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architecture

Delirious New York~Skyscraper as a typology

I start this entry by quoting from the previous entry.

"It is not just in the case of Libeskind and his projects--other Post-modenists who have to refer to the past and its history--such concept and the architecture itself, presented by Libeskind or others asks the question of whether it is "right" or not, whether it is really meaningful method and direction for handing in those "memories" of Jewish history or Holocaust, and what kind of reason and meaning ithere is to "interpret" and "describe" such memories in a form of architecture."

One possible reason that Libeskind's plan was selected for the redevelopment of Ground Zero, is because of his methodology of interpreting and translating past events such as Holocaust and the 9/11 terrorist attacks to commemorate them. At the time when the competition was held, the redevelopment authorities and the people who wanted the reconstruction of the lost New York were still in conjunction to build a memorial tower as a main concept, while moral and ethical viewpoint was still dominant to conceal the background realities, and the poetic aspect of Libeskind's plan was still the main theme of the project.

Libeskind11.jpg
(click to enlarge) Left: the original Libeskind plan/ middle and right: The adjusted plan co-developed by Libeskind and SOM. Changed from the intial plan, but the essential concept of the "sky garden" is still kept in the tower.

However, his original plan has been changed several times, and today's plan does not retain the original. Only the symbolic element--the hight of the tower in 1776 feet, the year of American independence--was left. By making the top part of the tower as a void, as a sky garden, the tower does not declare as a symbol of power, but as a commemoration of the past and the lost. However, it has been changed from the sky garden to be a normal office space.

Libeskind12.jpg
(click to enlarge) Left: more modification by SOM/ middle and right: the plan in the left has a form expanding at the bottom, but it was rejected for providing security area around the bottom. The new plan has been reduced even from the original WTC building

In reality, the demand of the office space is large, and there has been a strong voice to ask for more practical office space rather than memorial. However, then there is no strong reason to restrict the redevelopment as a symbolical single tower of wealth and power--in other words, that tower style has a danger to represent a different message once again, as the symbolic aspect of WTC was reinterpreted and used by terrorists. The space of misunderstanding and contradiction behind the symbolic aspect of tower can be also the key to understand how and why this incident happened


"Delirious New York", written by Rem Koolhaas, tells about New York skyscrapers through the viewpoint of caricature and nostalgic longing.
New York has a dense and divers history as it has been formed by immigrants coming from Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia--all over the world. Such diversity of nationality and culture has produced various communities that often conflicted or reconciled. Koolhaas took an example of Cony Island in New York, a theme park that embodies the concoction of cultures in a limited territory. Each individual and original culture coexists within a large scheme and principle of the theme park--it is the representation of the notion of variety, diversity, individuality, and its coexistence, wrapped up in allegory and caricature of Manhattan reality.
For example, Luna Park is the installation of small towers in various sizes and shapes, illuminated at night with thousands of small light bulbs to reveal their outlines against the dark sky--it was the exact illusionary image of the Manhattan in the future with real skyscrapers and their night scape. The "crowned" top and the outline of skyscrapers--the symbolism of towers and their demonstration were foreseen in Luna Park.
Other attractions such as "Fight the Flames" or "Leapfrog Railways" are the caricature of Manhattan urban life (or any other large cities') to perform such urban disaster of fire and train accident as a spectacle. Without the danger of actual casualty, only the excitement of disaster was provided in the attraction to experience the energy of Manhattan.
Such black humor of spectacled and visualized Manhattan urban life became the foundation of transforming a often harsh reality of the city into the excitement and the energy of New York--which is the only explanation of how Times Square, once the concentration of porn business, is completely replaced by Disney Square where families with small children are walking around. (of course, the porn business was also one way of urban spectacle...)
The mixture of diverse culture and urban reality concentrated in the small landscape of Manhattan--the only method to control the conflict was Manhattan Iron Grid, and the endless condensation pushed the figure ground to the skyward to build skyscrapers. The early attempt of building skyscraper began with the simple extrusion of the gridded land space, but soon the vision of Luna Park affects the forming of Manhattan Skylines.

20051129183034.jpg
Left: Theodore Starrett's building plan of 100-story building. The extreme of the building extruded up from the gridded landscape. (unbuilt) Zoning regulation established in 1916 prohibited this kind of building anymore. Right: Equitable Building, 1915. (the building far behind) 39-story "extrusion" building. It is overwhelming to see the mass.

