July 04, 2005

Happy 4th....

...and apologies for the light posting these past several days. I've had a couple urgent family matters to attend to, and I'm now airport-blogging (at Heathrow) in some haste as we're boarding soon. Perhaps appropriately, given that it's July 4th, today is my move back date to New York City. I touch down in the late afternoon local time, and am very excited to be coming back 'home.' I'm moving into my apartment tomorrow, and have a good deal of post-vacation catching up at the day job right out of the gates too--but you should nevertheless expect a healthy amount of blogging next week regardless (late evenings, as usual, but now evening is New York time!). On the agenda, particularly as I've spent a good deal of time just now in Europe, perhaps a few observations on the current political climate on the continent which some of you Euro-watchers may find of interest. In addition, I spent a decent amount of time on vacation wading and re-wading through the Fay, Jacoby, Schlesinger, Taguba, Church etc etc reports. So expect more on the "conscience caucus" soon too. Still, it will be a very hectic week, so go easy on me if productivity seems a bit light here and there!

Two final queries: 1) people seem to be having issues with posting comments so that they apparently need to re-post and then 'double' (really triple, as people then apologize for the double posting!) posts result. What is the issue? Perhaps I can have my software guy fix if people tell me what the specific issue is? Finally, and at the risk of mixing up the thread, you FT-subscribers out there should check out Amity Shlaes' piece today on the varied difficulties surrounding the rebuilding of Ground Zero.

The intro snippet:

One of the low moments in the history of New York came last week. That was when David Childs of the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill firm of architects unveiled yet another disappointing revision of plans for the Freedom Tower. George Pataki, the state’s governor, struggled for a comment that would convey official approval of the structure to replace the Twin Towers at Ground Zero. Finally he came up with one: “I think it will be very safe.”

This was telling for what it left out. The job of the Freedom Tower is to comfort Americans by sending a courageous and coherent message about the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Yet after nearly four years of discussions, meetings and drawings, the current plan for the Freedom Tower is neither inspiring nor coherent. The early asymmetrical plan was already frightening (is it old-fashioned to expect freedom to be symmetrical?). After the most recent alterations, hastily added following demands for greater security by the police commissioner, the Freedom Tower is more symmetrical, but not improved. Indeed it looks like a skyscraper from Coruscant, the ominous city in Star Wars. The 20-storey base of concrete is designed to discourage the approach of car bombers, but it also puts off others. Overall, as the critics have commented, “Freedom” is looking like a fortress.

As someone who will be living about half a dozen blocks north of Ground Zero, a query or two. Are we turning Freedom Tower into a Freedom Bunker? And how do we feel about the name Freedom Tower anyway? It strikes me as a bit lame, as does the 1776 feet requirement. This might not be the day to raise such awkward queries, but I wonder if we are provincializing somewhat the rebirth of lower Manhattan through displays of faux patriotism.

Shlaes also points out that the Empire State Building was built within 13 months in the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash. She ends her piece, thus:

Ground Zero structures are now scheduled for completion in 2010 [ed. note: Is it just me, or do most of us think it the re-building effort will go well beyond that?]--a timetable eight times longer than that for the Empire State Building. If New York is to sustain its grandeur, let alone honour its dead, it needs to find a way to proceed more forcefully. As Mies [Mies van der Rohe who, among other buildings, designed the Seagram Building] said: "Build. Don't talk."

Well, some talk is still needed, of course. But we need to get moving more swiftly, and I think we can do better than anything I've seen tabled to date. What do commenters think? When I moved away from New York in 2002, and not least probably because I was in the city on 9/11, I very much hoped I would be back in New York by the time construction began of whatever structure replaced the WTC. I had no idea if my job would take me back to the city by then, and am immensely gratified and lucky it has. But we have to do it right--and we only have one shot. Have we done the best we can in term of balancing architectural planning with security? Is the design ambitious enough? Has the base of the proposed building become too bunker like? And what of the name? After all, for instance, what is "world trade" if not an emblem of freedom itself--of the vast energy born of hard fought commerce and movement of capital? Why not call it what it was, no? World Trade Center. That really encapsulates the core of New York City--the so far indomitable financial powerhouse--and no one can take it away from us. Except, perhaps, governmental commissars peddling patriotic nostrums that ring too saccharine for the boisterous Big Apple.

P.S. Just FYI...I am going to keep the name Belgravia Dispatch, despite the move away from London, for a variety of reasons, not least to save people from having to re-enter the url on blog-rolls and the like. In addition, Belgravia is London's embassy district, and I do think it gives off a pretty good sense of a blog specializing in foreign affairs. You will note, however, that amidst some site improvements (enhancements to the comments feature, underlining of hyper-links when you roll-over, and more) we've removed the 'from Belgrave Square' portion to reflect that this blog is now based out of Manhattan. I'll update the bio soon too...

