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Critic Believes One World Trade Center Is a Missed Opportunity

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More than the Twin Towers before it, 1 World Trade Center has become a symbol for New York City, both of its past and its future. While masses of spectators still flock to the site endowed with memory and hope, New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman argues, in his new review of One World Trade Center, that the building fails New Yorkers, perhaps not as a symbol but as a response to the neighborhood's and city's changing ambitions. Instead, for Kimmelman, the building gets hung up on its own smoke-and-mirrors antics. Now, the thrust of Kimmelman's argument in 10 quotes:

1) "1 World Trade speaks volumes about political opportunism, outmoded thinking and upside-down urban priorities ... Even a tower with an outsize claim on the civic soul needs to be more than tall and shiny."
2) "I find myself picturing General MacArthur in aviator sunglasses when I see the building. Its mirrored exterior is opaque, shellacked, monomaniacal."

3) "It abruptly stops at 1,368 feet, the height of the former twin towers, achieving its symbolic target number—1,776 feet—by virtue of a skinny antenna. Counting the antenna is like counting relish at a hot dog eating contest."

4) "Replacing the twin towers with another giant office building was somehow supposed to show New York's indomitable spirit ... To the contrary, 1 World Trade implies (wrongly) a metropolis bereft of fresh ideas. It looks as if it could be anywhere, which New York isn't."

5) "There had been talk after Sept. 11 about the World Trade Center development's including housing, culture and retail, capitalizing on urban trends and the growing desire for a truer neighborhood ... But the idea was brushed aside by the political ambitions of former Gov. George E. Pataki of New York, a Republican, and the commercial interests of Larry Silverstein, the developer with a controlling stake at the site..."

6) "Instead, the building, built as if on a dare to be the tallest, required unprecedented fortifications at astronomical costs, on an immensely difficult site."

7) "The building didn't end up exactly as the architect pictured it. Few buildings do. I'm not sure that the differences are what tipped the scale."

8) "One World Trade is symmetrical to a fault, stunted at its peak, its heavy corners the opposite of immaterial. There's no mystery, no unraveling of light, no metamorphosis over time, nothing to hold your gaze."

9) "With its hotel, offices, restaurants, apartments and observation deck, it is also an all-in-one mixed-use development, built on a busy transit hub. The point is that something better was possible in Lower Manhattan."

10) "...1 World Trade is a cautionary tale. The public had a big stake in making it great. That stake wasn't leveraged."

It shouldn't be a total surprise that Kimmelman is down on 1 World Trade Center. Readers got a glimpse into his thinking toward the building's surrounding public plaza in late May when he reviewed the then newly-unveiled 9/11 Memorial, pointing out the space's inability to reconcile the interests of real estate developers, the victims' families, and everyone else.

Of course Kimmelman's views are controversial. A tipster writes, "I am not overly receptive of most buildings (insert Frank Gehry gesture) but 1 World Trade is an exceptional design victory over inevitable failure." The comments section on the original Times post is a hotbed of contention. Commenter mj writes, "It's a perfect symbol of who we've become. An expensive inelegant fist, blotting the skyline, completely ignorant of anything surrounding it and taking nothing into account of the humans that are meant to inhabit it." To the contrary, commenter barbara8101 writes,

"So you architects and critics can fuss all you like. You can point out what you think are its design deficiencies. You can tell us what you would have preferred. You can show off your knowledge of corners and light and everything else about urban planning, and tell everyone how stupid they were in 'allowing' this building to be constructed. But here is one former New Yorker who still identifies herself as such who loves the building and what it stands for." Although 1 World Trade Center does not have people singing in unified praise, it is, one hopes, here to stay.
· A Soaring Emblem of New York, and Its Upside-Down Priorities [NYT]
· Kimmelmania archives [Curbed]
· All 1 World Trade Center coverage [Curbed]

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