Thursday, June 30, 2005

Bunker Mentality at WTC

Skidmoretower_2It had to happen, there were just too many opposing interests in the rebuilding of Manhattan’s World Trade Center.  Call it Freedom Tower if you must, but it’s been bunkerized, made fearful instead of free by the heavy hand of Skidmore, Owings Merrill (the Wal-Mart of architectural firms).  There is absolutely nothing even recognizable left of Daniel Libeskind’s award-winning original design.


Libeskind and Skidmore’s David Childs no longer speak. Yesterday’s unveiling of this mundane, heavyhanded and pedestrian-unfriendly hulk showcased attitude instead of architecture, including:


  • Libeskind’s unwillingness to walk away from being trivialized as a designer. Color that decision, if not yellow, surely saffron.

  • The developer’s (Larry Silverstein) unending greed for floorspace in a building no tenant will anchor. Red will suffice.

  • Skidmore’s eagerness to do anything, no matter how ungainly, to secure a commission. Brown?  Does brown work for you?

  • Governor Pataki’s desperation to get something built after truculently driving Goldman Sachs out of the project. Orange.

  • Michael Bloomberg’s fear of losing yet another Manhattan battle with an election looming. Blue, maybe even azure.

  • The NYPD (incredibly) driving design issues in a decision so off-the-wall that it defies description. Color that embarrassment pink.

  • And finally, that killer of all things bold and beautiful, no one being clearly in the driver’s seat. Gray, the gray of a leaden sky.

Libeskindtower_2Stir as energetically as you like, call a press-conference, the resulting color, rather than prismatic is sticky, gooey, mud-colored brown. 

“I think it will be very safe,”
Governor Pataki said and it was difficult to know if he meant politically or merely bomb-proof.  Certainly a 200 foot ‘base’ of windowless concrete should deflect terrorists to the Chrysler or Empire State buildings, if that’s what’s meant by safety.  Mayor Bloomberg said the tower would “climax the greatest comeback in the history of our city,” which one could only take to mean his own re-election.  Childs, speaking of the architecture, said, “I feel better about this than the original,” a statement easily understood in his profession as he elbowed out the better designer to substitute his own blurred vision. I won’t quote Libeskind, he sold himself on the cheap in this travesty of manipulated public relations.  Perhaps he couldn’t bring himself to walk away. Berlin is not New York and never will be.


The inescapable fact is there is no market for this building, no possible way to profitably fill 2.6 million square feet of rentable space.   One can already see the writing on the wall; that city, state and federal government will be called upon to move in their massive bureaucracies so our national pride will not be injured by the obvious fact that law firms, accountancies, bankers and brokerages will not take the risk.


Hubris stood tall in the saddle of this reconstruction from the start, but it had one thing going for it and that was the beauty of the solution.


Now that’s gone as well.  Muttered to death by conflicting personal agendas.


See Taking My Country Personally on my personal web site.