Cybrarian at Large  

In defeat: DEFIANCE
In Peace: GOOD WILL"
Sir Winston Churchill

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Oh, it may snow and the winds may blow, and the streets may turn to slush,
And you may crawl a mile an hour in the evening traffic rush.
But we don’t let that bug us – We just dig out gradually –
The only crew that’s not at work is the good old D.O.T!

Oh, Winter time’s a jolly time, with red and runny noses,
Frozen cars and frozen pipes, and frostbite of the toses;
Fuel bills soaring through the roof, and bitter winds that sting –
You can bet your life we’ll celebrate when it finally turns to spring!

You slip and slide when you go outside like you’re on a skating rink;
Instead of running water you get ice cubes from your sink.
And every day you stop and pray that springtime will cone soon,
Because you know if it thaws in March the streets are clear by June!

Oh, Winter time’s a jolly time, with red and runny noses,
Frozen cars and frozen pipes, and frostbite of the toses;
Fuel bills soaring through the roof, and bitter winds that sting –
You can bet your life we’ll celebrate when it finally turns to spring!

  posted by Liz L @ 6:59 PM

Wednesday, February 26, 2003  



Well, we have the supposedly final round of design proposals for the old WTC site, so let’s see what we have….To look at the designs, you can go to SkyscraperCityForum, open the “Theme: New WTC Designs” forum, and check out the thread with a list of web sites – I’d provide a direct link, but those addresses are sooo long, and Blogger can get very cranky about links…

My biggest disappointment has to be the plan Skidmore, Owings, & Merrillpresented; this is the firm that designed the Sears and John Hancock towers in Chicago, and what do they give us? About nine towers fill the site, all the same height, some of them bent instead of straight, with gardens on top. They remind me of a colony of those worm-like critters that live on the ocean floor, that stick their heads out of their burrows to get food. The glass facades are so clear that the floors come across as body segments, and even those gardens remind me of their little hairs that wave back and forth in the current, looking for lunch…Sic Transit Gloria, SOM, I guess…I’m just glad they withdrew it from consideration!

Lord Norman Foster gets a point or two for proposing the world’s tallest building or buildings, with two towers, their forms defined by very long triangles, connected at several points. I was actually kind of interested at first, until I heard a lot of snide comments about just what these towers would look like from New Jersey; if Foster realized this and went ahead with the design anyhow, he might have a BIG problem…Besides, all of that height with no setbacks makes the towers seem a bit overbearing, I think. I have to agree with Steven Malanga; “In the sunlight they will look like huge, crooked, silver slivers…a giant alien spaceship just landed to dominate us bewildered, small, and scurrying earthlings.” (“Postmodern Monstrosities for Downtown,” City Journal, Autumn 2002, v. 12 #4) Will Leitch of The Black Table (1/29/03), along the same lines, says that the project “looks like it was put on this earth by Lucifer to destroy other buildings. It’s like the Incredible Hulk – don’t make the Foster plan angry. Foster plan BASH!”

United Architects tried to come with a building that’s itself a city in the sky, but I really think they kind of blew it. They propose yet another group of buildings, but so twisted and snarled together, as if they were playing Twister that I wonder precisely how many street addresses the city would assign. To top it off (Ouch, a dreadful pun!) the tallest of the lot, I swear, has a huge bulge in its middle, as if it’s pregnant!! Are we going to have a bunch of baby skyscrapers scampering around eventually?? Gimme a break!!
Martin Filler (“Back to Babel,” The New Republic online, 1/27/03), says they remind him of “a band of drunken sailors staggering back to their ship,” with “faceted hulks of façade looming over St. Paul’s Chapel as though (it) were about to be stomped beneath the paws of a glazed Gotham Godzilla.”

