumatic stress. Don’t let those feelings suffuse a memorial.”
Perhaps, if you look at it in that way, the Oklahoma City memorial might be the ultimate tribute to overdone grief, freezing it forever in a moment of time when the grief was rawest and most intense, but at the same time not completely grasped. Please let me stress here that I’m not denying that the survivors have needed to grieve their loss; my point is that the memorial should also have included some hint of moving beyond and transcending it.
Myron Magnet (“Give Them the Monument They Deserve”) makes an important distinction between two levels of mourning:
“we mourn these dead not merely in their private existence…we mourn them as fellow citizens, killed because they belong to the greater whole to which we also all belong. We are not raising a monument only to private grief…A memorial should strive to comfort, even as it laments. And part of the comfort is that the meaning of life is not death.”
Paul Goldberger (“Groundwork,” The New Yorker, 10/11/02) agrees; he contends that, “The monument issue is complicated by a tendency in the last few years to think of public memorials as ‘healing’ places for the families. But great memorials also inspire awe, and make it possible to transcend the simply personal meaning of an event.”
At the end of what might look like yet another long digression, let me sum up my points. I argue that the designers need to avoid an overdone sentimentality that focuses on grief alone by not moving beyond it. Instead, they need to transcend this grief, while not ignoring it, and also make the monument an affirmation of who we are as a culture, a culture whose citizens can still so strikingly demonstrate its virtues. And they need to resolutely ignore the elitist critics! Now, a final quote from Byron Magnet (the same article), before I move on:
“Whatever monument we finally choose, it should rise in a square amid a rebuilt center of business, not in the center of a 16 acre necropolis. Even though emotions are raw, we have to keep in mind that we are building for the ages. Fifty years from now, the best memorial for those who died in the attack will be that their monument adorns what is still the World Trade Center….future generations should remember them in the midst of the energetic, ever-striving, optimistic world that they sought to create, that their murderers sought to annihilate, and that we will keep forever alive.”
SPECIFIC DESIGN IDEAS I don’t have one coherent idea for this, so I’m simply going to present a number of suggestions; please let me warn you that they all won’t work in one structure, and I’m not suggesting that they all be included:
If there is to be a building, let’s include in it pictures of everyone who died that day, showing them in their moments of happiness and celebration. That way, all of us who visit the memorial can celebrate their lives as we remember their deaths
Perhaps this building could be something like the Getty Museum, which is, as I understand it, arranged as a gently sloping ramp – this would be great for handicapped access, and would create an airy, open interior, which would be very nice, I think
But please, please make the façade of this building from something besides concrete, which doesn’t age well and doesn’t look good even when it’s new
Two of the plans the LMDC unveiled in July included a promenade that would run from the site down to the edge of the island, ending right across from the Statue of Liberty; this might be the one idea of the whole lot to keep in mind
John Tierney (“Downtown, a Necroplis is Flourishing”) suggests that “heroism at the World Trade Center…was embodied most clearly by the firefighters who rushed up into the burning buildings (so) A memorial showing firefighters going into the towers, or helping people escape, would be a better tribute”
Myron Magnet (“The Monument They Deserve”) proposes a monument designed by the Scottish sculptor Alexander Stoddart; two figures representing memory and history rise on tall bases that echo the Twin Towers, and between them is a draped catafalque, a symbolic coffin or sarcophagus, in memory of the dead who will have no other grave.
Michael Lewis (“Visions of Ground Zero”) argues that there should be one monument for all three battlefields of Sept. 11, and that it might not need to be in New York. The best place, he suggests, is the field in Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed. Here, he points out, “no jumble of visual images competes with our imagination, and a monument might fittingly address the mind and spirit rather than merely revivifying televised memories.” Even though a memorial is needed at Ground Zero, his idea of a central monument in Pennsylvania might have merit
The most striking idea, at least in my opinion, is that the memorial be in the air. Matthew Dockery (“Manhattan is the Monument”) argues that,
“The kind of introspection and silence demanded to commemorate both our extraordinary achievements as a nation and the enormity of our loss on that day can only occur on the roof of the world, miles above New York Harbor, with the monumentality of the real memorial – Manhattan island itself – spread out before the viewer. Let us honor our loved ones from the heavens, far above the caves of the pathological, life-hating creeds of our miserable attackers.”
Granted, the idea of a memorial miles above the city is truly major poetic license, but this idea, somehow, is so symbolically appropriate. Frederick Turner, writing in Tech Central Station, actually has a preliminary concept; he suggests two tall towers connected by a kind of flat arch on top, which would support a memorial garden. Now the man isn’t an artist, and his rough sketch looks like a tower of the Brooklyn Bridge transplanted to the site. Still, it is bold, and has the virtue of never having been tried before. Besides, the ideal of combining memorial and living buildings in one structure is appealing somehow. Dr. Turner explains that if he could consult the spirits of a number of famous architects, he’s sure they would say,
“Since the immediate problem is how to have a memorial garden and a profitable business building in the same place, and you cannot put a building on top of a garden without destroying the garden…then put the garden on top of the building. Memorialize the dead where they died, a thousand feet above the street…”
Well, maybe the whole idea is crazy, but I would still love to have a good architect look at this, and decide if it’s even structurally feasible, and if so, whether or not it could be made into something really attractive. And if that architect were to tell me that the whole idea is completely insane, I would gladly stand corrected. I myself wonder if two huge buildings with a flat arch on top, all by themselves, can be anything BUT awkward. Well, at any rate, the basic idea shows an imagination and a willingness to think “outside the box” which, IMHO, the whole planning process could use a healthy dose of.
