Public = Avant Garde ??

The ProposalsI read a lit­tle piece in the Times today con­cern­ing the two final­ists cho­sen by the LMDC for the World Trade Cen­ter, and I have a few reac­tions.

Let us read some of what Mr. Muschamp writes:

[Daniel Libeskind’s design] is an emo­tion­al­ly manip­u­la­tive exer­cise in visu­al codes.

Alright. Does any ordi­nary user of the World Trade Cen­ter — work­er, tourist, sub­way rid­er, etc. — have any idea just what Mr. Muschamp is talk­ing about? Why has archi­tec­ture become this jar­gony realm of intel­lec­tu­al non­sense?

I don’t know. The death and destruc­tion of WWI caused a huge shift in West­ern val­ues, specif­i­cal­ly because sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy was employed so suc­cess­ful­ly in the killing of a gen­er­a­tion of men. In the decades after the war, the long-held ide­al­ized notion that tech­nol­o­gy would ush­er in peace and pros­per­i­ty was dashed, and many of the pre­vail­ing assump­tions in the arts were also vacat­ed. It was in this void that the Mod­ernists arrived– along with their avant garde aes­thet­ics and their intent to social engi­neer.

So what has Mod­ernism accom­plished? Well, not much good. We’ve still got the rich and poor, yet we have ugly civic space. For instance, the orig­i­nal WTC was a wind-swept, anar­chis­tic struc­ture, cut off, and hor­ri­bly out of scale from the sur­round­ing streets and neigh­bor­hood. When you stood in the Plaza look­ing up at the struc­tures, it was dif­fi­cult to feel any­thing but dread. In fact, that seems to be a pre­vail­ing require­ment of the Mod­ernists– your build­ing must impart DREAD. Unless, of course, you are one of the ini­ti­at­ed. You have to be edu­cat­ed for sev­en years at MIT to under­stand the beau­ty of the Bru­tal­ist form.

Any­way, back to Mr. Muschamp:

And… the longer I study Mr. Libeskind’s design, the more it comes to resem­ble the bland­est of all the projects unveiled in the recent design study: the retro vision put forth by the New Urban­ist design­ers Peter­son Lit­ten­berg. Both projects trade on sen­ti­men­tal appeal at the expense of his­tor­i­cal aware­ness. Both offer visions of inno­cence ? nos­tal­gia, actu­al­ly.

Peter­son Lit­ten­berg is nos­tal­gic for Art Deco Man­hat­tan cir­ca 1928, before the stock mar­ket crash caused the Unit­ed States to aban­don the pre­vail­ing ide­ol­o­gy of social Dar­win­ism. Mr. Libeskind’s plan is nos­tal­gic for the world of pre-Enlight­en­ment Europe, before reli­gion was exiled from the pub­lic realm.

This is always the argu­ment of these elite intel­lec­tu­als against clas­si­cism — that some­how, orna­ment, scale, pro­por­tion­al­i­ty and human­i­ty are to be despised as Impe­r­i­al. Now, obvi­ous­ly both plans are far from Clas­si­cism, but, in the inter­est of democ­ra­cy, why cry his­tori­cism when the alter­na­tive is intel­lec­tu­al­ized ugli­ness?

The gen­er­al pub­lic, I believe, longs for dig­ni­ty in pub­lic archi­tec­ture. I pre­fer the Think project, but the lat­tice work looks like Tin­ker­toy, and I find it tacky that they have pods with­in the lat­tice­work. How intim­i­dat­ing would it be to get in an ele­va­tor, and shoot up 100 floors to a “cul­tur­al space”, know­ing full well that there is noth­ing but air and Tin­ker­toy beneath you? Fright­en­ing. The Eif­fel Tow­er it is not.

No doubt what­ev­er gets built at the WTC site will be very mod­ern, and cut­ting-edge. It is my hope that it exem­pli­fies the dig­ni­ty and pur­pose human beings deserve and crave. Let the peo­ple choose, not the intel­lec­tu­als.

3 Responses to “Public = Avant Garde ??”


  • i just want­ed to com­ment that i like the site lay­out.

    i’ve got a blog, but i haven’t writ­ten any­thing yet.

  • well thanks… i’m look­ing for­ward to read­ing your site.

  • Hey, check out this post from gawk­er:
    Archlog has a copy of the anti-Her­bert Muschamp let­ter that came from Daniel Libeskind’s Berlin office last week after Muschamp wrote a col­umn favor­ing the THINK design. An excerpt: “Yesterday’s arti­cle by Muschamp is over the top. He is just not reli­able any­more. Please get rid of this guy.”
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