Saturday, November 29, 2003

From the New York Times, Saturday, November 29

"Vision vs. Symbols and Politics at Ground Zero" by Herbert Muschamp.

The Statue of Liberty's iconic arm is echoed in Daniel Libeskind's tower

"Although it failed to produce a work of genius, the competition to design a memorial to the victims of 9/11 was well worth undertaking.

. . .

Much mirth was made in August, when it was announced that the design [of the Freedom Tower] would be a collaboration between David Childs, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and Daniel Libeskind, master planner of Ground Zero. How could two such conspicuously different architects possibly see eye to eye on the shape of a bedpost, much less the look of the tallest earthly construction yet raised by humankind?"

Mr. Muschamp suggests David Libeskind may just be a "victim of the dream he must have wished for."

". . . I'm thinking about a wish practically universal among architects: the desire for a dream client who writes the checks and forever after holds his tongue.

But dreams often turn rapidly into nightmares. The ideal patron can turn out to be the client from hell.

At Ground Zero, the ideal patron arrived earlier this year in the form of Governor Pataki. He has been paving the road with good intentions ever since."

According to Mr. Muschamp this is entirely because of politics. The events of 9/11 were crucial in the decision to set the Republican convention in New York next year, New York being perceived as the ideal backdrop for this event. He continues to say:

"In Mr. Libeskind's vision, Freedom Tower is represented as the Statue of Liberty's landlocked twin, a stylized figure with arm held aloft to hold a broadcasting antenna. (emphasis added)
. . .

But in this context, the Statue of Liberty is not a politically neutral symbol, any more than the word patriot is a politically neutral term when used to name an act of Congress. It is a logo: the visual icon of a national brand that does not entice all shoppers.

With its symbolic height of 1,776 feet and its upraised arm, the Freedom Tower is a piece of bombast. It responds in a particular way to a particular event. It is being forced upon us, by public officials whose political agendas are hardly obscure. And it does not speak for those of us who believe it is wrong to nationalize ground zero symbolically.

. . . Recall the terms set in February, when Mr. Libeskind was chosen to help the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation design a master plan. There was no "winning plan". Rather, the design study was in the nature of a job audition to hire an architect or a team to help prepare one.

The job description did not include the design of individual buildings. Mr. Libeskind stated then: 'It has to be done by different architects. That's the way New York was built.' (emphasis added)

The study project stood for something valuable: the hope that ideas could find their way in the modern world. The inclusion of Mr. Libeskind was also a sign of hope. He represented a potential that his designs for ground zero have yet to fulfill. But now there is nobody there to say no. Bad choice. Try it another way. This is not OK. That's better. Almost. Start over. Again. Thus has Mr. Libeskind denied himself the creative freedom to think things through in the light of history.

I doubt Mr. Libeskind wants to be locked into this position. But there he is, alone with his symbols and his interpretations of them. What I am hearing very clearly right now is the sound of someone who doesn't know how to ask for help." (emphasis added)

For my part, I am also suspecting the reluctance of Mr. Libeskind, "an architect with few completed buildings to his credit", to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Am I being cynical?
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