(photo by Paul Clemence, via)
“One of the hallmarks of American polity is the increasing pervasiveness of so-called â€œpublic-private partnershipsâ€ and with them the idea that public space must pay for itself directly, that a park must have a cafÃ© or a condo in it to cover its costs. At Ground Zero, the melding of memory and profit will, in fact, be the â€œthemeâ€ of the site. As the disproportion between the gigantic exclusionary skyscrapers, the hemmed-in memorial, the pay-to-enter museum, and the upmarket shops in Towers 2, 3, and 4 makes legible, it will be a record of much that is wrong, ungenerous, and crass about American culture today. And I keep wondering when the pious rage that thwarted the proposed Islamic center nearby will turn on the cadre of halal kebab carts that dot the periphery of the site.”
Michael Sorkin in the September 2011 issue of Architectural Record. Punches aren’t held, as one can expect from Sorkin – and it’s much appreciated, in the midst of the love-fest that’s going on due to the 10th anniversary. While we take the time to reflect on the meaning of 9/11 ten years later – what has changed, what (maybe unfortunately) hasn’t – I think it’s important to recognize that opportunities were missed when it comes to the redevelopment of the site. Unlike Sorkin I never hoped for the site to be left empty – that seems both unrealistic and defeatist, not to mention anti-urban – but I had hoped for something to be excited about. I understand that this is the real world, not a fantasy, and developers have money in mind before much else – as they should, I suppose – but these are special circumstances, and we aren’t receiving particularly ‘special’ buildings in return. If these towers were placed on another site, in another city (which they easily could be), we wouldn’t be discussing them as great additions to global skyscraper design. Might not be discussing them at all.
With September 11th, ten years later, quickly approaching, the discussion of the World Trade Center site is once again at the forefront of our collective consciousness â€“ and not just as architects, but as US citizens (note: stop saying â€œAmericans,â€ people â€“ you make us look ignorant). With that in mind, I thought Iâ€™d post today on what one architecture critic -Ada Louise Huxtable – was saying immediately after the attack (and some years later, in the case of the video). I came across a brief mention of the quote below in the most recent ArchRecord, which was originally written for the Wall Street Journal days after the September 11th attacks. It can also be found in Huxtableâ€™s book â€˜On Architectureâ€˜ (pages 378-379).
There will be, and should be, passionate disagreement about replacing them at all. Rebuilding on this site requires serious consideration. There will be, and should be, calls for a memorial park, a public open space to serve as a permanent reminder of one of the cityâ€™s, and historyâ€™s, worst catastrophes â€“ a detestable man-made, as opposed to natural, disaster â€“ and for a tribute to those who died needlessly and tragically in an act of unredeemed horror.
And yet, one can almost predict what the New York process will be. This city can show its compassion, and its resolve, as it is doing now, but it is also a city incapable of the large, appropriate gesture in the public interest if it costs too much. That, too, is something that can be debated. What are our values? How do we count the cost of those lives? Under these extraordinary circumstances, does â€œthe highest and best use of the land,â€ the gospel according to real estate, really hold? Traditionally, that has meant filling the land to the maximum permitted by law, for the greatest return, while ignoring every social or human factor.
If the usual scenario is followed, the debate will lead to a â€œsolutionâ€ in which principle is lost and an epic opportunity squandered. With the best intentions the Municipal Art Society, a conscientious watchdog of the cityâ€™s urban quality, will announce a competition to determine what should be done with the site. The results will make a nice little exhibition, and discussions and lectures will be held. All this will be ignored by the movers and shakers making big building plans under the expedient banner of physical and symbolic reconstruction. There will be a fuss in the press, with letters to the editor, pro and con. City Hall in a split political decision between greed and glory, will come out for the builders and a memorial â€“ a monument or a small park, something financially inoffensive in the larger scheme of things. This is the Compromise. Or the trade-off, to put it more bluntly. A properly pious, meaningless gesture that everyone can buy without loss of face or obvious shame.
There will be another call for a competition â€“ this time for the big building â€“ it will be specified that this is to be a â€œworld-classâ€ work of architecture. The most conservative design will be chosen by a consortium of potential investors. No one will pay much attention to the token park, which will be a blank spot on the plans, eventually done in a faux retro style for brown-bag lunchers. There will be world-class nothing.
It didnâ€™t exactly take a crystal ball or special powers to make these predictions, but I do think they warrant some thought now, as we mark 10 years having passed since the attacks. While the memorial park appears to be coming together as something more than Huxtableâ€™s â€œtoken parkâ€, it seems unfair to judge it until the site as a whole has been completed. The tower, on the other hand, is coming off as a big let-down â€“ but thatâ€™s another post.
[image: a ninja awaiting the Red Line]
Welcome to Ashmont, the Southern end of Boston’s Red Line. Currently under renovations, they’re finally starting to to wrap it up and finish the project – something I hope to bring you some info on in the near future. Today, however, I’d like to focus on the ridiculousness that is the ‘high speed trolley’ that runs from Ashmont to Mattapan.Â Now you need to understand – I would rather not talk trash. In fact I look forward to the station itself being finished, so I can snap a few photos and give readers a general rundown of a project which I think has done a lot to revitalize the entire Ashmont / Peabody Square area. But for right now, follow me on this journey of foolishness.
