Architectural writer Nobel takes a gimlet-eyed view of the reconstruction process, analyzing how various characters went about filling the multifaceted void left by the erasure of the World Trade Center.
After a short-lived grace period, speculation asserted its hold on the future, the author states in his insightful and sophisticated critique. Real estate came first, symbolism last. Whether or not Minoru Yamasaki’s original World Trade Center was truly a grand monument to humanism, any gestures toward redemption and healing never had a chance in the post-9/11 world: the new structure would be an office space, period, and if any therapeutic meaning was in evidence, it would be at the behest of the lease-holder. Larry Silverstein wanted to get the job done in the best modern tradition of New York City construction: cheap and fast. What was peddled as citywide, if not nationwide, renewal was just so much circus involving glancing conflicts, collisions of interests, makeshift resolutions, chance, and constructed happenings. After much folderol over public input, after the open forums, after Herbert Muschamp’s trumpeting of an antibureaucratic agenda in the New York Times, after all the emotional riptides that forced Governor George Pataki to search outside his vested interests and gained Studio Daniel Libeskind the design award, what lay at the heart of reconstruction was an architectural bureaucracy, spearheaded and typified by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (Silverstein’s chosen firm), for whom expressive content goes begging. By the time SOM was brought into the picture, the public was a quaint apostrophe, and its need for shelter for the city’s grief would not be a major factor. SOM would trim Libeskind’s grand sails and signal the ascendancy of engineering over art: let them rotate; there was rent to be made on this turf.
Flintier than Paul Goldberger’s Up from Zero (p. 724), unsparingly showing New York City’s power brokers taking a nation-bending hole in the ground and mixing into it a witch’s brew of ego, politics, greed, and amnesia.