A Memorial to Forget

From the November 2014 Print Edition

Monuments have always been intended to embody the past and elevate the spirit, but the new $700-million National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan is a downer in more ways than one. The same goes for the dismal architectural ensemble taking shape around it.The original World Trade Center was plopped down like an enormous dystopian incubus on the fine-grained urban fabric of Lower Manhattan. Lest we forget, this district is a cradle of American civilization. George Washington’s first inauguration took place a short walk from the World Trade Center, on the porch of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s long-lost Federal Hall. Many monumental buildings are located in the vicinity—City Hall, the New York Stock Exchange, Trinity Church, St. Paul’s Chapel, and Cass Gilbert’s soaring Woolworth Building and magnificent former U.S. Customs House, to name just a few. In this setting, the World Trade Center—notorious for its sterile, meretricious twin towers and desolate, wind-ravaged plaza raised above the surrounding streets—epitomized the post-war breakdown of American architecture.How pathetic it is that the World Trade Center’s new iteration, including the memorial and museum, shows so little improvement over the original. Like its predecessor, the new World Trade Center confronts us with a panorama in which structural engineering and gigantic dimensions have trumped civic art and the human scale. It too is unworthy of its historic surroundings. Continue Reading »