The team headed by Richard Meier has come up with five tall, glass boxes, three of them at right angles to the other two; they’re certainly nice and shiny at night, and wouldn’t have looked worse than the old Twin Towers, except that they’re connected by vertical walkways that make the whole setup look like two giant tic-tac-toe boards! Ha! Ha! Ha! And who’s got the “O’s” and “X’s”, I wonder? I kinda have a hard time imagining God playing tic-tac-toe…. Well, I suppose it might provide some real thrills for people on helicopter tours…

The plan I like the most, or dislike the least, is the one proposed by Peterson/ Littenberg; IMO, however, one of their problems might have been that their drawings were probably the least impressive of the lot. They have a nice open plaza – the best of the propsals, I think – and include the promenade stretching down to the end of the island; they also replace the street grid lost when the original WTC was built. Their main problem, **SIGH** seems to be their tallest buildings, which may fit the skyline better, but still look to me as if they’d tried to put part of the Empire State Building on a couple of boxes. The “skyline elements” appear to take so much of the buildings’ total height that I can almost hear the architects thinking, “Well, we really, really don’t want to build anything too tall because everyone’s still afraid to work in tall buildings, but we certainly don’t want to admit this, so we’ll just fake it, put these fancy gee gaw whimmydiddles on top, and hope no one notices…”

Mr. Lion of Capitalist Lion likes the idea; he rumbles approvingly, “Two 1,400 foot towers. But they’re real towers. They’re New York towers…People can actually USE the bloody things. When did this become a radical concept, exactly?” (Capitalist Lion, 2/5/03 post)

I think Think thought too hard or something when it came to their World Cultural Center proposal. It’s centered around two huge metal jungle gym affairs shaped like the old towers, which almost look like two giant tombstones. This might have been half way OK if they’d walled them in and made working buildings out of them. But instead their real buildings are stuck on the jungle gyms any old way, looking like they’re hanging on for dear life. Not only does this make the whole ugly contraption look like two giant pipes clogged with debris (Can we get a few hundred barrels of Drano or Liquid Plummer over here, please?), I wouldn’t give a thin dime for its structural integrity. Everyone who’s worried about working in a skyscraper should really love this!

James Lileks, in the Bleat for 2/6/03, says,
“They give me the deepest creeps, because every time you look at them you think of the solid objects they represent, and how our response to that act of murderous vandalism was to erect two chicken-wire scarecrows.”

Finally, another reason I don’t like Think’s bright idea is what Herbert Muschamp says about its deeper meaning. He says the site’s meaning has expanded to include a pattern that “recalls the open university, or the museum without walls…a free-floating space open 24/7 and accessible to all…the price of admission is curiosity, periodically boosted by the desire to survive.”

And what, pray tell, is the critically important information that The Masses will be expected to learn? Well, Mr. Muschamp is so glad you asked! He pontificates happily:
“The topic is ‘Globalization and its discontents’… We’re seeking to make coherent pictures from pieces of history, science, economics, art, and politics circulating through the atmosphere since the end of the cold war…By rights, the official design process might have embraced the task of educating the public in the larger issues of globalization. The process might even have taken on the task of educating the officials responsible for running it…The public has, in effect, created the program for ground zero. It has created a school.”
("A Goal for Ground Zero: Finding an Urban Poetry." New York Times,1/28/03)

First of all, Herb, the “public” hasn’t had an active role in creating ANY of the designs, so how could it have “created the program for ground zero?”

Second point, Herb: please cut through the fog of words and let us lesser mortals know how that “education” is going to be visible and understandable…

Final point, Herb, and listen carefully please. Look, we all realize that U.S. foreign policy hasn’t been perfect. But the ground zero memorial is NOT the place to rub our noses in some alleged common guilt; it’s a place to remember our dead, and reaffirm our common values. This little agenda of yours, assuming it’s presented clearly enough for The Unenlightened Masses to understand, would make visiting the site like a slap in the face with a dead and very rancid fish, and that’s the last thing visitors and survivors need, Thank ** You ** Very ** Much!!!

