Wednesday, February 05, 2003
Okay, what with war coming I haven't expressed opinions until now about The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's Choice of Finalists for the rebuilding of the WTC site.
And I don't know how much there is to say. The Libeskind plan is completely incomprehensible; the only thing I can say for certain about it is that, by leaving an enormous hole in the ground, it is an expression of utter defeatism. So, by default, I favor the THINK plan, which is just silly and pathetic, not evil. It will certainly be a distinctive skyline element. It will have nothing to do with New York, true. It will look like a tinker-toy construction, also true. It has none of the elegance of the Eiffel Tower, its self-declared point of comparison. Can you imagine people buying little metal replicas of these big empty cannisters? Of course not. But at least it doesn't say to the terrorists, "you killed 3,000 of us and we'll never get over it," which is pretty much the message behind Libeskind's hole in the ground. And at least the funny tinker-toy shapes go up; they don't wobble all over the sky in a way that gives you nausea. Kids'll love it.
From a practical perspective, the THINK plan really isn't bad at all. Because it's mostly empty space, it could go up quickly. It's mostly cultural space, which is appropriate since there's no real demand for office space now, and downtown isn't necessarily the best location for it anyhow (that would be Mahattan's Far West Side). It's really tall, which will make us feel good about ourselves. But compare the THINK design with Gaudi's 1908 design for a grand hotel on the same spot. If we're going to build a cultural monument rather than an office tower, couldn't it at least be beautiful?
The whole thing makes me sad. We really are, it seems, incapable of building beautiful buildings anymore. We don't lack the ability to execute the designs. Anyone who's seen the restored Grand Central Station knows: the craftsmen exist, somewhere. (Maybe we import them from Poland.) But we can't design them anymore. I don't miss the old WTC. It was ugly and inhuman. I don't want it back. I want something better. This is something worse. Now I just hope they retain the Peterson/Littenberg team to do what can be done to humanize this monster, and embed it in a context that works for the city. It's damage control from here on out.