A tower extruded from the limited land space with a crowned head--the form that rises from the ground and penetrates into the sky--became the symbol of new buildings, which were one way the efficient usage of the gridded land space, and the other way the demonstration of power and wealth condensed in the mass and commended by the crown. The style reached to the point of Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, and The Empire State Building with King Kong. Gradually, the symbolism of tower and crown became the purpose of itself by receiving the energy of the city, and "skyscrapers" became the icon of the power and wealth rather than the efficient land use, as they are seen from outside.

drawing2.jpg
1916's zoning regulation defined the rate of building volumes at specific height. A architectural draftsman Hugh Ferriss sought for the new images of skyscrapers using the regulation setback in drawings, which influenced the design of skyscrapers in the future.(From Delirious New York)

20051129170654.jpg
Left: Woolworth Building, 1913. 60-story "Cathedral" of Commerce". The first building completed with the typology of tower in modern high-rise building. Right: The Empire State Building and Bryant Park Hotel crown

<drawing.jpg
Madelon Vriesendrop, Flagrant delit.(From Delirious New York)


It is important to note that the two towers of World Trade Center had different kind of character from the past iconic skyscrapers. The reality of the need and demand of the limited land usage asked to eliminate such symbolic aspect of tower with a crown, and typified type of skyscraper no longer gives bold demonstration of power and wealth except the number of height. It seems that such concern of efficiency and symbolism gave the opportunity to reconsider the notion of high-rise building, which produced World Trade Center buildings.

20051129142943.jpg
WTC building before 9/11. They were once the tallest in the world, but in terms of the symbolism, they were less significant than those Empire State building or Chrysler Building. They were called "Twin Towers" and their outline actually exaggerated the openness and the wideness of the sky without insisting on their own existence

In WWT, the crown pointing upward into the sky was eliminated, and the buildings were extruded the square land space straightly upward as if it is representing the transparency of Manhattan Iron Grid. By doing so, the buildings have the message to erase the historical typology of skyscrapers, but WTC further eliminated the symbolic aspect of tower to demonstrate its ultimate uniqueness by copying the same form and mass right next to each other, as if such demonstration itself is useless. (Nowadays even the idea of twin towers has become a popular typology, but most of those twin towers in the world are designed as "one" set rather than a "copy of another." In that sense WTC was still unique) And WTC seemed to be also different from the modernism high-rise such as Seagram Building in Park Avenue, as the WTC wore the curtain walls that didn't represent the image of steel and glass.
Even though WTC inevitably became the symbol of New York economy (=the US') and Manhattan skyline, but its symbolic presence was quietly denied by itself through its diluted appearance and materiality.

XYZ.jpg
X, Y, Z Buildings, 6th Ave. Bunch of buildings added in Rockefeller Center after the World War II. They don't reflect the culture and history of Manhattan skyscrapers, which became the archetype of WWT.(From Delirious New York)

Even so, WTC repeatedly became the the target of terrorist attacks. Typical notion of people in the US would have asked The Empire State Building for King Kong to climb up, and the crown of Chrysler Building to plunge to earth in "Deep Impact." (It is important to note that WTC was not treated in similar manner in movies, TV's, etc) However, Al Qaeda sought for more realistic and practical effect of demolishing WTC functionality than wiping out the typical symbolism. Beyond such typified notion of symbolism (destroying White House in "Independence Day" in such manner) Al Quaeda even used the TV media and its screen frame to visualize their performance "twice" by attacking both towers of WTC--which strengthened the condition of catastrophe. (Al Quaeda's purpose is often to produce this "condition of catastrophe" itself, which is now seen in Afghanistan and Iraq)
The terrorist attacks image represented by TV media now reflect the possibility that such notion of symbolism is now easily manipulated and transformed in different purpose beyond our typified imagination. "Truth is stranger than fiction", and a symbol is often an illusionary fiction. Libeskind's Ground Zero plan could have turn away from the ordinary, typified symbols of skyscraper typology by the sky garden void placed on top, dissipating into the sky--however, the redesigned plan, going backward to the over-worn typology, does not represent the consideration toward the fact of terrorism and the sensitivity toward the victims. That inconsideration itself is the target of terrorists---will the new high-rise cut the chain of hatered or not?

CCTV-2.jpg
(Click and enlarge)OMA led by Rem Koolhaas planned for CCTV building in Peking. Escaped from the typified typology of skyscraper, the new urban scape is contained within the form after the intense research of programs and formal study. Its presence is far stronger than the demonstration of height, and the building realizes the container of urban reality and its diversity. Right photo is the diagram of showing the programs, placed differently from the typical high-rise building(designbuild network.com/JA OMA CCTV)

The other proposals of the Ground Zero competition also presented the idea of memorial to turn away from the demonstration of power, which has been promoting the severe conflict and resistance. In other words, those proposals had the different dimension to look for in its concept from the symbolism, representing diverse possibilities. Today's Ground Zero plan has a reduced memorial space in subordination to the "main" tower. The plan now is fluctuated into small pieces, designed and developed by those star architects for media-centric reason--as if they were allied multi national force in Kuwait.

It is more and more necessary to look at those proposals and original plan of Libeskind to reconsider the purpose of Ground Zero.
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