The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

And Another Thing....

OK, let's talk design.

You'll note that they don't bother to show any eye-level perspectives. No, it's all distant, iconic views, plus a couple simple, scaleless elevations. Why would that be? Because, perhaps, the most subtle renderer on earth couldn't make 20 blank stories look humane? Because even the sunniest sketch couldn't help but reveal the windswept, inhospitable sidewalk that they've proposed?

If there's one thing I'll never disagree with David Sucher about, it's that how a building meets the ground is the most important thing about it for the vast majority of people who will never enter it. The effects of such a staggeringly anti-urban building will reach far beyond one block on West. As any of you who wandered Downtown Manhattan before the towers fell will recall, the dead zone around the WTC stretched for blocks - arguably was half the reason Downtown was moribund for so long. Take 4 city blocks and turn them into an anti-pedestrian zone, and it'll ripple outwards.

Somewhat surprisingly, Witold Rybczynski, an excellent urbanist, likes this monstrosity. He identifies the base as one of two weaknesses, but his problem is how it interrelates with the shaft - 20 stories up! Who cares? I mean, I do, but, really, that transition won't be at all visible from the street, where tens of thousands will stream by daily. Where millions will come to see the memorial. I suppose you'll get a decent view of it from the memorial, but that's not exactly the point, is it?

So aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how do you like the thing? Well, I'm not a fan in the least of the current vogue of faceted, irrational buildings. Barcelona sickens me. I didn't think much of Liebeskind's original design, and I think Version 2 was pretty flawed as well.

And yet. The new design is handsome enough, but it's nothing special, is it? I mean, Hong Kong has a half dozen towers that are more interesting, more memorable. It does a decent enough job of evoking without mimicking the Twin Towers, and I also disagree with Witold about the spire - I think it's very well-proportioned, and with some minor tweaking could work pretty well. But I just don't think it's up to this task.

Paul Goldberger had a great (now bittersweet) line about the Twin Towers - "so banal as to be unworthy of a Midwestern bank building." Well, I'd say that David Childs has given us something that would make a really nice Midwestern bank building. But "Freedom Tower"? I'm afraid not.



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