February 06, 2003

One Step Closer to New World Trade Order

So the contest is down to two. Two plans left for the rebuilding of the world trade center site. Libeskind vs. THINK. Herbert Muschamp puts for a forceful argument for THINK in the NYT. The core of his argument? That Libeskind's design is violent and hawkish. An argument that I've seen put forth a few times. And an argument that completely mistifies me.

Just how can a building, a static object (on a landscape scale), is not a weapon of war. The thing doesn't move, its got a vertical garden growing in it, how is it violent? Edgy and sharp, yes. But to compare a building to armed combat means taking architecture a bit too seriously. A skyscraper is an environment, not an action.

I'm not a huge fan of Libeskind's proposal, but its certainly not an attrocious act of war the way Muschamp wants to frame it. It's sharp, with a crystalline beauty. Its main flaw to me is the sunken monument, which cuts much of the structure off from the street. It is dark and overwealmed by the weight of concrete, a sharp contrast to the lightness of the thin tower above it.

A far better binary between Libeskind and THINK's projects is inner vs outer beauty. Libeskind is all about looking good in reality. THINK's beauty is conceptual. Its a beautiful theory of a building. A dream of a structure. You can play with it in your head endless, reshaping it into wonderous configurations. With Libeskind you get what you see. Sounds a bit shallow, except when you factor in that wonderous concept of reality. Theory like THINK's building rarely translates well into the real world of concrete, steel and glass.

It is reality that makes this binary different then the classic "style vs. substance". Libeskind has the style, but it also has the physical substance. This a building that can be built sucessfully. I will look similar to its final plans. THINK's theory is strong, but can it be built right? My bet is no? Not after the government, contractors, leaseholders and taxpayers are through with it. Yes if the dice fall perfectly, repeatedly, it could be fantastic. But I think reality will show us its a lot more fun to talk about the concept then actually create and live with it.

Posted by Abe at February 6, 2003 08:19 PM


Disagree. Imagine what it would be like to work in the Libeskind proposal day in/day out: brooding, psychologically difficult, oppressive.

Libeskind's hand is ideal for a structure with a brief like the Berlin Jewish Museum, where a certain oppression is, after all, the whole point. But as an ongoing experience? Would *you* want to?

Furthermore, HM is dead-on when he nails the Libeskind's proposal for kitsch ("1,776-foot tower"? Please.)

The difficult issue is, how to incorporate the violence of 09.11 into the new structure appropriately? Remembrance, respect for the fallen, the act of facing history squarely and honestly all demand this, in a way the THINK proposal does not (yet) address adequately. To my mind, the expert at this sort of incorporation is Lebbeus Woods - but then again, I wouldn't necessarily want to live or work in one of his, either.

What THINK gets right, utterly right, is that this needs to be about more than office space. Again, HM's take is unassailable.

I have to agree, in the past tense. HM take was unassailable, in December. His take at that time:

"If you are looking for the marvelous, here's where you will find it. Daniel Libeskind's project attains a perfect balance between aggression and desire... Mr. Libeskind has fashioned a new set of crystals, brilliantly faceted skyscrapers, forms that recreate the aspiration many architects felt when plate glass was new."

I don't know what Libeskind did to HM mother since then, but things seem to have gotten personal. Its not that I'm a massive fan of Libeskind, but HM is on the warpath, if anything is excessively violent here, its his words...

Heh heh heh. I'll ask him.