Selling Snow To Eskimos

More proof, if proof were needed, that Starchitects are very good at that.* Daniel Libeskind is even better than Ingels—although Ingels is obviously great at it too.

“Seven Leading Architects Defend the World’s Most Hated Buildings”

“The completion of the World Trade Center will finally restore the majestic skyline of Manhattan”

“And unite the streetscapes of Tribeca with the towers downtown.”

“The heritage of city blocks of Tribeca meets the vertical towers of the World Trade Center.”

“From Tribeca it will appear like a vertical village of singular buildings each tailored to their individual activities stacked on top of each other forming parks and plazas in the sky.”

“Horizontal meets vertical. Diversity becomes unity.”

“When this tower is completed, world peace will reign and there will be universal harmony.”


I’m not of fan of the new BIG tower, because it is one more Ground Zero building that could be in any one of 20 or 30 global cities. That’s disappointing for Ground Zero, disappointing for the skyline, and disappointing for many Tribecans (just ask them). Take the Woolworth Building out of the photo below, and there is nothing New York about it. At the same time, the tower’s bulk diminishes the Woolworth Building.

Ground Zero was an opportunity for a genuinely new vision for New York City, abandoning the worst experiments of the twentieth century and focusing on city-making instead. The forces that dominate the world of Big Real Estate gave us the same ol’ same ol’ that citizens around the world are complaining about, however.

The tower reminds me of student designs I saw at a jury I was on with Michael Graves at Columbia’s architecture school, about a year before Michael died. All the students had made post-disaster buildings for a town in Japan flattened by a tsunami. One student made a series of buildings that leaned, reminding the viewer that the town had been hit by a devastatingly destructive wave. The wasn’t the student’s intention, however, he was merely following the “cutting edge” fashion the last few years for buildings that lean. Michael gave up trying to explain why the residents of the town might not want that. The BIG video plays down the lean, but I think that once it is built New Yorkers will come to hate that part of the tower.

PS: Despite the fact that it’s for a civic building, is Renzo Piano’s design worthy of being the one that breaks the Paris skyline? My answer would be “no.” The video for the building compares to BIG’s.

About John Massengale

Architect, Urbanist, Author, Educator
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