Monday, September 14, 2015

In the Shadow of Two Towers

While most persons were honoring the tragic events of 9/11 last Friday, the Donald used the occasion to promote his Twin Towers II, a failed 2005 attempt to reconstruct the old WTC towers by a group that branded itself the Twin Towers Alliance.   He called the new One World Trade Center "disgusting," designed by an ""egghead architect who really doesn't have much experience in designing something like this,"

Trump lent his name to the misguided venture, as efforts to get the original "Freedom Tower" off the ground had bogged down in petty disputes between Larry Silverstein, the real estate developer, the City Port Authority and the "egghead architect."  Silverstein wasn't happy with the winning design by Daniel Libeskind, demanding more space.  Silverstein had called in David Childs, of SOM fame, to redesign the main tower to better suit his interests.  However, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki liked the "Freedom Tower" and wanted its spirit to remain intact, in particular its height of 1776 feet, about 300 feet taller than the original twin towers.  Eventually, the dispute was settled with a greatly modified version of the tower more along Childs' lines, but with the height remaining the same.  Silverstein had wanted an additional 300 feet, or about 30 stories.

New Yorkers seem mixed on the new tower, and as usual Trump chose to exploit these feelings.  Most disgruntled, however, is Ken Gardner who designed the Twin Towers II, believing this was the only way to send terrorists a message by making it look like they failed in their mission.  I suppose in Gardner's mind, his new improved twin towers would have served as memorial monoliths to the 3000 who died that day.

The sad part is that the design of the original towers was one of the reasons so many persons died, as the fire spread rapidly through the tubular steel exo-skeleton, distributing the heat quickly throughout the building.  Of course, neither the original architect nor city authorities imagined two planes flying into them one day, but this unique construction is what ultimately led to the Twin Towers downfall.

When the World Trade Center first opened its doors in 1973, Minoru Yamasaki's design wasn't very well received.  Louis Mumford, the leading architectural critic of that time, called the Twin Towers giant filing cabinets.  Ada Louise Huxtable found the buildings disturbing.  They rose over 1400 feet straight from the ground, giving one the feeling of vertigo just looking up at them.  The plaza itself was a barren slab with an abstract sculpture that looked like Atlas holding up the world.  I suppose it was fitting for the new masters of the universe in a building complex that came to represent the financial center of the world.

There were over 5200 entries in the competition held in 2002 for the redesign of One World Trade Center, many of which evoked the Twin Towers.  I particularly liked this entry by THINK, which included Japanese architect Shigeru Ban.  However, it was Daniel Libeskind's design, which appeared to evoke the Stature of Liberty, that won the competition.

It is true that Libeskind didn't have much experience in designing something like this, but that is what engineers are for.  However, the tower is just one element of the overall design of One World Trade Center.  The new plaza is far more interactive than the original plaza was, with the Twin Towers beautifully evoked in twin fountains.  This is all the memory we need of the original towers.

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