CONCLUSION I realize that I can have no influence on the rebuilding plans, except to make suggestions, and I realize New Yorkers have priority here. But I hope that the ideas I’ve collected might at least stir some thought. Sadly, the situation doesn’t look too promising at the moment; from what I hear, the LMDC, no doubt stinging from the angry rejection of its 6 plans, has curled up into a ball, as if it were an armadillo, and entered a “bureaucratic hibernation mode,” after appointing some other architects to study the question. The one gleam of hope I have right now is that these architects include Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, whose resume, which includes the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Center in Chicago, shows that they can design impressive buildings, even if they aren’t quite my favorite style. I just hope this whole process doesn’t end up as another vindication of the old proverb, “For God so loved the world that he did NOT send a committee”!
I’ve done my best to sift through the factors that I see affecting the question of rebuilding on the WTC site; no doubt those of you with more expertise will be able to point out things I’ve missed, and I’ll be happy to hear from you. But basically, I still affirm that turning the entire site into a memorial would be a mistake, and that there are powerful reasons, economic, symbolic, and psychological, for raising living, working buildings there. Finally, I trust I’ve also made my case for an architectural style that looks back, in its general outline, to Art Deco
I have some quotes to wrap up with, but first a bit of background. They come from the last page of a neatly typed notebook recording details of the Empire State Building’s construction, kept by someone in the offices of Starrett Bros and Eken, the general contractors. This lay forgotten in some corner for decades, and has recently been found and published (Building the Empire State, Carol Willis, ed., New York, W.W. Norton/Skyscraper Museum, 1998). First, the unknown writer quotes Ruskin, the 19th century critic:
“Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendents will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when…men will say, as they look upon the labor and the wrought substance of them, - ‘See! This, our fathers did for us.’”
Ok, Ok, even I realize that in New York City, the idea of “forever” is strongly relative when applied to buildings. But I still hope the planners will remember that our descendents will be looking at and dealing with what they build, and blessing or cursing them, as the case may be, for many years. That means no architectural stunts, jokes, or fads, please!
With his final words, the writer assigns credit for the success of the project; I think that the last sentence is especially significant:
“This massive building now stands as a majestic symbol of the enterprise and efficiency of our age – offering mute tribute to promoter, financier, architect, engineer, builder, artisan and everyone who toiled to make it a reality – down to the humblest laborer.
Viewed in the light of faith, it stands out clearly against the sky as a noble monument reflecting the glory of God, Who had given such power to men.”
I sincerely pray that some of those who plan, engineer, and build whatever rises on that ground so fraught with horror and heroism will also acknowledge the Lord and Father of us all, the first and greatest Builder.
[PROGRAM NOTE – Next, I’m planning to turn my artillery on Noam Chomsky again, focusing on the idea of just war. I’m going to publish in smaller chunks from now on, so I can maintain something resembling a regular posting schedule, though I’ll try to stick to my idea of going into greater detail on a few topics.
As I get to it, I also intend to apply just war theory to Iraq (this might take precedence over firing at Noam, if things really start happening), and, as I get more material, refine my notion of beauty in architecture and take a longer look at modernism.
I hope to have something else up by the end of the week – in the meantime, take care!]
WHAT SORT OF BUILDINGS SHOULD RISE? (THIS CONTINUES THE POST RIGHT BELOW)
Going on the assumption, as I’ve attempted to prove in my previous post, that living buildings, not just a memorial, should rise soaring on the site…
WHAT NOT TO BUILD
I accept as a basic principle the idea that to find out what something is (or should be), you also need to find out what it isn’t (or shouldn’t be). So I’ll start out by suggesting what I hope WON”T be built, which includes an architectural rant, so please hold on to your hats! I finally checked out the Newsday site, which has the 35 preliminary designs that were displayed in the Max Protech gallery in Manhattan earlier this year, and most of them (I’d say at least 29 or so) are some of the WORST architectural TRASH I’ve ever seen, without a trace of grace, dignity, or beauty, fit only to be mercilessly skewered from one end of the Net to the other. Now a few might actually have possibilities, and a few more might be no worse than many of the monotonous slabs that sprang up everywhere under the careful cultivation of the modernist movement. But the rest of them are abominations! One reminds me of several sticks of stale chewing gum, repulsive enough without being enlarged a million times; a couple of them remind me of kids’ building blocks; many of them don’t look at all like buildings or monuments. This last category includes one that reminds me of a metal hairball, as in what my cats sometimes cough up, and one that resembles multi-colored strands of hair from a costume wig stuck into the ground, as if all lower Manhattan were suffering from a record setting “bad hair day.” Then there’s the pitted hulk that looks like a piece of metallic Swiss cheese; I think I read somewhere that it was designed to look “pre-exploded,” which I’ll bet the relatives and friends of all those who died would REALLY appreciate the first time they got a good look at it. Yeah, right; what a wonderful little pun – NOT!!! And I can’t forget to mention the green and purple thing that kind of looks like a vase my great aunt used to have in her window – which is just where it should have stayed! Finally, we have two or three towers tangled together as if they’re trying to play that game Twister that was so popular in the 60s and 70s. I’d leave the hole in the ground rather than then see one of these 29 or so monstrosities built, because any of them would actually desecrate the skyline! Does someone really need to slap some of our architects upside the head to knock some sense into them, I wonder? I mean, they have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make an impression on the world’s greatest skyline, and all they can come up with is that JUNK? Gimme a break! It looks to me like two factors might be involved here. The first one is probably their desire to prove that they’re a step above The Rest of Unenlightened Humanity by producing something that only they, enlightened as they are, can understand. And they probably figure that if they can shock and outrage The Rest of Unenlightened Humanity, so much the better. Well, O Great Architects, I have a little newsflash for you: If you simply have to blow our puny little minds, do it in the art museums. I strongly suspect that most of The Rest of Unenlightened Humanity would agree with me that millions of dollars for the trashing of 16 acres would be much too high a price to pay for indulging one of your tasteless jokes! I’m strongly reminded of what Paul Mansour says about postmodern architecture:
“It is the stated purpose of postmodernist architecture to confuse, annoy, make uncomfortable, fill with tension and, perhaps, most egregiously, to satirize the very people who are going to use the building. This is fine in stand-up comedy, but architecture and satire do not mix.”[Amen! Preach it, brother!]
