I wrote this years ago, but as we remember the events of today, 11 years ago, I thought I'd re-post my thoughts.
The Power of a Symbol
years ago, today, I sat in class, structures class if I remember
correctly, trying to stay awake. After all, it was an 8:30 lecture. The
moment class ended, a student stood up and said, simply, “The World
Trade Center was just attacked.” It was 9:25 am.
student walked out without saying another word, and for a moment, I
thought it was some weird practical joke. I would find out, five minutes
later, eyes riveted to a television set in the department office, that
it was not. It’s been said over and over again, the world changed that
day. It’s not an exaggeration.
I watched, on television, as the World Trade Center crumbled down,
floor by floor, until it was lost in the cloud of its own dust. I
remember our academic advisor bursting out into tears, as we stared on
in disbelief. I remember walking home, after school officially closed,
thinking, how could the weather be so perfect, the day so unbelievably
beautiful, when, elsewhere, chaos was erupting.
we would learn, the targets were specific. The buildings were chosen
for the special meanings they embodied. They were symbols, markers. It
was meant to be as significant a psychological blow as it was a physical
we look on, five years later, so much has yet to be done. The wound is
still open, the healing not really begun. In the wake of 9/11, a call
went out, a challenge made, one which some considered the opportunity
for architects to reassert the value of their work. Rebuild on
suddenly sacred ground, and create something that respected the past
while inspiring the future. It was a wish for remembrance. It was a cry
fear for the success. I feel deflated by the solution. And perhaps,
more than anything else, I am disappointed by the process. Politics,
egos, personal interests – they dominate the rebuilding process. They
are the stories to arise from the rubble of that day.
years ago, during a scholarship interview, I was asked the question on
everyone’s mind, “What do you think should be done at the World Trade
Center site?” A loaded question. I faced four strangers who looked on
told them that what I hoped for. I hoped for a place that would
remember the significance of the event while engendering new life, new
activity, a new spirit. I hoped that, in the process of reconstruction,
disparate parties might unite under a common goal, a vision that could
encapsulate the hopes, memories, desires of the expectant millions
watching. I told them that the challenge, above anything else, would be
reconciling the desires of those who saw the site as a massive
graveyard and those who saw the site as an opportunity for massive
redevelopment. I told them that any solution would have to successfully
address both. That life and death, happiness and sadness, would need
to exist, side by side. I told them that I believed architecture had
the power to reach such greatness.
still believe in that greatness. I still believe that architecture can
take on such weight, such responsibility. It is the power of a symbol –
this ability for concrete objects to illicit abstract emotions. I just
don’t know, given the process so far, if the results will ever meet
the heavy expectations. Some might say nothing would. And perhaps they
are right. But, perhaps, if the process hadn’t been derailed the way it
has, there might have been a better chance for success.
Labels: Architecture, Criticism, Inspirations