|I'm certainly glad the Libeskind plan was chosen - I think, out of all the plans, it was the one that expressly didn't evoke the former WTC in its lines, its construction, its opressiveness. The main spire, though mawkish at exactly 1776 feet, it elegant, graceful, in a way none of the other plans were. |
There will undoubtedly be some outcry against this choice - in addition to Rudy Guiliani, who has set himself up in loco parentis of the relatives of the victims of 9-11, much of the public will declare themselves dissastisfied with the design - that it's not perfect. Additionally, in the waning weeks of the competition, the Libeskind plan attracted many high-profile enemies, including some early supporters, like New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp.
Muschamp's critique is interesting and worth dwelling on for a moment, if only because he expressed great enthusiasm for Libeskind's project when the plans were initially unveiled. Discounting imputed political motives (Muschamp is a great champion and friend of Rafeal Vilooly, one of the members of the THINK team), Muschamp's argument against Libeskind's plan is a moral one. The most highly touted feature of the Libeskind's project was his plan to leave bare and exposed the "bathtub" of the former WTC as a memorial to the victims. This evocation of the underworld of twisted metal and crushed concrete was thematically balanced by the rocketing spire of the gardens, but surely the depths would overshadow the heights to any visitor to the site.
While a stark memorial such as this is immediately appealing to those of us who viscerally dislike totemic arches, crosses, domes and the other bric-a-brac of commemoration, and seems to convey deep feeling and gravity without the pomp of a man-made shrine to the victims, an alternate interpretation surfaced.
Muschamp (and others) upon further reflection of the Libeskind plan (the fact that the Libeskind plan deserved such pouring over goes unremarked), decided that rather than a momument to the spirit of New York, Libeskind's plan would be a momument to violence - that is, the city would forever bear the scar of the attacks, rather than triumph over them (as in the Utopian vision of the THINK plan). In effect, the terrorists would have been co-authors of Libeskind's plan.
The exposed bathtub (even, as requested by Port Authority, attenuated to a depth of 30 feet rather than the 70 (IIRC) the subbasments actually extended to) would be a wound, and by implication, Libeskind's soaring tower (alone among the designs for being, well, alone - single - rather than trying to recoup the mulitiple skyline of the orignal towers. A canny and risky move for the architect, given public sentiment, and one likely to pay off) was a knife, a jagged weapon that loomed over the new civic center. It's still beautiful, Muschamp says, but it's the beauty of the blade. No life can thrive under that shadow.
To me, however, life under Libeskind's beautiful blade is preferrable to living in the oppressive Utopia envisioned by the THINK plan. What, I think, eventually attracted Muschamp and others to the THINK plan was the chance to social engineer, to use this new architecture as a symbol for a future - a future that's suspended in the sky, but built on the ruins below. This kind of utopian architecture always bears the fatal flaw of being simultaneously ahead and behind it's time: immediately after being built, it's a monument to the past's view of the future. The THINK towers try to stretch forward in time, rising from the moment the old WTC fell, but that's simply not possible. A building is forever anchored in time and place, and to try to make a building that transcends time and place is folly.
That is not to say that great architecture cannot be timeless and enduring, and indeed improve over the years. Far from it - I think the Libeskind building will be such an enterprise - initially assailed by critics public and private for being inappropriate, too costly, too "hubrisitic", too different, but will shape the future of Manhattan in a positive and much beloved way. Hopefully, Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Pataki, and the rest will stick to their guns with this decision no matter what the public outcry against (and there will be one). Given Bloomberg's gutsy nature (like him or hate him (no one "loves" him)), I think there is potential for an outcome that is architecturally and socially pleasing.