The second factor is what Ayn Rand called “sense of life,” the basic world view that every person has, whether or not they realize it, and whether or not it’s bright and rational or twisted and irrational. And this sense of life will show up, clearly or dimly, in any works of art they create. To see the significance of this, contrast the views of humanity represented by a Greek statue and some of the twisted, deformed, scarcely human caricatures of modern art; I’ll wait a minute while you let this sink in. So if some of those designs actually represent their designers’ world views; weellll…I’m not really too sure I want to investigate that any further, since I’m not a psychologist.
The idea of beauty in architecture is hard to define, but I think I can offer a few tentative suggestions, which will also hopefully explain why the miserable ideas I’ve mentioned got on my nerves. The first idea is very general, but I still think it fits:
Beauty can begin “with qualities inherent in the reality described as beautiful. Three such qualities are usually identified: (1) unity or integrity, that is, a well-knit internal unity, or a completeness of the whole: (2) proportion or harmony, that is, an orderly and harmonious relation and arrangement of the parts: and (3) splendor, a certain definite capacity for manifesting its pattern. These three qualities result in unity without monotony and variety without chaos.” (F. Duane Lindsay, “Essays Toward a Theology of Beauty – Part I: God is Beautiful”, Bibliotheca Sacra, April, 1974, p. 121)
To clarify the idea of splendor a bit, I turn to my trusty Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it, among other things, as, “Brilliant distinction, eminence, or glory; impressive or imposing character,” and, interestingly enough, considering the purpose of my inquiry, informs me that it comes from root words meaning “to shine.” So perhaps I can say that splendor comes from a clear manifestation of a pattern that has in its essence unity and harmony, which thus gives distinction, eminence, and so forth.
The interesting thing about this concept is that it seems like it could be relevant for any style of architecture. It probably wouldn’t help in comparing different styles, because they can be based on different understandings of beauty, which can in turn be influenced by what builders can do with the materials at hand. But it could, perhaps, provide the start of a framework for looking at and comparing buildings within a single style. I imagine that I’m far from the first person to have applied this to architecture, but in this area, I’m pretty much starting from scratch…If anybody out there with more knowledge of architecture can point me to anyone who’s discussed this question besides Rushkin, I’d be very happy to hear from you…
The second point refers specifically to skyscrapers: skyscraper pioneer Louis Henry Sullivan argues that a skyscraper, “must be tall, every inch of it tall. The force and power of altitude must be in it, the glory and pride of exaltation must be in it. It must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line.” (“The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered,” first published in Lippencott’s, March 1896)
Basically, most of those plans get on my nerves because they don’t have any of these qualities; since many of them scarcely look like buildings or monuments, this shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, if you want to appreciate aesthetics, it really helps if you know WHAT you’re looking at; otherwise, even height doesn’t help. I think I’d like to propose that all architects be required to memorize two of Terry Oglesby’s rules of architecture:
”If it don’t line up, it ain’t architecture.”
”Anyone can dress up like a clown, but it ain’t funny except at the circus.”
WHAT ABOUT REBUILDING THE TWIN TOWERS? I suspect that if 1 were to ask 10 people what they thought of the twin towers, I’d probably get 11 opinions. I myself think that there was something proud and awesome about them, because they certainly did rise in “sheer exultation …without a single dissenting line,” to quote Sullivan again, they played off of each other, and they caught the light wonderfully. But, on the other hand, they just didn’t have nearly as much “class” as, say, the Empire State or Chrysler buildings.
To see why this might be so, let’s think a moment about the Modern/International style of architecture that defined the towers. This style can be simply defined as glass and steel or concrete boxes with NO ornament AT ALL allowed. Now, there are some beautiful Modernist buildings, such as Lever House or the Seagram Building, but still there’s only so much you can do with a box. The Aon Building in Chicago, for instance, is a typical tall box, shaped very much like one of the twin towers. But it doesn’t have a twin to react to, and its “pinstriped” façade of thin windows sandwiched between thin strips of anything-but-shining-or-shimmering-or even-sparkling-a-little-bit white granite doesn’t even dance with the light until its own lights come on at night. The rest of the time, it just sits there, aloof, lonely and boring, in spite of its soaring height. This illustrates what for me, at least, is one of the largest problems with the International style; the key phrase here is “unity without monotony.” Modernist mavens have insisted dogmatically that the internal “unity” of the box, complete in itself, needs nothing else, and have so enthusiastically stripped away what they consider excess that many of their boxes have nothing left to provide proportion or harmony, and so, stuffed to their flat tops with “unity,” doze off into complacent, dreary monotony. Maybe this is just a fancy way of saying, “They’re dull and boring,” and I’m inconsistent enough to give extra points to those slender towers with the shimmering glass curtain walls that really dance with the light, and can capture images of sky and other buildings as if they were deep, crystalline lakes suddenly taken from their mountains, made flat, polished, and trimmed to fit by a master jeweler. But I still say it takes a true master architect with an eye for just the right use of materials to design a modern tower that ISN’T dull, and, unfortunately, these masters have not been all that common. James Lileks offers an insightful, pointed analysis:
“New York has suffered from modernism since the building boom of the 60s; block after block of humanely scaled buildings were replaced by big blunt boxes that crushed the street and paved the clouds’ basement with flat black slabs… The Twin Towers got lucky – each had company, both had scale that drew the awe from your marrow in one swift second, and they had the heroic hue of silver…
Modernism wore out its welcome long ago. Modernism had no time for people. People returned the favor.