If I may quote Philip Murphy of The Invisible Hand:

“So ground Zero is supposed to be an open university reminding Americans of the sinister role they play in the global spread of corporate greed…?(Not exactly Muschamp’s words)
Yes, the building that is eventually erected…should help explain the deeper meaning of 9/11 but only a fool would think that that means the barbaric attacks were some sort of retribution for our unfair accomplishments and our justifiable confidence.
Instead, the new structure should reiterate in the clearest terms that the attackers were wrong, that their beliefs were immoral and that the dishonest values that motivated them should be combated by free people every time they surface.”
(Post for 1/29/03)

Studio Libeskind proposes a group of glass buildings, which I don’t completely object to, though my first thought was that they looked like a new ice age had come to New York harbor. At street level, Libeskind’s design appears even more chaotic; the buildings are jagged, chipped icebergs looming overhead, and some of them even look as if they’re ready to come crashing down. I’ll give them points for putting trees in the plaza, though.

James Lileks’ sharp eyes spot something else: two of the towers look like they’re “giant column(s) of ice” that have been “hacked with an axe, sliced and cleaved”; it looks like they were “conceived as damaged object(s), and perhaps that was their way of honoring the site.” He argues, however, that:
”You don’t honor the site by building something that bleeds. The memorial is the wound, yes, but it’s the wound healed, or as much as it ever can. The memorial is what you get when the bandages come off – otherwise all the great equestrian monuments would show a horse with no rider, towing a funeral bier.” (Bleat for 2/6/03)

Michael of 2 Blowhards says that the buildings “look like a bunch of drunken perfume bottles…”, and Colby Cosh says that the highest tower reminds him of a “Pipette Wrapped in String Cheese.” (12/19/02 post) Warming to this theme, Mr. Lion growls that it “looks like a toothpick that has been run over by approximately four thousand cabs on 42nd street, after having been discarded at high velocity from someone’s lunch.” (2/5/03 post)

A.C. Douglas quotes his intrepid correspondent, Zyzyxtro the Mad, who, getting down to brass tacks, says that it’s, “A clutch of angular, slant-roofed boxes sticking up like giant graver’s tools set around a wretched, po-mo acid trip cubist court yard. A spindly, emaciated tower.” To put it out of our misery, Zyzyxtro finally suggests that the LMDC or whomever is in charge “Shoot it.” (post dated 2/3/03)

Libeskind would not only preserve the towers’ footprints, but also the surrounding excavation, bedrock, and slurry walls. I think Steve Cuozzo is totally right when he argues,
“That approach fails to recognize that this crater did not exist before 9/11. To make it permanent would commemorate neither the life the Twin Towers bore, nor those lost on that day, but the ghastly work of the terrorists.” (“A new Horror”, New York Post, 1/28/03)

Zyzyxtro the Mad also doesn’t seem to like the idea of underground memorials; he disses them as “claustrophobic, black-walled, sunken prison yard(s)” and “footprint memorial hell-holes” (So please tell us what you really think, Zyzyxtro?) (A.C. Douglas, post dated 2/3/03)

Humor aside, yeah, just going down into pits in the ground doesn’t seem really inspiring or uplifting to me, either. The memorial ought to look up in hope, not just look down in sorrow. And frankly, as far as looking up goes, I’m not really sure how that skinny spire with the gardens inside would commemorate Sept. 11.


OK, everyone seems to agree that something great has to rise soaring at that site; the big question seems to be just what that means. I’ll be the first to admit that taste can change, or even do U-turns and wheelies, over time – look at how leading architectural critics at first turned up their noses at the Chrysler Building, which has serenely outlasted their scorn, and is now almost universally hailed as one of the crowning jewels of Manhattan’s skyline.

And I must admit that some people like our two finalists. A.C. Douglas, for instnace, hails Libeskind’s “Ice Age meets Manhattan” plan as, “monumental and heroic to the core, and at every scale and from every viewpoint, overwhelmingly symbolic, even iconic.”
(Post 12/19/01)

Steve Cuozzo likes Think’s metal jungle-gymns:
“ THINK’s towers do not quite laugh. But their Tinker Toy-like texture is (literally) open and unthreatening. They proclaim hope and renewal. They are fun to look at. It is hard not to imagine that they will be become instant wonders of the world…
Yet…there is ambiguity in their spidery forms to texture our joy with sadness…The steel towers, in other words, are the memorial …(and) provide the monumental catharsis we crave.” (New York Post, “Leader of the Pack,” 2/3/03)

Well, different strokes for different folks, I guess. But I'd still suggest that there are a few standards we can apply here, so we can have a better chance of coming up with something worthy of the site, and that people will easily accept. First, beauty involves the ideas of unity - the integrity of the whole - and proportion - the harmonious relation of the parts to each other and to the whole. Now if there's any unity or proportion in Think’s twin metal jungle gyms, well, I certainly can't find it. And Libeskind’s scheme, especially close up, is simply too jumbled and confusing to aspire to these ideals.

