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Thread: Not Solely Blueprints, but Cultural Insight, Too

  1. #1

    Default Not Solely Blueprints, but Cultural Insight, Too

    February 28, 2003
    Not Solely Blueprints, but Cultural Insight, Too

    Daniel Libeskind's study in urban fragmentation is not, perhaps, the vision that the public was looking for at ground zero when it rejected the six plans originally presented by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in July. The development corporation's land-use committee favored the other finalist's design chosen from a study project conducted last year. But our elected officials have spoken. The losing plan, for towers of steel lattice, prepared by the Think team, will enter the golden archive of the city that never was.

    Public officials will also have their say on the cultural uses that will be brought together on this site. These uses should weigh at least as heavily on the public conscience as the architectural design. The Libeskind plan creates a rhetorical context in which it is all too easy to imagine the "freedom museum" that city and state planners have been talking about as part of the site for the past year.

    Potentially a repackaged version of the cold war, with Al Qaeda taking the place of the Soviet Union, the museum evokes a vision contrary to the idealistic concept its planners may intend. Instead of upholding liberty as a principle of daily life, are we not at risk of relegating it to the walls of a museum?

    Yet so much has been learned. And this is the moment for New Yorkers to take stock of the many positive benefits that have emerged in the course of the design process. The most important of these, perhaps, is that public building is itself an educational process. Far more than a set of designs, images or blueprints for physical objects that will be realized in urban space, architecture is also the art of mapping changing relationships between social and artistic values.

    The intensity of public interest in the future of ground zero cannot be entirely explained by the psychological assault inflicted on us by terrorism. It also reflects a change in the public's relationship to architecture itself. In the past decade, a new audience for contemporary architecture has coalesced. Weary of being condescended to with picturesque building skins, "appropriate" contextual design guidelines and other shopworn formulas for visual distraction, New York has awakened to more enlightened concepts of urbanism that have been embraced by other cities of its class.

    That awakening prompted the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to rethink its approach to ground zero. The agency's design study project, undertaken in response to public displeasure, produced ideas as fresh as any that have emerged from architecture in recent years. Now that one of them has been selected, it will be possible to examine all of these plans with scholarly detachment. Several of them are destined to influence the future of city planning in New York and elsewhere. The importance of the design study cannot be overstated.

    Less happily, but no less usefully, the design process exposed the large gap that still divides the audience for contemporary architecture from those who design and build our city. Sept. 11 arrived at a moment of crisis for the New York architectural profession. Developers here count on large architectural firms to provide two services. First, and most important, are the connections it takes to usher projects through the gantlet of political obstacles that stand in their way.

    Second, developers rely on architects to provide the elusive commodity of cultural value. This product has become more precious in recent years. Even business publications report on the value that developers hope to gain from architecture rather than some stale simulation of it. This is likely to continue as more cities turn to culture as an economic tool.

    In recent years, however, these two services have become increasingly irreconcilable. "Getting it done" requires an eagerness to compromise with the lowest common denominator of taste. Architecture requires greater strength of character, vision, integrity and brains. The two objectives had neutralized each other years before 9/11.

    The ground zero design process has opened up a promising way out of this creative impasse. The sign reads: collaboration.

    Of the six independent teams that produced plans for the World Trade Center site during the study project, all but two involved collaboration between individual offices. The future is with them. To survive in the changing cultural environment, the city's large firms will have to reconfigure themselves as support structures for architects of distinct conviction. Fewer clients will want to "get it done" with ideas that are not worth doing.

    Are they willing to risk the conflict that important ideas often arouse? Here again, the design process has made an invaluable contribution to New York architecture. In the past months, people have learned to be more comfortable with conflict with discomfort, in fact. They've raised their voices, not always in reason, and the sky hasn't fallen. On the contrary, the horizon has risen. The ante has been upped.

    Conflict hasn't been incidental to this upward readjustment in New York's architectural aspirations. Without conflict, it could not have occurred. Indeed, the design process has given this city a priceless insight into the way great cities work. Conflict is the most important cultural product that a great city puts out. It is the fuel that drives everything else.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

    Default Not Solely Blueprints, but Cultural Insight, Too

    He makes some good points but there is also an undertone of great disappointment that his favorite wasn't chosen.

    After such a lambasting of Libeskind he finds himself in an uncomfortable position of looking at a future of writing about Libeskind's design.

  3. #3
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    Nov 2002
    New York City

    Default Not Solely Blueprints, but Cultural Insight, Too

    Muschamp is really reaching with that article.

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