People like gargoyles. People like allegorical figures peering down from above. People like hubcaps with wings sprouting from the 44th floor.”
(Bleat archives, 8/5/02)
Another problem with the modern style is that the plazas surrounding the buildings tend to be, from what I’ve heard, boiling hot in summer, bitterly cold in winter, and just generally unpleasant; this certainly seemed to be a common complaint about the WTC plaza. And I can relate, since I’ve also experienced this in person; a certain building in my city, which shall remain nameless, has a large plaza with those defects, and, as an added bonus, a pavement so slick that you feel like you’re trying to walk on water every time it rains.
Finally, it’s been pointed out that hundreds of feet of building seemingly *slamming*straight*down* into the sidewalk with a thud might be a little bit…um…intimidating. Now I myself am not intimidated in that way, but I see the point. A building has to work at street level as well as in the air; it has to welcome the pedestrian, so to speak. And that, to me, is one good reason for setbacks – they provide enough distance between the person on the street and the full height and weight of the building to remove that intimidation. A building, even a skyscraper, needs to fit into its neighborhood, to take account of its context. This is something else the Twin Towers, isolated in the middle of that inhospitable plaza, didn’t do that well.
I’ve gone through what might seem to be a long digression to make a point; the Twin Towers, though they had their good points, didn’t completely overcome the problems inherent in modernism. I really think that those in charge, whoever they might turn out to be, could probably find better and bolder architecture if they really looked for it. That’s the first reason I don’t think I’d favor seeing the Towers rebuilt just as they were. The second, as I’ve already mentioned, is that it would, to me at least, seem wrong somehow, as if we were trying to forget that Sept. 11 ever happened.
WHAT TO BUILD
As to what sort of building or buildings I’d like to see – first, let me admit that I am highly biased in favor of Art Deco. To show just how much, well, remember that scene in the latest Star Wars flick where young Anakim and his Jedi mentor Obi Wan are chasing a bounty hunter, sometimes in an air car, sometimes not, careening through that capital city that’s also known as “The City Of Miles High Skyscrapers That Might Have a Planet Way Down There Beneath It Somewhere, Though I Really Couldn’t Swear To It?” As I’m laughing my head off, watching them bouncing around between, under, and over buildings, other air cars, walkways, etc., one of the thoughts bouncing through my mind is (I kid you not!), “No matter how hard they try, they still can’t quite beat that good ol’ fashioned Art Deco school of skyscraper building.”
Having said that, I will now say that, IMHO, as I’ve said before, the best of the Art Deco towers – I’m thinking of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, but there are plenty of others, so you may take your pick – are probably the most beautiful skyscrapers yet built. They not only have height – they’re “every inch…proud and soaring,” and just rocket towards the sky– but they have unity and harmonious proportion that give them a splendor, a “class”, a “razz-a-ma-tazz,” that the Twin Towers just couldn’t match. Consider how all the details of the Chrysler Building flow harmoniously together – the gargoyles, the graceful tower, the details of the brickwork, the joyous, dancing crown that has razz-a-ma-tazz to spare. I even like the crown’s “official” name – the “vertex,” which has such a wonderful Buck Rogers sound to it, as in, ”Captain Photon, should we activate the vertex now?” And the Empire State has its own quieter razz-a-ma-tazz, its own harmony, with its elegant massing, and its tower, launched from the setbacks, racing up along the lines of gleaming metal between stone and windows to the mast, the perfect finishing touch.
Besides which, I double-dare you, unless you’re one of those legendary sourpusses who won’t let themselves be impressed by anything, to look up at one of those beautiful Deco towers soaring skyward, and NOT feel at least a little bit lifted up. Remember what Jonah Goldberg said about inspiration and aspiration? Well, somehow, to me at least, Art Deco captures that better than any other skyscraper style. The next two articles I’m going to quote talk specifically about the Empire State Building, but I think they illustrate the continuing appeal of Art Deco in general. Nathan Glazer in a review of John Tauranac’s The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark, ( New York Times, 12/3/85, sec. 7, p.22) observes that:
“New York was once the city of the future, to which European visitors came in wonder. Visitors still come in wonder, but what dazzles them – the masses of skyscrapers, the great bridges, the culture monuments – was for the most part created in the 1920’s and 30’s and before. In the heart of New Yorkers and visitors both, the old city represents a better city, and the Empire State stands for that older and better city.”
“I always thought that the WTC was a symbol of New York, but the Empire State Building was a symbol of America. Born in the Depression, built in a year, unchallenged in the sky and on the ground…That’s America. It will be no dishonor to the WTC if the replacement echoes the culture that produced the Empire State Building instead of the culture that made the Twin Towers. The WTC was the creation of a bureaucratic state, designed in a style that steamrollered over history and culture. I’d rather its replacement appealed to history, than pawed at the sky just to prove it could.
Plus, I want statues.
Big muscular allegorical dames.
Sorrow and Victory.” (Bleat archives, 8/5/02)
As to what “the culture that produced the Empire State Building” might involve, first, there’s the Art Deco style itself. Then there’s the startling fact that such a splendid design managed to rise from the meeting of hard headed economic calculation (well, outside of the mooring mast, at least) and zoning restrictions. If, as Carol Willis insists, “form follows finance,” well, sometimes form still manages to transcend finance. And how about the planning, determination and sheer energy that got the Empire State completed ahead of schedule and under budget? (Yeah, I know this was during the Depression, but how many projects like this can make that claim today?) And finally, this was before the age of urban renewal; before government, with all its good intentions, give us disasters like the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis, which had to be demolished about 15 years after it was built; before ambitious planners had the government clout to raze entire neighborhoods and replace them with experiments that tended not to work as promised.
