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Symbolism

September 12, 2016

Buildings exist in time and space. But buildings also exist in memory and hope. Buildings are uniquely made by humans so they embody all we are, were and want to be.

The righteous evocations of powerlessness, outrage, anger and loss that the endless Twin Towers images we see every 9/11 are natural. But sometimes imagery, intentionally or unintentially, says more than just just what the pictures convey.

The grandfather of the Yamasaki Twin Towers was Rockefeller Center: buildings, yes, but symbols of power in a time of cultural impotence and fear: The Great Depression. Rockefeller Center was a huge private effort when nothing was getting built that was not government funded. Rockefeller Center was also the architectural pry bar that ultimately opened up 6th Avenue to a marching band of Mid-Century Corporate Modernism as Giants McGaw Hill, Time-Warner and others spent the 50’s and 60’s creating a Brave New World of architectural corporatism, when power in blank immensity rendered humanity subserviant minions in the Effort of Profit working in Stacks of Money parading up The Avenue of the Americas.

The same sense that Money makes not only America but the the entire World go ’round migrated, naturally, down to Wall Street, where a corporate/government dance built the 2 tallest stacks of cash in the whole wide world – the World Trade Center.

They were both awkward and tacky buildings, as polyester in countenance as any powder blue suit in a disco. But they symbolized the faith in the Geatest Generation’s rise from the End of the World, not unlike Rockefeller Center – the Big Finish to the Avenue of the America’s Corporate Parade.

So when this happened a generation after they were built:

image

It was a human tragedy of the highest order. The attack was the worst kind of evidence of humanity’s potential for pure, unalloyed Evil. It was an instant Holocaust. It’s victims were not only innocent but completely unsuspecting. It was cowardice wrapped in insanity presented in mindless hatred.

But it was also a symbol of an end to other things completely unrelated to terrorism.

The convergence of this human event upon a human place is a visual pivot: not from mid-century Corporate Architecture of the blank tower to equally scaleless sculpitecture, or simply to the shiny polygonal corporate crystal of the Towers’ replacement.

The explosive destruction of icons of the 1970’s was not just about the point where steel loses what strength at what temperature, it was also the completely unintentional representation of the complete pivot the world was just taking in 2001.

Just after a Tech Bubble pop, the new Millennium saw cyber communication begin a generation of sweeping away paper. The Towers’ explosion and collapse was a terrifyingly perfect symbol of the impending catastrophic end of everything that built Rockefeller Center, the Avenue of America’s March of Skyscapers and those Twin Towers.

On Sept. 1oth, 2001 my office still drafted on Mylar, we had a Diazo machine to print – yes we had a CAD station, we communicated with email, but my last manuscript was delivered in paper, as well as a bunch of CD’s. But we all knew that our office’s central modalities of production were dead methods walking. The interns  in my office were still taking professional exams at appointed times and places, Schools of architecture had isolated “computer labs” where CAD drawing was treated like dissecting a fetal pig.

The New York Times was a pre-eminent media empire in stacks and stacks of paper. Telephones still simply connected humans. We all knew there was new technology: we did not know it would completely explode almost every given in our lives.

We all knew the paper world was over on Selt. 10, 2001, but it was just a matter of time, but 15 years later I really do not know what the final result will be. Just like geopolitics after 9/11.

The world pivoted when two buildings and over 3000 innocents were murdered, but the timing of those tragedies was the unintended, but real, signature symbol a cultural pivot too. Paper has become a museum piece at Yale’s renovated book museum, the Beinecke.

On Sept 12, 2001 people still wrote letters, sent faxes, my employees manually drafted, I smelt ammonia in my office: but it, the world everyone had grown up in, gone to school in, and worked in was explosively changing, It would come crashing down, not with accommodations and mitigation, but in a violent break that still has undefined collateral damage.

I wish we knew how it will be rebuilt.

 

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