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Let's Get Critical: Judging WTC Architecture with Dash of Politics

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The tenth anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001 is a mere two days away (as you may have noticed) and everyone's on best behavior—public interest groups, victims' rights organizations, developers, city government, even the carpenters' union. So how much room in this landscape of polite commemoration is there for cold, hard, architectural criticism? Enter Bloomberg's James Russell, The New Yorker's Paul Goldberger, and Philip Nobel fo Metropolis, who accept the challenge (Nicolai and his replacement, Michael Kimmelman, remain mum); here we outline the salient points.

The New Yorker (Paul Goldberger)
The Gist: Praises Daniel Libeskind's master plan, which combines commerce and commemoration in equal measure, while pointing out that the site has turned into a developers' flagship and that none of the consulting architects "have produced anything close to their best work."
Praise: On Arad's memorial fountains, "You wouldn’t mistake it for an ordinary park or urban piazza, but it isn’t a cemetery, either. You feel a sense of dignity and repose, and you see the shapes of the renewed city in the rising skyscrapers, as you should."
Zinger: On the Snøhetta-designed memorial museum, "The shape is a little discordant; from some angles, the building looks like a metallic whale beached beside the memorial. I didn’t realize from the original plans how intrusive a building would seem right there."

Bloomberg (James S. Russell)
The Gist: A ten-year memorial deadline and competing interests results in a "compromised, but elegant muddle" that is more passive than arresting.
Praise: On Arad's memorial, "Visitors can remember loved ones or pray as the trees cast dappled shadows on passersby chatting with friends. Recognizing loss while getting on with our lives is an enormously affirming gesture."
Zinger: "Respecting the wishes of those 9/11 victim families that deemed the tower footprints to be sacred ground, officials dedicated almost half of the Trade Center site to the memorial. That decision proved very expensive, helping to push the cost to an unconscionable $700 million."

Metropolis (Philip Nobel)
The Gist: Conflating the time and place of "nine-eleven" into one overarching meme leaves us sanitized and unable to render respect on an architectural scale.
Praise: None! "There is no sacred ground at Ground Zero."
Zinger: "What we all call 'the footprints' are really an opportunistic half-memory of the towers’ roof plan, projected down on to the site plan with cartographic temerity."
Seriously, ouch: "Putative sanctity is a product of the rampant political opportunism that drove and defined the redevelopment process."
· Shaping the Void: How successful is the new World Trade Center? [The New Yorker]
· Sparkling Pools Mist Names of Dead With Grace at 9/11 Memorial [Bloomberg]
· Memory Holes [Metropolis]

Metropolis

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