I’ve gone through might seem to be another long digression to make this point: I think the architects who design whatever buildings rise at the WTC site would be making a wise choice if they chose to use some of the elements of Art Deco in their plans. I don’t mean copying every detail, but the general ideas – slender, elegant towers rising from their setbacks towards their final burst of razz-a-ma-tazz way up there along the skyline, the exuberant decoration, the cheerful colors, the luxurious, welcoming craftsmanship of the lobbies and even the elevators (no kidding!). A Nouveau Art Deco, perhaps? There would be enough freedom, I think, within the basic framework to allow for many possibilities. If the architects did this, and did a good job of it, they’d have a very good chance of coming up with buildings that would present a friendlier face to the street, fit into their surroundings, and not have the deadening, overbearing presence that the Met Life building, for instance, has. They’d also have a good chance of coming up with buildings with a soaring height and splendor that would make them deservedly popular from the start. And they would be even more appreciated because of their reassuring connection to New York’s deservedly well-loved architectural heritage. Oh, a few die-hard modernist critics might complain, but ignoring them would give the rest of us good practice in ignoring other pretentious idiocies.
Post-Modern architects, I’m happy to see, have been moving away from the box, and some of their skyscrapers have strong Art Deco elements; One Liberty Place in Philadelphia owes a good deal to the Chrysler Building’s crown, and the Transco Tower in Houston has echoes of the Empire State’s tower. Architects are still a bit cautious with color, except in glass curtain walls, and I haven’t yet noticed the sort of superb craftsmanship in decoration that was so much a part of Art Deco. But I fear that modernism, with its oppressive scorn for ornament, might have wiped much of that craftsmanship from the earth, and that it might take a long time to recover it, even if anyone makes the effort.
As to how high these buildings should rise, well, I instinctively want to see New York have the world’s tallest building again, but, since I won’t have a chance to work in it, and there are a lot of economic factors that will need to be considered, I won’t be dogmatic. And there is also the question of security, though truthfully, I wonder if a building would be any safer no matter how short it was. At any rate, I will concede that whatever tower is built might not have to be quite 110 stories tall, as long as it makes a striking impression on the skyline. Besides, height isn’t everything: Ada Louise Huxtable, (“Another World Trade Center Horror,” Opinion Journal from the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, 7/27/02), after dismissing the six proposals presented in July, observes,
“If size and square footage is where all office buildings begin, they do not end there with landmarks like the Woolworth, Chrysler and Empire State buildings; they are not memorable for their visibility, but for their quality and character. This is not the same thing as building big with trim.”
Whatever happens, I would love to see at least one building – tall, strong, proud, and breathtakingly beautiful - that doesn’t look like it’s trying to hide behind the skyline. I just hope that an architect with true vision will step forward, and that Mr. Silverstein or whoever’s in charge can match it.
WHAT WILL YOU BUILD, NEW YORK, NEW YORK? SHOULD IT JUST BE A MEMORIAL?
[Links are to the left, down below the last post –sorry]
This is a looong post, which is why I’ve taken so long to get it “on the air”; I’m going to try to weave together all the threads that I think affect the rebuilding plans for the WTC site. I know I’ve mentioned some of this before, so I’ll to repeat myself as little as possible. [Note: Since Blogger doesn’t do deep links – or at least, I haven’t figured out how to force it to - I can’t link directly to articles; the best I can do is link to the site’s home page. Some articles, especially those in the NY Post, I have not linked to at all, because they’re no longer available for free.]
This was originally going to be one huge post, but I’ve decided to divide it into three parts. In the first, I’ll explain why I think a memorial alone is not the best plan; in the second I’ll describe what sort of buildings I’d like to see there, and in the third, I’ll talk about the memorial and reach my conclusion.
JUST A MEMORIAL?
First, Ron Rosenbaum (“For the Best View of City’s Soul, Go to the Hole,” New York Observer, 8/8/02), has a proposal that I must admit I dislike about as much as an earlier idea that would leave the site to grow back into wilderness. After going to the site, he says,
“It’s a little tacky and tawdry – the whole scene with all the people who feel they have to buy souvenirs and take digital pictures of themselves with the hole in the ground as a scenic backdrop – but it’s kind of organic tackiness (as opposed to the Official State Tackiness of the proposed memorials) that in some way is true to the reality, to the desolation.
I think I like it the way it is, Ground Zero now, before gentrification.
My modest proposal: Keep the hole, make it into a memorial; don’t cover it up.”
My biggest question is, how in the world can one tell the difference between “organic” tackiness and “Official State Tackiness”? Isn’t this a classic case of “a difference that makes no difference is no difference?”
David Warren (“That Hole,” Sunday Spectator, 7/7/02) says that while at first he thought the site, except for a memorial, should be given over to private development, now he feels that the entire site should be a memorial:
“For the ground is now hallowed, the hole in it is now a vessel to carry a message from our generation to future ones. Here is the one place government should step in, and make a park, a catacomb, a battlefield memorial, on a fittingly reckless scale – something larger than money …Something on a scale suitable to commemorate a morning, a moment out of time, in which inconceivable good suddenly and unexpectedly triumphed over inconceivable evil.”
