Wednesday, December 18, 2002
Well, the LMDC has unveiled the new plans for the WTC. I blogged a detailed response to the last round of plans here. What do I think of the new round?
They're horrible. I tried to give these guys the benefit of the doubt last time. I'm not going to give it to them this time.
Supposedly, people were upset that the first round of designs wasn't bold enough. Which is fair; the buildings were short, dumpy and crowded together. The three good ideas to emerge from the planning were: recreate as much of the street grid as possible; build a promenade over West Street culminating in a park on part of the site; and build a major transit hub including subways, PATH train, and ideally LIRR and Metro North trains. No good ideas for actual buildings emerged.
So what have our architectural innovators delivered for the second round? You wanted bold? We'll give you arrogant. You wanted big? We'll give you monstrous. These are unquestionably some of the ugliest building designs I've ever seen. They would permanently disfigure the lower-Manhattan skyline. They are terrifying, out of scale sculptural notions that no one could love or feel at home in. They are designed to crush humanity beneath their awesome weight. They are everything bad about the WTC and nothing of the good - all the grossness and inhumanity, none of the elegance and simplicity. And the memorials are soul-destroying and meaningless. They are the opposite of what we need.
I'm somewhat at a loss to say which design is the worst. Meier's Borg-like grid? United Architects' mass of towers collapsing into one another? SOM's rendition of the world's largest Blue Man Group pipe organ? It's a tough call. Only professional architects of world-class caliber could come up with designs so patently awful.
THINK delivers three designs, none of them remotely good, but none of them quite so horrifying that one wants to have them banned from ever competing in such a forum again for fear of the damage they would do if they were ever allowed to build something. All three designs are banal colossi, either office towers or erector-set atriums. If these fellows went to work on simpler, smaller projects, some day they might be ready to tackle a big and important project like this one. Foster & Partners delivers a similarly banal and similarly awful scheme of twinned collapsing towers (the designers seem to think they are kissing) and gaping holes in the ground as a "memorial" - to what, I have no idea. I have never seen a more depressing grave. Then there's Daniel Libeskind's Studio, whose plans are, I admit, completely incomprehensible to me, a jumble of jagged edges and asymmetric walls of glass.
And then, the one exception to the horror. Peterson/Littenberg's design at least involves buildings that look like buildings. They've got bottoms and tops, they taper, they've got a bit of detailing - they are classically designed skyscrapers. They've incorporated the West Street promenade idea from the best of the first-round designs for the area. The layout of the buildings and of the parkland is mostly intelligent and humanist. I would quibble with having the park where the promenade terminates cut off from the central square by a row of buildings, but that is, as I say, a quibble. The biggest disappointment is that the buildings lack any overarching stylistic theme such as unites Rockerfeller Center into a coherent whole. If they executed this design, it would enhance the city and not damage it irreparably the way the other designs would. But there would be an opportunity lost.
Allow me, then, to remind everyone of Fred Turner's intelligent design for a new twin towers, one that would harmonize with the surrounding buildings and with the Brooklyn Bridge in a really elegant way. I've proposed my own emendations to his original concept, but I want to urge him to get in touch with the folks at Peterson and Littenberg, obviously the only firm in the competition to care about the city more than about who can lay the biggest turd on its prime real estate. Perhaps he could push them a bit in his direction.
I fear for the future of my city, people. I really do.