900 pages on WTC rebuild

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Newly opened Liberty Park at WTC. (AP photo/Mary Altaffer)

I am remiss in not having been aware, until yesterday, of Columbia University emerita professor Lynne Sagalyn’s 900-page book on the politics and economics of rebuilding the World Trade Center after 9/11. It is called  Power at Ground Zero: Politics, Money, and the Remaking of Lower Manhattan , and yes, it is 900 (901 to be exact) pages long, small type, wide format. Her website links to an interesting review of it in the Washington Free Beacon, “Life Goes On, Even at Ground Zero,” by Bruce Fleming. His review might easily have also been a review of Judith Dupré’s fascinating book One World Trade Center: Biography of the Building, which I reviewed at length a couple of days ago. The sensibility of Fleming’s review, if I have interpreted it correctly, is that people who visit the site take its mammoth pretensions in stride. He does not directly criticize its design, certainly not as sharply as I do, but I think his piece captures the public’s attitude toward the WTC rebuild to perfection. Here is an excerpt, in which he seems to express a mild exasperation at the skeletal PATH hub station:

If I write a book, you don’t have to read it. But if, like Santiago Calatrava, you got the contract to design the place where my PATH train from Newark, N.J., pulls in, I have no choice but to be in your building.

As I learned on a recent trip, the sensation of arriving via the PATH from Harrison, N.J., and ascending into the “Oculus” is like finding yourself, like Jonah or Pinocchio, in the belly of a whale. You’re in Calatrava’s “transit center” that I read is supposed to look from the outside like (oy vey, as New Yorkers say) hands releasing a dove. Only it doesn’t look like hands releasing a dove; it looks like what’s left of the Thanksgiving turkey carcass after a particularly hearty repast. But be warned: it’s not just a train station. You’re not meant just to use it; you’re supposed to “get” it. The good news is that no points are taken off if you just shrug and move on to see what else there is to see. …

At Ground Zero, there are no realistic sculptures. Just Michael Arad’s holes in the ground, vast black square drain holes for water that falls rather than shooting up, located where the twin towers were located. If you didn’t know why they look the way they do, and why they are so big, and why they are here, you wouldn’t know. It’s conceptual. And the so-called “Freedom Tower” is similarly symbolic, purposely made to be 1776 feet high, though in fact a rather forlorn single skyscraper looking a little out of place.

As an ensemble, it makes no sense, and we have to have it explained to us—as Sagalyn does. In this it’s like much contemporary art, which is about the concept, not the object. Knowing about the political wrangles for power that produced this jumble of competing ideas makes it cohere, sort of. Oh, so that’s why it’s this way! …

Anyway, Fleming offers an interesting take on the WTC rebuild, maybe not as sharply as my own but perhaps deeper in the way he takes it in stride. I certainly hope to read Lynne Sagalyn’s book, at least those parts of it that bear more on design – and especially stylistic bias, if any, in the WTC design process – than on the economics of real estate. Fascinating topic, to be sure, but frankly, at 900 pages, we all are forced to set our priorities and budget our time. Still …

About David Brussat

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. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am 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 employ my writing and editing to improve your work, 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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1 Response to 900 pages on WTC rebuild

  1. Stephen J. ORourke says:

    Ordered both books today. Got Dupre’s book for $3.95 (used-but like new!) Coming Sunday? Making pasta with meatballs and sausage


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