Jane Galt agrees; she thinks that building them back higher would not make economic sense at all, and that regular buildings don’t belong on the site of national tragedy. She concludes that other parts of the city should be developed,
“Because I think the only way we can really remember the WTC is so see how very vast were the buildings that fell. You can't imagine it unless you are here, looking at the hole... even people who saw it before it fell can't know, because staring at a concrete wall is nowhere near as powerful as staring at its absence. I want our grandchildren to be able to come here and see, more powerfully than words could ever convey, the enormity of the towers that fell. Nothing that large will probably ever be built in this country again. We shouldn't erase its memory.” (go to the archives - posted 7/5 or 7/6 02)
John Crudele (“Hey Larry: Build it and I Won’t Come”, New York Post, 9/17/02) takes an even more adamant tone. He states that he won’t go near any buildings that go up on the site, or even do business with anyone who goes near those buildings (and in this “writing off”, I think he carries his anger a bit too far), because:
“People’s dust is scattered all over the property, not just where the buildings were located. And those ashes won’t ever be recovered and preserved. If you rebuild, the survivors of those heroes won’t be able to visit the departed in a tranquil park. They’ll be paying their respects at a newly constructed McDonald’s under the “Super Size It” sign – maybe with a little plaque on the wall.” [I think that he’s slipped into a false dichotomy here – commercial building on the site wouldn’t have to limit the memorial to a little plaque somewhere.]
Now Mr. Rosenbaum, Mr.Warren, Jane Galt, and the others I’ve quoted are closer to the full impact of what’s happened than I am, and they make their case, in spite of the reservations I’ve noted, with the force and eloquence that springs from deep and honorable feelings. But somehow the idea of a memorial alone saddens me, as does Jane’s statement that, “Nothing that large will probably ever be built in this country again.”
Besides, Nicole Gelinas (“Bring Back Our Towers,” New York Post, 7/25/02) has another take on the symbolic effectiveness of empty sky, and of footprints. She mentions a tour guide, who
“uses the double-the-buildings trick on his harbor tour…’Imagine two soaring towers double the size of the tallest building you see out there, dominating the entire skyline.’
But it doesn’t work. People squint at the Millennium Hotel, squint at a point in the sky…and give up.
Is that what survivors want for a memorial: a grassy knoll which people visit, and then leave confused, never understanding the magnitude of the attack?”
As for the footprints, go to Ground Zero and look at the bare hole in the ground. There are no footprints.
Just as visitors can’t find the towers in the air, they can’t find them on the ground. ‘Did you know where they were?’ the tourists ask, again and again.”
My basic problem with the idea of declaring the whole site “sacred ground” is that there is nothing left there except that gaping pit; the wreckage has been buried at the land fill, and the remains of the victims have been, as far as possible, recovered. So the site isn’t a mass grave any longer, which means that while a memorial is definitely necessary, it will be symbolic, unlike a cemetery. And I’m not sure that comparing the site to a battlefield is completely valid. George Will (New York Post. “History v. Growth”, 9/22/02), while commenting on the fight to preserve the Civil War battlefield at Chancellorsville, VA, observes:
“Most who died at Ground Zero were going about their private pursuits of happiness, murdered by people who detest that American striving. The murderers crashed planes into the Twin Towers, Brookhiser says, ‘in the same spirit in which a brat kicks a beehive. They will be stung, and the bees will repair the hive.’ Let the site have new towers, teeming with renewed striving.
But a battlefield is different. A battlefield is hallowed ground because those who there gave the last full measure of devotion went there because they were devoted to the death to certain things.” [This may seem like a fuzzy distinction, but I think that at some level it’s still true.]
Nicole Gelinas (“Bring Back our Towers”) asks, “Isn’t it better to forget commercial interests and just build a beautiful park for all eternity?” and replies, “No, because our dead were not killed at peace. They were not killed in a park. They were killed at work, in the early morning, in the prime of life.” She also points out that, “People were not killed on the ground here – they were killed in what’s now the air.”
And finally, confound it, with all due respect, I have to say that a park and memorial alone would, in my admittedly subjective opinion, somehow convey the idea that the terrorists had won. I just can’t get around that.
So, while this is a tough call, I just can’t see that respect for the dead requires that the whole site be turned into a memorial. And I really don’t think a simple park would really convey the enormity of what happened, in any case.
CULTURE WARS AGAIN?
The most subtle obstacle to visionary planning of the sort I’d really like to see might be yet another result of the “culture wars” that are polarizing the country. Steven Malanga (“Heroic Gotham Surrenders to Defeatism”, City Journal, Summer 2002) argues that in the aftermath of 9/11, another “city” of New York has re-emerged, “which seems uncertain about what made it great in the past, irresolute about its future, and awash in its own sense of victimization.” This other New York, which he says has seized control of the rebuilding debate, is
“the one dominated by cultural elites who question the very principles of capitalism that have fueled the city’s growth...(and who) welcome a rebuilding process that is in reality non-building…whose activists before 9/11 held uniformed workers – police and firefighters – in contempt…It is the city awash in anti-development sentimentality, anxious to protect striped bass and dilapidated housing here at home, and impoverished societies abroad, from the ravages of economic growth and the change and rebuilding that it brings.”
New York’s politicians, Malanga concludes grimly, aren’t likely to object to this “transformation of lower Manhattan into a memorial landscape of death,” so the only question left is, “how much the rest of the country, through the federal government, will subsidize this gloomy, defeatist model.”
In “The Downtown Redevelopment Flop,” (City Journal, Autumn 2000), Mr. Malanga continues his argument, contending, “The New York City that the world admired after the terrorist attacks last year…is in danger of disappearing…In its place is arising a city of victims seeking pity for what happened on 9/11, rather than a great metropolis to be admired for the courage and resolve with which its heroic citizens brought about recovery and renewal.” The problem, he continues, is that those in charge have had their resolve sapped by an alliance that includes the Civil Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York, and, “A Who’s Who of organizations unconcerned about, or even opposed to, a market driven, robust economy – everyone from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Organization of Women Legal and Educational Defense Fund to social services organizations, subsidized housing groups, liberal policy think tanks, and left leaning foundations…” Nobody, he continues, has really opposed these groups. So even though they’re “Mired in a culture of grieving and sentimentality, that “would turn the WTC site into a celebration of loss and a perverse tribute to our enemies,” they’ve been able to use “the grief of the families to argue for transforming the area into a vast memorial park.”