Posted by Gregory at July 4, 2005 11:54 AM | TrackBack (8)

Greg, we had the same problem at WoC, and it turned out to be an update to CPanel. Take a look at this postthis post. Dor more details, drop Joe Katzman a note...


Posted by: Armed Liberal at July 4, 2005 02:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The one thing I really hate about the new tower design is the 200 feet of concrete at its base. We want this building to function as a memorial to 9-11, but when the public visits Ground Zero, and they look at the "Freedom Tower", it isn't freedom they will see at ground level, but fear.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at July 4, 2005 04:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is a typical faux-patriotic moment. It's total garbage. They should have just let the owner of the land design a typical office building and let it go. Shows the heavy hand of government more than anything else.

Posted by: JackWayne at July 4, 2005 04:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As I recall the story, the original World Trade Center was nothing of the kind for most of its history. World Trade Center was just the name of the complex. The biggest tenants were state and city government agencies; there were some financial services firms in addition, especially (as we remember from 9/11) on the upper floors of the towers. But the complex was intended as a focus of renewing lower Manhattan, and turned out to supply that region with much more office space than its private economy really needed.

The architecture of the original WTC, too, took a while to grow on people. Early commentary compared the symmetrical towers to earlier New York skyscrapers most unfavorably -- "massive," "graceless," "crass" were some of the adjectives used. Only with time did the WTC become the landmark and symbol of New York City that we remember now.

I don't make these observations by way of commentary on the design for Freedom Tower. I'm only a student of architecture in the sense that I'm a student of Mexican food -- I appreciate something really brilliant and can recognize what is exceptionally awful, but the rest is all pretty much the same to me. My impression, though, is that people are looking here for something inspirational and symbolic as well as functional, and expecting a committee, or more accurately several committees, to deliver it. This is asking a lot.

My personal inclination would be to build on the WTC site with a view to making it work for the neighborhood and region, letting inspiration and message-sending take care of themselves. This may mean less office space and additional multi-story residential construction; it wouldn't be much for visitors to look at, but it might be more useful for people who work and live in the area. In any event, nothing built on this site will ease the pain caused by the memory of what was there once. It doesn't matter what the design of the central tower looks like, or what the tower is called. Build something that works for the New York area and in twenty years everyone will think it's a masterpiece.

Posted by: JEB at July 4, 2005 06:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

When updating/amending comments section, could you please add a spellcheck feature? I'm embarrased at some of my errors if I try to post while multi-tasking at work or home with kids.

Again thanks for a great blog, we all appreciate your efforts.

Posted by: wayne at July 4, 2005 07:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm not a fan of the concrete at the bottom either. There should have been a less invasive way to provide truckbomb security.

But I disagree with a lot of the bashing of the WTC memorial project. The WTC was an important symbol of America and 9/11 was a critical moment in our history. To just build a typical office building or turn it into condos would be tragic. Something moving, substantial, and evocative is needed touching on three themes: 1) a memorial to the casualties of that day, the wound to America more broadly, and the dawn of a new war 2) a sense of renewal and recovery from the destruction of 9/11 demonstrating American optimism and resolve; 3) a powerful visual complement to the NY skyline to fill the void of the twin towers loss.

The exact design was inevitably going to attract controversy. Such things always do, from the Vietnam memorial to original twin towers. So I'm not sure the Freedom Tower and WTC plaza design (or name) is my favorite but it does the job in the above critera.

Posted by: POTUS B at July 4, 2005 10:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hey - that crazy Coke lady was right. All we need is a "thumb"-looking building, just off-center of the shorter three buildings - you know, so it orients itself to Mecca - and I'm on-board.

Posted by: Tommy G at July 5, 2005 12:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Welcome back to NYC. Hopefully you won't attract 90s and humid weather!

What a mess that whole downtown thing is. It all makes me shake my head and lament the sad state of things, least of which is the poor taste of so many in the States (does that statement make me un-patriotic?).

As I can't say it better than others, or bear to follow it as much, here are some good links on it:

Nicolai Ouroussoff in the NYTimes: "A Tower of Impregnability, the Sort Politicians Love"

http://missrepresentation.com/ : "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

and Adam Greenfield: "When mediocrity wins"

Sadly I've come to agree with Greenfield's conclusion, even though it's basically an impossibility:

There are times - and this is one of them par excellence - when turning in a mediocre effort is profoundly worse than doing nothing at all. We will have occasion to relive this decision in shame.

Posted by: TG at July 5, 2005 06:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg - Once you get your bearings let's have lunch. Email me on the address on www.democracyarsenal.org Looking forward to catching up. Suzanne

Posted by: Suzanne at July 6, 2005 03:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

gd: people seem to be having issues with posting comments so that they apparently need to re-post... What is the issue?

This was a couple of weeks ago, but a couple of times I commented and saw your blog report a database error of some sort, but I waited a minute or two and saw my comment appear just fine. Of course, I suspect most people's instinctive reaction to this would be to immediately repost.

Posted by: fling93 at July 8, 2005 04:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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