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Memorializing the deconstruction of America

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Erik Flesch
By Erik Flesch
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday March 6, 2003

On Sept. 11, a group of men seized control of four commercial airliners and crashed two of them into the twin towers of one of America's tallest and most important skyscrapers. The World Trade Center collapsed into a crumpled, smashed and twisted heap, burying or incinerating the corpses of 2,800 murder victims.

What were the hijackers' principles? Hatred for the secular, objective foundation of American freedom, hatred for the individualistic ethics behind American capitalism, hatred for reason and science and the technology it produced, hatred for the American men and women who live to experience the joy of their own life and achievement; in short, hatred for the values built in steel and concrete as New York's twin towers.

And, sick as it is, it appears those terrorists' desire to "deconstruct" America will forever be immortalized by Berlin-based Studio Libeskind in several small, smashed-looking cultural buildings encircled by five short, sloping, angular buildings and the world's tallest spire. The plan, designed by the notorious deconstructivist architect Daniel Libeskind, an anti-rationality activist who morally equates America's bombing of Hiroshima with the Nazi Holocaust, was selected by a New York committee last week as the blueprint to redevelop the World Trade Center site.

Any "academic" architect could tell you exactly who this Libeskind is. For more than 20 years, the Polish-born architect was nothing more than a radical theoretician who taught at more than 40 colleges, and whose architectural output largely consisted of quasi-experimental architectural models and illustrations and rants on how "the pathos of production and the dreamlike routines configure into a substance that is not identifiable on any drawing board."

His first real project, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, opened in 2001 ¸ a titanium-covered zinc zigzag with spiraling walls, sloping floors, a windowless Holocaust Tower and symbolic jagged lines of windows, which Libeskind intended to disorient the visitor.

Then he took on the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, Britain, a splintered globe he designed to be "emblematic of the earth shattered by conflict." He wrote, "We are living in the world after the Holocaust and after Hiroshima and we are all survivors, we have transformed death. It is rational thinking that has led to this endpoint and obviously it failed."

Perhaps you are picking up on what kind of an anti-reason kook this Libeskind is. And his architecture has an explicitly political agenda; nearly every one of his commissions has been a government-funded museum. According to Libeskind, "By dropping the designations form, function, program and engaging in the public and political realm, which is synonymous with architecture, the dynamics of building take on a new dimension."

Indeed, his design does reveal a new dimension ¸ one completely at odds with the philosophy of the fallen towers. The World Trade Center was not constructed to be a political icon; it was a building with a function. It housed the activities of thousands of individuals conducting the business that delivered the financial life-blood to nearly every town on Earth. And the daring, rigid, serious, elegant, vertical lines of the World Trade Center towers reflected the gravity of the work that went on there.

The architecture displayed certainty: certainty of its own function as its stable standard of reference, and certainty about the ability of its architectural language to deal with nearly any force reality could throw at it. In short, the World Trade Center was built on the principle first identified by American architect Louis Sullivan: Form follows function.

But Libeskind despises this philosophy and wishes to redefine architecture as "a document of the unpredictable and an acknowledgement of the uncertain."

Not everybody is buying his nonsense. Even developer Larry Silverstein, who owns the lease on the trade center site, is not commenting on the elements of the plan after saying earlier this month he was not satisfied with the plan. So how did Libeskind get the commission?

Phony patriotic bromides. "The sky will be home again to a towering spire of 1,776 feet high," he wrote. But the Antenna Tower offers no workspace to human beings, devoting the tower instead to gardens. His two large public places, the Park of Heroes and the Wedge of Light, are designed to pay "perpetual tribute to altruism," the view that one has a moral duty to sacrifice one's own life, liberty and happiness to others.

His rhetoric can't camouflage the deconstructive reality of the design: This is no monument to American freedom nor to the independent, rational, productive values of the people who died there. Americans must speak out against this symbol of modern nihilism before construction begins and urge New York to acquire a symbol of the opposite view: a serious, tall skyscraper fit to replace the towers we lost to terrorism.


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