OK, I realize that talk of “culture wars” or “cultural elites” might strike some as simplistic; I would say more, but that would make this MUCH longer, and others have covered the area already. Nor am I sure how much influence the “establishment” cultural elites of the “other New York” are having on the rebuilding debate. I also AM NOT including the worthy writers whom I’ve quoted in this group, or dismissing the concerns of the victims’ families; I can certainly respect their position. Finally, I certainly am not suggesting that these activists have no compassion for the victims’ families. On the other hand, if I were involved in any way with the rebuilding planning, I would regard the knee-jerk response Mr. Malanga and Mr. Gelernter describe as a challenge to be surmounted, and if I could “razz” those critics in the process, so much the better. I’d just hate to see those “elites” get any kind of a victory out of this, because I think that their victory might be a long-term defeat for New York, for reasons I’ve mentioned above, and for reasons I’ll mention now.
This is a complicated situation, and perhaps the area where my arguments might be most vulnerable, but I’d still like to make a few points:
The New York Posthas argued on several occasions that some sort of rebuilding is critical for the future economic health of Manhattan. The writer of “Ground Zero Forever?” (2/8/02) asks, “Five years from now, will there still be a muddy hole in the ground in the heart of the financial capital of the world? Or, more to the point, the former financial capital of the world?” And Andrea Peyser (“Downtown’s Demand: Rebuild out Businesses”, 7/23/02) quotes a retired fireman who now owns a bar and restaurant on Broadway, who lost friends on 9/11, and who says, “We need a memorial, but we also understand the need for commercial value down here.” Another editorial (“The Rebuilding Stall”, 8/2/02) asserts that, “Just last year a panel of distinguished city big shots,” including former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, “called for 60 million square feet of office to accommodate some 300,000 workers by 2020. And that was before 11 million square feet of space vaporized in September.” Yet another editorial (“Reach For the Sky,” 7/18/02) emphasizes the loss of revenue and the serious economic effects for the city if that revenue isn’t replaced.
John Tierney (“Downtown, a Necropolis is Flourishing,” New York Times, 1/25/02) also points out that not all the victims’ families would consider new commerce on the site a sacrilege; he quotes Patricia Perry, who lost her son, and who says, “We need a memorial, but I’m not one of those who thinks it needs to take up the whole site. We have to rise above the tragedy and rebuild. We have to go on with life.”
Steve Cuozzo (New York Post, “Urban Planning by Atta,” 4/19/02) contends that downtown Manhattan was thriving before Sept. 11, in spite of those who argue that its “days as a financial capital were already over before Sept.11”. He points out that only 7% of the office space was vacant, the area was generating 1/5 of the city’s tax revenues, and that the residential population had grown from 10,000 to 25,000 since the early ‘90s. He also wonders why, if that decline is inevitable, “Larry Silverstein is champing at the bit to build anew at Ground Zero?” He concludes that, “if the ‘downtown we knew’ doesn’t return, it won’t be because something was fundamentally wrong with it. It would mean, rather, that we chose not to have it back…”
Some, like Joel Kotkin (Wall Street Journal, “The Declustering of America,” 8/19/02, argue that cities, including New York, don’t need new high rise office space because communication technology is making the idea of “industry clusters” obsolete, and workers, for many reasons besides the terrorist threat, prefer to live in scattered suburbs. Now this is something I don’t know much about at all, but perhaps some of what I’ve quoted above might be a good answer. Besides, Irwin Seltzer (New York Post, “…And So Can New York,” 9/16/02) suggests that cities have a number of reasons for being that will ensure their survival in spite of technology and the lure of the suburbs. He quotes Lewis Mumford:
“Cities [are] where all the original feelings of awe, reverence, pride, and joy…[are] further magnified by art, and multiplied by the number of responsive participants…Our elaborate rituals of mechanization cannot take the place of human dialogue, the drama, the living circle of mates and associates, the society of friends.”
Somehow, I suspect that anyone who’s ever felt the need to clear up a confusing E mail in person, or fumed at an answering machine menu, can relate to this.
John Crudele (“Hay Larry: Build it & I Won’t Come”) suggests that part of the lower West Side “just itching for some of the big, modern buildings” that Larry Silverstein would like to build at Ground Zero. Now this might be a good point, but how easy would it be for Mr. Silverstein to buy all the property he’d need (owners tend to up their price when they suspect their property is critically needed for something big that’s in the offing), and get a plan over all the zoning hurdles? And wouldn’t the anti-development forces raise another ruckus? Besides, doesn’t Mr. Silverstein have SOME legal rights because he holds a lease to the site?
Nicole Gelenas (“Downtown Stall,” New York Post, 10/7/02), notes that most of the federal and other grants set aside to keep small businesses in downtown Manhattan is supposed to be used within the next three years. If the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. doesn’t take advantage of this time to start redevelopment in earnest, she suggests, most of those who took those grants will leave when their leases expire. So what happens to all of these businesses and jobs if Mr. Silverstein loses his rights, and he (or someone else) has to start from the beginning? I could be wrong, but somehow I doubt if anything could happen soon enough to keep a lot of them in Manhattan.
Frankly, I think the best way to get a balanced mix of construction would be to let Mr. Silverstein or other private developers take charge, except for the memorial area. And it seems to me that mixed-use buildings, like the John Hancock Center in Chicago, might take care of several things at once.