The next standard is context, which, I think, starts with fitting into the surrounding architecture. To see why this is important, let's try a little thought experiment - picture a large square surrounded by, oh, one of Gaudi's colorful, curvy apartment houses, the Woolworth Building, a geodesic dome, the Seagram Building...this may sound extreme, but I do it to make a point - each one may be a work of art, but put them all right next to each other, and you'd have jangling, nerve-grating chaos. That's why I really think whatever rises soaring from that site has to have some connection with NYC's well loved architectural heritage that will be surrounding it.

Context is especially important for a project this large. As Steven Malanga explains (“Postmodern Monstrosities for Downtown”),
“Part of what makes New York's skyline unique – and beloved – is that most of its signature buildings represent clear stages in the evolution of a distinct Gotham vernacular architecture, recognizable around the world. By contrast, the new designs…could be anywhere, from Houston to Singapore.”

Michael of 2 Blowhards points out a specific context issue: most of the designs have “the wigglies and the wobblies”, and, he says,
“Much has been made of how much some of these designs would add to the NYC skyline, yet no one has mentioned that 90% of the NYC skyline consists of verticals and horizontals; adding a lot of wiggly-wobbly isn’t exactly playing ball with what people think of as the ‘New York skyline.’ ” Then he asks, “Do you really want to work in, or walk beneath, giant towers that look like they’d rather be doing the hula than housing you securely?” (Post 12/21/02)

Malanga continues (“Postmodern Monstrosities for Downtown”):
“New York City has largely resisted the onslaught of postmodernism precisely because the city has its own rich architectural legacy that affords most designers a context in which to work…(so) The occasional jarring mistake…doesn’t distort the overall skyline.”
But, he warns:
“Because the (World Trade Center site) is so large, it could serve as the catalyst to change the New York skyline completely. If the site becomes a harbor for the worst excesses of postmodernism of a kind that have now been proposed, the city’s skyline may become little more than an eyesore and a joke.”

So that's another reason I don’t like Think's giant jungle gym; not only would it stand out like a sore thumb, it might be the start of a really bad trend.

Libeskind’s plan isn’t quite so jarring from a distance, perhaps, but that collection of icebergs that juts out at every angle but a right angle certainly doesn’t blend into its context on the street level, especially that low-slung whatever-it-is that kind of hovers over the memorial pit, and looks like it might just fall in. And I think I can say more or less the same for most of the other designs.

Another part of beauty is dignity - in other words, great architecture probably shouldn't immediately provoke gales of laughter, snide remarks about what it really looks like, or complete incomprehension. This would seem to disqualify SOM’s giant worm colony, though I have to admit it does have a certain unity and harmony, thus showing that while those traits are needed for beauty, they aren’t sufficient in themselves. And, in this connection, who can forget Meier’s giant tac-tac-toe board?

As for total incomprehension, well, sometimes when architects try to explain what they’re up to, they only make things worse. Meier’s tic-tac-toe board is funny enough on its own, but our old buddy Peter Eisenman, a member of the team, makes it even more side-splittingly hilarious when he explains that they were “aiming for a porous, feminine structure – not the phallocentric skyscrapers of New York City’s past.” Say WHAT??!! Drop the psychobabble already, people – this is architecture for crying out loud, not Oprah!!! (quoted by Julia Levy, “Architects Unveil Bold New Visions for Lower Manhattan,” The New York Sun, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2002).

And Muschamp’s explanation of the Think proposal, which I’ve already referred to, goes, IMO, beyond unintentionally funny to assume a snide superiority over the Unenlightened Masses (and the lawmakers they elect) that irks me no end.
THINK, in an explanation which also irks me, says, "Ground Zero should the first truly Global Center, a place where people can gather together to celebrate cultural diversity in peaceful and productive coexistence." (Check the LMDC site for their statement).

