Today is the 15th anniversary of 9/11. The nation has handled poorly both the rebuilding of Ground Zero and the memorialization of the attack, its victims, its brave first responders, and the nation’s anguish, which has barely abated, or so it seems to me, though surely few of us ponder its significance every day. The nation was changed by the attack, but used predictable and even deadening tropes to honor it. Architecture has probably served America worse than any other institution involved in 9/11’s aftermath.
That includes the tallest building to emerge from the ground at the site in Lower Manhattan. One World Trade Center is modern architecture. Modern architecture is the brand of the 1 percent. Both modernism and the wealthy are viewed with skepticism by most Americans, but the media have not dared to take up the issue of the public’s dislike of modernism. The lead terrorist, Mohammed Atta, hated modern architecture, too, and that says something we are bound at least to notice, if not necessarily to respect.
The best book, I’m sure, to come out about One WTC is by Providence native Judith Dupré. I do not say that because I have read other books about the same building. I have not even read One World Trade Center: Biography of a Building. I say it because Dupré is the best writer of books of this kind that there is. Her books about skyscrapers, bridges, churches and memorials were best of class, and I’m certain this one is, too. I will read it and I will let you know in a fuller report. This post merely brings attention to the book on the 9/11 anniversary following its publication last April by Little, Brown.
Biography of a Building is mostly about 1 WTC but it also addresses the process that led to the massive project to rebuild after 9/11, including the design competition won by Daniel Libeskind. The collection of architectural graphics assembled here is breathtaking. There are chapters on all the other structures that have arisen at Ground Zero – the memorial, the museum, the transportation center and each of the other towers. I’ve already described some of it in “Up up up in time and space,” “Calatrava’s dinosaur” and a host of posts dragging the Ground Zero megaproject through the mud.
Modern architecture is a soul-killing endeavor, but its hurtfulness would not be so difficult to resist were it not for the quality it has, at its best, to dazzle us. This quality is, alas, inimical to great urbanism, and it more frequently manifests itself in a tedious egoism. But it undeniably exists, and it may be best caught by Dupré in her chapter on the many feats of engineering that went into the design of 1 WTC. But the ability of 1 WTC to amaze is caught also, in this glossy coffee-table-plus of a book, by the superlative photographs that Dupré has selected from a range of artists and sources.
I hate to say it, and it is certainly not my excuse for not having read it yet, but I am almost afraid of this book, since Dupré might have produced such a powerful work that the dislike of modern architecture that I and many others feel could be at risk.
… Nah. But still, as you reflect today on 9/11, put time aside to get the book.