Finally, I think that Tony Coles (New York Post, “Ground Zero Gridlock,” 8/7/02) hits the nail on the head when he suggests that those in charge need to make a few simple, logical decisions:
”Make a decision on the memorial”
[In view of the trouble that attempting to find a consensus on this has caused, I’d change this to “set some land aside for a memorial”]
”Make a decision on public transportation”
”Limit the role of the government agencies” to designing the memorial and the public transit infrastructure
”Get the Port Authority out of the mix” because “it’s so concerned about its revenue stream that it has handcuffed creative design thinking.”
Now I don’t know just how important each of these points needs to be in the final decision-making, but I do contend that these factors need to be considered, because the result will be around for many years, and poorly planned construction is awfully hard to repair after it’s built. Finally, while some may argue that economic considerations are completely out of place here, these economic considerations, at some point, translate into jobs (or no jobs) for real life people. And that has to count for something.
NO, NOT JUST A MEMORIAL
My final reason for saying that living buildings should rise along with the memorial isn’t as direct as economics, but it’s still important, given the assumption that respect for the dead doesn’t require that the entire site be a memorial. It’s basically symbolic; I’d argue that one should never underestimate the importance of a bit of inspiration, not to mention the morale boosting effect of good old fashioned resolve. I think this would be more to sustain our resolve, than it would be to defy our enemies, though there’s always that pleasant prospect. As for security, I don’t think we should let our enemies control what we build, though this is one reason I won’t be heartbroken if we don’t try for the world’s tallest title right now, in spite of my instinctive reaction to want to see us do so. I have a feeling that a skyscraper can be a powerful statement even if it isn’t 110 stories; the main point is that it be tall enough to stand out in the skyline. Now, some quotes, if I may:
“The greatest possible monument for those killed on Sept. 11 is a Manhattan more spectacular, more breathtaking, and more sublime than the one they left behind…Nothing short of a stunning display of technological prowess and gravity-defying structural acumen will be sufficient. The more accomplished the architecture, the greater the homage to the fallen…In this way we demonstrate to the world, in steel and stone, how we refuse to be bowed…” (Matthew J. Dockery, New York Post, “Manhattan is the Monument,” 9/16/02)
“Some say that the WTC site is sacred ground. But in my view, all of Manhattan is sacred ground – not because people died there, but because its bridges and skyscrapers are monument to human life…to the human aspiration to build and to create. This is what was attacked on September 11: our wealth, our success, the global reach of our commerce and culture. The best way to commemorate those achievements is through a new skyscraper, bigger, better, and more beautiful than the ones we have lost.” (Sherri Tracinski, enterstageright, “Why We Must Build Bigger and Better on the World Trade Center Site,” 7/22/02)
“It’s time we had the tallest buildings in the world again. This isn’t a trivial pursuit. The quest to build the tallest structures goes back to the cathedrals of Europe, when the aim was to get as close to God as possible…In fact, it’s no coincidence that the word ‘spire’ is the root word for inspire and aspire, because to look heavenward lifted not just your eyes, but your heart and soul, to marvel at what was possible. Well, we need a lot of inspiration and aspiration.” (Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online, “Rebuild it, Bigger”, 9/13/01) [But, Jonah, NO AA batteries, please!]
“The most respectful memorial to the future our lost New Yorkers might have had will be a beautiful new city rising from that 16-acre hole in the ground. This architectural masterpiece will become the hopeful place that people are so desperately asking for, a place worthy of being a pilgrimage site.” (Susan S. Szenasy, New York Times, “ Back to the Drawing Board,” 7/23/02)
“Skyscrapers are the hallmark of civilization. They are monuments to human brilliance and creativity. I’m sure there are some nice trees, but I note that no one ever talks about the ‘heavenly suburb.’ Philosopher Jacques Ellul said cities exhibit ‘all the hopes of man for divinity.’ St. Augustine said the “House of God is itself a city.” (Ann Coulter, Frontpage Magazine , “Build Them Back!,” 6/6/02) [Well, Ann is right about that at least – Rev. 6:10, for instance, refers to, “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”(NIV)]
“The post-World Trade Center development should feature at least one building that audaciously reaches for the heavens in an expression of commercial and, given the symbolic importance of the site, national exuberance.
Because our enemies can only destroy, while we long always to create – build it high.
Because a memorial to 9/11 victims shouldn’t enshrine the shattering absence blown into lower Manhattan by terrorists (as those who want the site left unbuilt would have it), but instead be part of something bold and new– build it high.
Because the men and women who died on Sept. 11, whether busboys or investment bankers, came to the towers that day to work, and the skyscraper has always been about the dignity and ambition of commerce, from the Woolworth Building to the Sears Tower – build it high.” (Rich Lowry, “Build it High,” National Review Online, 8/16/02)
“As with every city that has survived earthquake, fire, and flood…the proper and fitting course is to rebuild. Not to do so is to proceed from injury to self-mutilation. Perhaps one day our cities will crumble… (but) there is no reason to start the process now.” (Michael Lewis, “Visions of Ground Zero”, Commentary, Apr. 2002,pp. 52-55, dead tree version)
These quotes express my feelings, as I’ve stated them in previous posts, precisely. And there’s another reason that’s occurred to me. New Yorkers have poured a lot of courage, perseverance, hope, dreaming, determination, and good old-fashioned stubbornness into New York City ever since before it was even called New York City, or they were called New Yorkers, back when it was a tiny place called New Amsterdam with its back against a wall of wilderness. And that’s a lot of what’s made New York the wonder of the world it is today. So I think new, living buildings, humming with people and commerce, would not only be good economic sense, but would be a tremendous inspirational boost, and as harmonious a tribute to the hopes and dreams of those who died as the memorial itself.