OK, don't misunderstand me here - I AM NOT against multi-culturalism in the sense of respecting and enjoying the many contributions that people all over the world have made to the richness of our common culture, and of respecting all people. But somehow, I really think that, especially in the memorial, some of the common values of Americans deserve a special place, which they don't seem to emphasize - Hello? Is that too hard to understand, folks?

So where does that leave us? Well, it may be unfair to judge buildings before they’re even built, but that’s all we can do; looking at the plans is a bit like taking a car for a test drive or at least kicking its tires. And as you can probably guess, I’m not too happy with the two final choices, which I’m afraid we’ll be stuck with, unless the LMDC suddenly comes to its senses.
James Lileks
is also pessimistic; he says that the designs,

“make me fear that whatever gets built will lack American bravura – it’ll be some monstrous abstraction of timid sentimentality and impotent grief. In another era they would have built something tall and decked it with stern stone eagles….
I’m not hopeful that anything worth the site will be built. The job requires Confidence and Beauty, and few have the courage to advocate on their behalf.”
(Screed, “The Follies of Modern Art”, 12/19/02)

Phillip Murphy of The Invisible Hand is more optimistic; he says that,

“Yes, New York is the crossroads of global culture, but it gives the right of way to its own traditions – capitalism and competition, tolerant but never a sucker, courageous and opinionated, gracious or pugnacious depending on the situation. Sophisticated, worldly, clever, witty, but never intellectual.
…these are the characteristics that will eventually find their expression in Lower Manhattan, perhaps long after all the Libeskinds, Fosters, and Meiers drift away into well-earned obscurity.
Multiculturalism hit a brick wall on 9/11. The new World Trade Center is destined to be its self-assured and relentlessly optimistic tombstone.”
(Post for 1/29/03)

I just wish I could be as confident. I’ve been so interested in these developments because I kind of view the rebuilding as a very large and visible “test” of how well this country is responding, on a cultural level, to the threats we’re facing. Perhaps I’m exaggerating or dogmatic; I’ll also concede that Libeskind’s proposal, in particular, isn’t quite as bad as a lot of the proposals Max Protech displayed. But I’d been hoping that the poisonous trendy notions some of our “elite” hold – like the idea that no culture is better than any other, and the scorn for patriotism and other “outdated” values - might have been dealt a real blow by Sept. 11. I’d also thought that the so-called cutting edge architects, who brush off the idea of beauty as simply an attempt to limit their “creativity,” who are proud to propose contraptions that might not even look remotely like a building, and who smugly assume that they know what’s best for the Peons who’ll actually have to put up with some of their hulking eyesores, might have suddenly lost some of their magnetic aura.
But setting aside questions of style, when I read Muschamp’s little spiel, for instance, about what Think’s brainstorm should really commemorate, and when I see how little attention most of the new round of architects have paid to the skyline that would surround their brainstorms, I really, really wonder…It does seem that extreme multi culturalism and “cutting edge” (or “lunatic fringe”) architects are still rolling along…

  posted by Liz L @ 12:02 AM

Thursday, February 20, 2003  


CHALLENGER 1/28/1986
COLUMBIA 2/1/2003

There's a ship stands checked and ready on the launch pad-
tomorrow for the last frontier she sails;
facing risks well known and risks as yet undreamed of,
that can kill as sure as any earthly gales.
And though I might fear the risks, I'll face them freely,
for fear cannot control where eagles soar!
Great glory means great risk -
the glory of discovery, of going first where none have gone before.

Should I perish in the fires that hurl me skyward,
or drifting in that black, unharted sea -
don't turn back in grief, but press on toward the future;
turning back would be far greater tragedy.
Let the shining lights of night be my memorial -
remember me each time you hear a rocket's roar.
Great glory means great risk -
the glory of discovery, of going first where none have gone before.

I wrote this after the loss of the Challenger and her crew, to the music of "The Last Farewell."

  posted by Liz L @ 1:41 AM

Sunday, February 02, 2003  
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