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- blog1 May 16, 2014
By framing the choices taking place in the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan within the themes presented in the pages ofArchitourism, things start to make some sense. Lucy Lippard correctly asserts, “The World Trade Center has always been a tourist destination—going up, staying up, coming down, now going up again, in another futuristic guise.” But this futuristic guise would hold little appeal if one of the bland initial designs for the site were instituted. To their credit, the uninspiring proposals became, in hindsight, an inadvertent launching pad for international interest in contemporary architecture’s role in making places, as they led to the subsequent international design study. Images of the nine entries were seen all over the world, giving people a glimpse into the possible futures of Lower Manhattan. Certainly, practical issues like financing and security helped secure Libeskind’s victory over THINK, but the current state of affairs points more than ever to the fetishization of the architectural object as a provider of publicity, attention, and, ultimately, attraction. Calatrava’s forthcoming PATH terminal is the perfect case.
Repetitive skeletal forms are a consistent theme in the work of the Spanish “archi-engineer” known for bridges and responsible for numerous train stations throughout Europe. These forms were extended to his first American commission, the Milwaukee Art Museum, a structure constructed in 2001, which is striking for its operable brise-soleil that resembles a bird in flight when open. For his PATH terminal commission, Calatrava proposed much the same thing: a soaring space framed by ribbed arches that will open each year on the anniversary of September 11. Here we have architectural branding of the utmost. Calatrava has designed a structure that not only screams “Look at me!” but also “Calatrava!” A recipe for success has been exported from Milwaukee—a struggling industrial city on the shores of Lake Michigan—to Lower Manhattan.
But will it work in the architectural context that is lower Manhattan, a dense conglomeration of buildings that coalesces into something greater than the sum of its individual parts? Even with the attention-getting form of the transportation hub, the one building determined to be the icon of the WTC site is Freedom Tower. For many people, the only appropriate response to the Twin Towers’ destruction was to build taller. Libeskind supplied this macho response in his master plan, calling it Freedom Tower and peppering it with symbolism: hanging gardens that evoke life, growth, and common roots and a spire whose height reaches 1,776 feet. This freedom-ringing number is all that remains in Childs’ latest design, which begs the question: Does height alone make an icon? In its current state, Freedom Tower is quantity over quality, a combination of design by committee and the architectural methodology that higher is better.
Of the various elements that comprise the rebuilding effort at Ground Zero, the one that will attract the most visitors is most surely Arad’s memorial. Here we pass from the world of architourism into that of “tragic tourism,” where people are drawn to Civil War battlefields, concentration camps, terrorist sites, and places of destruction and loss. From the very first cries of “rebuild!”—predating any master plan or building designs—one consideration has been the huge number of visitors that will visit the site, an acknowledgement of its obvious importance but also of the magnetism of tragedy. In Architourism James E. Young articulates a view where we “[allow] memorials to relieve us of the memory burden we should be carrying,” making a visit to a memorial akin to a pilgrimage.
Arad’s memorial design, a collaboration with landscape architect Peter Walker, consists of a heavily landscaped plaza that surrounds the voids representing the Twin Towers’ footprints, which will have become subterranean pools filled by waterfalls. A descent to the level of the pools will yield the names of those who died on September 11 as well as the Memorial Museum, an archive of that day. The success of the WTC Memorial will depend on many variables (materiality, maintenance, scale), though its sheer size—both above and below grade—has been designed to handle the throngs expected at the site.
The battle lines that have been drawn by American press and politicians since September 11 have conjured a classical clash between good and evil. At Ground Zero, the battle is between remembering and forgetting. In Libeskind’s master plan, everything was about remembering: The towers gesturing towards the memorial, the old footprints, and the “bathtub” keeping the Hudson River at bay; Freedom Tower spoke to things deeply within all of us, beyond the differences that spur terrorist acts. But perhaps that was too much remembering. Too much for a city that’s always moving forward, away from the past. Too much for a country bent on progress, whatever that ultimately means or yields. In place of total remembrance, the site has come to symbolize the tension between looking back versus looking forward, between the ghostly imprints of the Twin Towers and the surrounding, indifferent office towers—icons of commerce and, in the years to come, the tourist’s gaze.