Ungainly BIG steps skyward

“Timber!” shouts Bjarke Ingels in video. Only kidding. (Silverstein/Vimeo)

Rumors of BIG’s taking the 2 World Trade Center job from Sir Norman Foster erupted as news today. Silverstein Properties, the owner of the WTC site, has hired Bjarke Ingels Group and has released a video to instruct the rest of us of the clichés that will apply to the project from now on.

In this rendering, Norman Foster's design is second from left. (Foster + Partners)

In this rendering, Norman Foster’s design is second from left. (Foster + Partners)

Stepped gardens. (Silverstein/Vimeo)

Stepped gardens. (Silverstein/Vimeo)

The video, “The New 2 World Trade Center,” was produced by Silverstein and sent to the TradArch list by Gary Brewer, who also sent an Architects Journal piece, “BIG reveals replacement for Foster’s World Trade Centre scheme,” by Laura Mark. Brewer opines: “If you watch the video you notice two things: he is young and charismatic. He is a bit like Duany thirty years ago but he is an architect not a planner. He will be with us for a long time. Where is the traditional version of him?”

Well, I could name more than a few, I think, except that Ingels has the fawning press that any of my nominees would have if the field of architecture weren’t so crooked.

Speaking of crooked, the proposal for 2 World Trade Center, as you’ll see in the video, features a set of boxes planted stepwise atop one another, reaching up 80 stories in leaps that widen horizontally as they rise, offering a twisted appearance from a distance and no doubt from close up as well.

But who cares! Each stepped balcony will have its own garden!!! That ought to earn it a platinum LEED sustainability junket if anything will. Be still my beating heart!

Here is one of the more absurd passages from the Architects Journal story, which quotes Bjarke Ingels in full fantasia regarding the derivation of his building’s elements:

The design of 2 WTC is derived from its urban context at the meeting point between two very different neighborhoods: the Financial District with its modernist skyscrapers and TriBeCa with its lofts and roof gardens. The design combines the unique qualities of each, melding high-rise with low-rise and modern with historical.

What a crock! It is an ungainly staircase threatening to tip over. The last major structure in the WTC redevelopment plan would throw a hammer into the gearbox of what symmetry remains of SOM’s dumbing up of Daniel Libeskind’s original WTC master plan. Foster’s generic slant-roofed glass had matched, in a quaddy sort of way, the design of 1 WTC. The BIG design comes off snazzy in the Silverstein/BIG vid, of course. The imagery is quite lovely, I must admit, though I hardly expect the finished product to gleam with such noble plasticity. Still, don’t take any wooden nickels. Big Modernism doesn’t get much closer to beauty than this.

BIG dances with TWISTED. (Silverstein/Vimeo)

BIG dances with TWISTED. (Silverstein/Vimeo)

Is modern architecture allowed to do that? Careful! Someone might accuse Foster of committing beauty. No wonder the hook was deployed to yank him off the stage. No such concern need wrinkle the BIGgian forehead.

[Here is my post on this, “BIG kicks Foster of 2 WTC?” from June 5, in which I mocked the idea that traditional architecture is conservative by wondering why Silverstein didn’t hire Bob Stern to design a building for Rupert Murdoch and Fox News.]

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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