Perambulating the Bounds

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Interesting building, questionable use

When they announced the plans for the cultural institutions at the WTC site in NY, I was bummed out that they would include a “Freedom Center.” I don’t see how something like that could be anything other than sanctimonious and boring, attractive only as an opportunity to wallow in outrage or self-righteousness, like listening to Rush Limbaugh. This use seemed to take away one opportunity to add to the true cultural facilities in the city. Of course, the other organizations at the site will be legitimate groups like the Drawing Center and the Joyce Theater, but why not give more space for these kinds of uses. You’ve got the Memorial Gardens to commemorate the dead, so a museum dedicated to a safe interpretation of the idea of freedom seems like a waste of space and resources. Now if they wanted to get into more radical realms of freedom and autonomy, that might get interesting. Fat chance.

In spite of that, the design they unveiled this week sounds great:

When this thing gets built it may be worth the trip to see the building but skip the exhibits. Sort of like the Clinton Presidential Library (


  • This comment is not about the newly unveiled cultural center at Ground Zero but a related topic – the Freedom Tower.
    I personally think that the compromise that came about as a result of teaming Daniel Libeskind with David Childs of SOM (the revered old guard of the American skyscraper) dulled or diluted Libeskind's vision. I have seen images of three different versions of the Freedom Tower: Libeskind's original design; the collaborative effort with Childs; and a third, a variation on the first. I was concerned when Libeskind's original design was in effect turned over to a committee. I think that the collaboration with Childs, at a glance, preserves little of the original. The third version that I saw, which included the two footprint memorials, struck me as a favorable solution: an elegant design that is less radical than, yet faithful to, Libeskind's original.
    Now the Freedom Tower is being re-designed due to concerns about security issues. When the decade-long process of designing and building the tower is finally completed, there is a good chance that the Freedom Tower will no longer be the tallest skyscraper in the world.
    The Freedom Tower itself is in some ways like the United Nations Headquarters of 55 years ago. Both are projects of international significance. Both were initially designed by visionaries: Daniel Libeskind and Le Corbusier respectively. Both projects were then given to other designers who in the end simply aped what had been proposed in the first place.

    By Anonymous John Cunningham, at 5:01 PM  

  • John,
    Welcome to the blog.
    I think I had a very similar reaction to yours upon first seeing the Libeskind plan. When I saw the drawings, and then when it was chosen, I thought "my lord, they might actually do something interesting and even great here." As you say, once Childs and Larry Silverstein got mixed up in the design, the possibility for something wonderful seemed at risk. And now this business with security concerns threatens to trump anything sublime or beautiful that might occur.
    The imposition of security as our highest design value threatens to make our country even more tedious and hostile to inspiration than ever. You go to DC, and there are barricades everywhere. The idea of threat interposes between you and any experience of architecture or urban design as enjoyment. It makes me think of what it must have been like to be in Berlin during WWII, hunkered down against the inevitable torrent that would pour down upon the city. But in our case, I have to say the torrent is much more projected, a useful fiction for the imposition of social control. The Red Army is not marching towards our gates.
    Perhaps we shall get good at designing fortresses, with some of the poetry of ancient cities and their walls. But it's sad to think that's what it comes to. Is a Freedom Tower possible, an optimistic open piece of design? Or is the best we can hope for the As Much Freedom As A Very Dangerous World Will Allow tower? I don't believe one can really embrace freedom when you are focused on threats, on that which limits you.

    By Blogger David Maddox, at 6:59 PM  

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