Last night, for the first time, I rode PATH—a local commuter rail line between New Jersey and New York City—into the temporary (but, impressive) station at the site of the World Trade Center.
Coming in from the west, the train curved along an outside wall of "The Bathtub," the giant basin of metal and concrete that keeps the Hudson River from flooding the foundations of buildings, past and future, on the site.
Informed by this startling view of the WTC site—a place weighted with meanings and contradictory symbolisms, and my own before-during-after memories—I'm excited by a feature in today's New York Times Magazine—a theme issue on the transformative power of landscape architecture and art.
Four Landscape Architecture Firms Reimagine Ground Zero in scenarios that I would dare to call healing. I'm particularly taken with the vision of D.I.R.T. Studio, which questions the assumed divisions and partitions of the city—five boroughs, several rivers treated as distinct entities, commuters-locals-business-normal life, nature versus the built environment :
We believe that places emerges through process. At the World Trade Center site, the process of rebuilding and the process of remembering converge, and require additional time and space beyond the site itself. Therefore, our proposal inaugurates a citywide regenerative cycle. Soil would be produced and trees cultivted by turning a portion of the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island into a farm. The local rivers would become a connective tissue; loads of good soil and young trees would be carried by barge from Fresh Kills - along nearly the same routes once traveled by daily commuters from the World Trade Center on their way home - to neighborhood streets and parks.
Current plans for the WTC site involve building a 1,776 foot-high "Freedom Tower" that will be partially powered (I've seen an estimate of 20%) by wind and other "alternative" energy.
Architecture debates aside, this plan strikes me conceptually as one mired in a backwards-looking, moist-eyed, socio-political sentimentalism, while barely toeing the necessary future—one freed from petroleum-based energy.
Envisioning the site as a park helps create a frame for exploring how to get to that future.
This whole NYT Magazine issue is great, from a brief interview with landscape architect Martha Schwartz ("...when you are in your car, you are traveling in public space. Cars are parked on asphalt. The asphalt is our landscape. The landscape is everything out there, and it looks like hell.") to an article on Peter Latz's factory ruin-park in Duisberg, Germany, to a profile of artist Andy Goldsworthy.
There are so many cooks on a project like this I'd be amazed if the broth is even remotely wely edible. Political grandstanding, architectural jerking off, financial interests, and a public which, at the end of the day, won't really be happy with anything of less vision than the Taj Mahal or the Parthenon.
I'd, personally, have been for making a park, and marking the tower's outlines with lasers or floodlights.
I did see one proposal from a far right activist, to rebuild the towers exactly as they had been, but with a plaque saying "On September 11th 2001, a handful of tent-dwellers thought they could stop this."
While lacking in grace, this seems to sum up the general situation pretty well.
Floodlights profligately burning up electricity, squandering it on what is essentially a gimmick made permanent, and adding to light pollution at the same time? That doesn't seem very sustainable to me.
(And yes, some of that energy could be generated sustainably, though chances are, not all of it could be, at least not to run floodlights of the sort of gargantuan power to say to the world "We're #1", which seems to be the whole point of building a monument.)
I'm willing to bet that the energy consumed by the lights is a tiny fraction of the embodied energy of a multi-story building.
More to the point, though, who cares if a monument to an event which completely changed the face of the world (if only by legitimizing the Bush presidency) burns a bit of energy? Does it really matter?
It's not something to be parsimonious about, or even eco-self-richeous about. In the grant scheme of things, the expenditure of resources is trivial. It makes absolutely no difference to the state or fate of the planet if they burn a few hundred killowats 24/7 in a memorial.
Yeah, it'd be cool if it were all green, but let's keep a sense of perspective. It's not our grand monuments which are destroying our climatic balance, it's our mindless, trivial consumptions.
an event which completely changed the face of the world
From where I sit, very little actually changed; Americans just lost the ability to believe that they were immune to something that has been going on for decades. The hysterical overreaction to the attack did more damage than the attack itself.
Let me clarify that I'm speaking primarily about the redesign of the WTC itself, and not the memorial designs. Although one thing I find really refreshing in these park imaginings is an integration of the WTC site into a whole, rather than The Buildings and The Memorial.
I actually thought the public part of the process for selecting the site's new building design was remarkable. An initial series of medicre designs were so poorly received that it pretty much forced the LMDC, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, to go back square one and open the process up to other architects. People were intensely interested, there were public hearings citywide, local media followed the competition quite well, and the result was worthy in many ways.
The process since of reconciling competing designs--that of the competition winner, Daniel Libeskind, with that of Daniel Childs, the architect for the site's leaseholder--has certainly been dispiriting. There is so much coverage of that online that I hesitate to pick just one article, but this BBC News piece seems pretty accurate.
Whatever ends up on this site will have immense impact and symbolism--and let's remember that people actually live right around the WTC site, and that hundreds of people transit through the area to and from work every week day, and will work in the new WTC.
Designing the "trivial consumerisms" as well as the big, resource-sucking monuments to be environmentally neutral are not contradictory goals.
Why not take on extremely symbolic, attention-getting projects that can show other designers, builders, municipalities what is possible, and in the meantime make life better and healthier for those who live and work in/around them? What will be learned and discovered in the process that can make the next project go even better?
Look at the rebuilding of the Reichstag. Fueled with vegetable oils to reduce CO2 emissions by 94%. Naturally ventilated 60% of the time. Transformed from a symbol of deadly nationalist extremism into one that is hopeful of the transformation of society, of real solutions to climate change.
Well said, Emily. Good point.
Vinay, given your mood today I'm glad I could bring you around!
You are quite right about there being "too many cooks" overall in this situation, once the competitions are over and the real decision-making begins. I will not bore the WC boards with a run-down of all the political and financial interests with a hand in what happens at the WTC site (although, an interesting fact for non-locals and folks not following this might be that the mayor of NYC is actually nearly powerless in the process).