December 27, 2003

Saltz on the WTC

Jerry Saltz unloads on the WTC memorials in the Village Voice, on the new tower design and architects in general:

September 11 is beyond words, buildings, and memorials. The eight finalists and Libeskind's plan are all examples of the corporate sublime. The buildings are bland, the memorials canned. They all sanitize and shrink-wrap our emotions in a fanatically tidy visual security blanket. Each makes us settle for less and turns a blind eye toward the heart. We, the living, deserve more. The dead, much more than that.

The spanking he gives architects is particularly stinging:

At a packed assembly of architects in Cooper Union's Great Hall, professionals from all over the globe met and listened to dozens of their own speak about the tragedy in ways I hadn't heard before or, thankfully, since. I love contemporary architecture, but I was appalled by the breathtaking opinion, expressed by many in attendance, that architects were the only ones who understood the site "in the deepest sense." Several exclaimed that "only Frank Gehry could build here," or extolled Zaha Hadid or Richard Meier. I admire all these people's work, but it seemed a bit premature and more than a little callous to be throwing names around. One expert brandished a bolt he swiped from the site; another griped that he hadn't been allowed to conduct his own "structural analysis." This would have been amusing had it not been so contemptible. These puffed-up professionals and autocratic academics believed that they were the ones who could set things right. Astonishingly, many referred to the attacks with a word I hadn't heard used to describe hell before:opportunity.

As they crowed, I cringed at how stone-blind, self-absorbed, and deluded they were. I thought about how for decades, architects like these have willfully disfigured our cities and eagerly torn down older, better buildings for their newer, lousy ones. Most defend their undertakings with hip theories or disdainful excuses about "uninformed clients" and "limited budgets." All imagined that what they had already ruined once, namely our cities, they could now fix. It was pathetic and unbearable.

He's right. Why is he right? The paucity of responses to the memorial and the tower is an indication of a crisis in architecture. I think it has something to do with the following:

1) ...where we are in history (a hyperextended postmodernity with no idea at large-anywhere, in how to turn the corner)...

2)...a professional identity instilled in the university that on one hand is a neccessity in order to build something as large as a building (temerity being an occupational hazard) and on the other inversely relfects the all too fragile position of power they have in the building process...

3)... an art form whose pallette includes the entire world, which in of itself can induce a possible G-d complex (more temerity)...

The alarm Saltz is pulling is important and neccessary, but artists (Saltz is a former painter) shouldn't indulge in shadenfreud. They-we, are subject to the same hubris and malaise as the architects are.

Posted by Dennis at December 27, 2003 5:59 PM

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