week, amid a much publicized presentation of preliminary design schemes for
the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, the American public revealed
its architectural and urban design panurgy. If nothing else, the criticism
of the six design schemes for the redevelopment of lower Manhattan represents
a surprising and welcome discourse into the idea of art in the public realm;
and the public's interest in these matters is as welcome as it is desirable.
of the criticism of the six design schemes was negative; and the American
public's dissatisfaction should not simply be disregarded as a knee-jerk reaction
to a series of design schemes that, at best, might be described as mildly
interesting. But before completely dismissing the design schemes as sad examples
of human artifice, and good examples of how Architecture is rendered impotent
in a capitalist culture, it is necessary to understand the process of Architectural
design, and the relationship between Architectural design and Real Estate
Manhattan Development Corporation [LMDC], a private, quasi-governmental agency,
has published some very important statements regarding the design methodology
for this project:
concept plans... are not architectural designs for proposed buildings. Rather,
they present different relationships of uses and elements on the site and
adjacent areas that will provide desirable sites for future works of architecture."
Architecture-speak, the information presented in these "concept plans"
is nothing more than a "massing study." A "massing study," in the context
of an urban design scheme, is a 3-dimensional, visual examination of the required
programmatic square-footages of buildings, shown in relationship to streets
and public spaces. The LMDC makes very clear that these studies do not constitute
"Architecture" per se, but rather provide a guide for later design development:
a final plan is approved, the second stage of the planning process will begin;
architectural design befitting of the importance of the site to the city,
the nation, and, indeed, the world." 
interpret this statement as follows:
take these schemes too literally; they are merely studies of the required
density and form required to make the development of the site economically
feasible. The real 'Architecture' has yet to be conceived and designed."
must be held to task on this statement. The redevelopment plans for this site
call for a heroic artistic gesture rarely appreciated in the United States.
The redevelopment plan is an enormous civic project, with a scale and level
of public scrutiny, that is unprecedented in American history. Quite simply,
it will bring artistry [in the form of urban design and architecture] into
American life much like the events of 9/11 universally solidified the concepts
of terrorism and fear into the American psyche; in effect, the redevelopment
of the World Trade Center site offers the possibility of a unified exhibition
of American greatness that no military display will ever approach. The impetus
to create great art from the trauma of 9/11, on the actual site of the terrorist
attack, is a moment that must be seized - anything less than a heroic artistic
gesture will be a failure of the imagination, an inexcusable missed opportunity,
and† an incalculable loss.
forces of real estate development and architectural design must be managed
and controlled by the LMDC in such a way that good design does not take a
back seat to economic profitability. Early in the design process, when the
forms and ideas presented are not yet attached to any solid construction cost
estimate, it is easy to argue any point of design. Once this economic vacuum
is eliminated [by way of cost estimating and subsequent value engineering]
the real estate developers will start pruning the scope and integrity of the
work so that the pockets of their investors are comfortably filled. There
must be a strong voice on the LMDC that will balance the vapid momentum to
create buildings that look like giant urban shoeboxes.
the design and construction of this massive public works project - in a manner
appropriate to the scale, site, and circumstances of the World Trade Center
site -† will be nearly impossible for
a culture which has relegated the status of art, to nothing more than an acceptable
byproduct of capitalist investment. The minimized role of art in American
culture has lead to an inability to appreciate the value of creative visual
information beyond that of its economic implications. Why else would "good
design" such as the Michael Graves collection be sold exclusively at Target
and not at boutiques in New York City? The answer to this questions is simple:
Americans only value good design when it's also a sale item. As much as the
redevelopment project is a civic project, it is also a real estate development
project, and it is the economic practicality of the design schemes that will
play a major role in the direction of the development and its ultimate visual
and tactile form.
for the project to be an economic success, businesses, residents, and consumers,
will have to be comfortable inhabiting the new building complex. The real
estate development community's position is a tenuous one; they perceive the
risks involved with vigorous design as a potential impediment to profitability:
if the project is too blasť, it will be ignored, and if it is too avant-garde,
it will be avoided. If there is any hope of the approved design being anything
more than watered down versions of mediocre ideas, then the American public
and the LMDC must act courageously and dexterously.
realm of architecture and construction, courage and dexterity are equated
with, and subject to, budgets and cultural vision. There is a reason that
the average office building and apartment complex resemble giant shoeboxes
turned up on end; and the reason is quite simply, economics. And yet, a capitalist
society argues that these projects are "good designs," because the ultimate
measure of these designs is their economic viability; the quicker the investment
turns a profit, the "better" the design. Very rarely do you have investors,
arguing to spend more money on a project just so that it is more "beautiful"
- for what is beauty to the developer and American shareholder except a quicker
return on their investment?
it may seem a little romantic and naive to think that this project should
be designed with a contempt for budgets; such a mindset is particularly un-American.
It requires a shift in perspective which will allow one to appreciate art,
simply for art's sake. But if ever there were a project site which demanded
the courage to rethink the relationship between art and culture, this is it.
The new Architecture for the World Trade Center site will be permanent, occupiable,
public art; and its greatness will be measured in ooh's and ahh's as well
as in dollars and cents. Architects around the world should consider themselves
lucky, they should consider the profession to have been struck by a bolt of
lightening; this is a rare opportunity for Architecture to embody a celebration
of human values and aspirations. If America is to be as great as it claims
to be, the design for the World Trade Center site must be a heroic exhibition
of unprecedented vitality; anything less will be an abject failure.