For those of you who don’t know, the ‘high speed trolley’ running from Ashmont Â [located in Dorchester] to Mattapan Square is an extension of the MBTA’s Red Line – which, off the top of my head, serves 7 stops [not including Ashmont itself]. The trolley is quite popular, as it connects both Mattapan and Milton [a suburb to Boston’s South] with the Red Line – the train downtown is always busy in the mornings & evenings with additional commuters from the trolley. So when Ashmont was slated for renovations & redevelopment, the trolley line was included in these plans – and was actually the first thing to get a makeover. The stops were cleaned-up, some ‘antique’ trolleys were brought back into service, and the trolley stop and turnaround at Ashmont were completely redesigned and rebuilt. Everything looked fine [not great, but fine], and things seemed to be moving along at a pace that we’ve all come to expect with a government project.
And then the noise started.
[image: the T wasting my money]
Yeah, I’m talking literal ‘noise’ – as in ear splitting shrieks of pain coming from the tracks. Loud enough to be kind of physically uncomfortable when you’re on the trolley. Loud enough that I can here the trolley from my apartment – which is something like 1/3 of a mile away – but not the train [I mean, I can hear both at times – but mostly I here the shrill echo of the trolley]. The noise had been measured at over 110 decibels at the station, and over 100 decibels at nearby homes.
The problem? The track at the turnaround [seen above] has a diameter that is too tight – trolley is at an awkward angle while going around, causing more friction between wheel and track, blah blah blah – super loud noise ensues. Did someone let the intern design this portion of the track? What the hell happened here?
Well obviously whoever is responsible is in the wind – since in the Bean you can literally build something that kills someone and skate. As blaming someone won’t help anyway, a solution is worked out – after two different systems involving automated greasing of some sort fail, the T falls back on insulated blankets and sprinklers that keep the tracks/wheels wet. SPRINKLERS AND BLANKETS. This is a project coming in just under $50 million dollars [maybe more?], and the solution is the aesthetically-depressing / intelligence-insulting blanket-covered water-drenched fence seen above.
My ninjas, please.
Seriously, I don’t even have a point that I’m moving towards here – I just want everyone reading AMNP to know about the ridiculousness going on in Dorchester, and to understand what kind of crap karma you generate when your design isn’t up to snuff. Imagine owning a home where every 15 minutes or so all day long you have to deal with 110+ decibels of fingernails on a chalkboard – all because someone either cut corners or had their trig confused.
Consider this when discussing fast-tracked infrastructure projects to boost the economy. Not because we shouldn’t support them, but because they need to be watched carefully.
My favorite part of this story? A State Senator suggested we put in a Disney-style monorail a ‘middle ground’ type solution. A FECKIN’ MONORAIL!
::note: I promise that I have a cheery, positive post on Ashmont’s redevelopment as a whole in the works – I’m just waiting for them to complete the finish work::
Some of you may have seen a fairly ignorant rant of a post that was mistakenly published by me a couple weeks ago, where I ‘discussed’ my opinion of the increasingly popular trend to write about [and critique rather fiercely] ‘blogging’. The high and low point was, I believe, my likening writing / blogging about blogging to masturbation – a statement that I’m standing by.
I decided not to publish the post, as it was a fairly ridiculous stream-of-thought freak out. Now, I’m ‘only’ a ‘blogger’, but I have the insight to know that what I had written was little more than garbage to make myself feel better [for whatever reason] – and that that isn’t the purpose of this site. But really, the idea that I need to defend my actions [blogging], when you think about it, is absolutely ludicrous. What I do with my free time / internet connection is my own business – just the fact that I was made to think / feel, even if only momentarily, like I had to defend ‘blogs’ is wrong.
So, on to what provoked me to write this post [well, re-write it]. The latest issue of Blueprint Magazine is out, with an article by Tim Abrahams entitled “Nostalgia is No Substitute for Criticism“. The article is trite and isn’t particularly thought provoking – but it’s so short you might as well check out. Point is, he talks a lot of trash – blogging sucks, the internet isn’t the real world, bloggers aren’t architecture critics, nostalgia is bad, blah blah blah blah – but fails, I believe, to make an actual point. Has the man proposed a shift? No – he’s NOSTALGIC for architectural discourse before the internet. His big references are Banham and Venturi – that’s hardly progressive thinking, my ninjas.
Seriously, my people, am I only the only person reading articles and listening to discussions about the role of an online architectural discourse who’s about to lose his mind? Is architecture so behind as a culture that it still fears the internet? With that in mind, I have some questions for the anti-bloggers out there [or even those that ‘question’ the ‘net]. Not because I’m offended, and not because I’m seeking legitimacy – but because I’m bored by the discussion, and would like to see it end. I’d much prefer read things of architectural substance, rather than idea-less critics complaining about the web.
So follow me on this brief journey – and feel free to tell me I’m an idiot in the comments.
~ If blogs suck so much – and ‘professional’ journalists / writers are so superior [as they should be] – then why are these writers worried? Why bother discussing blogs, and making an issue of it? Bloggers obviously don’t care [as in, we’re not attacking authors, etc – I’d say that we care in that we’d prefer not be slandered].
~ I fail to see how Editorials / Op-Ed pieces – which many of these critiques are, essentially – are thoroughly different from blogs. They argue a personal view, are oftentimes full of vitriol, and are frequently based more on emotion and conjecture than substance. Maureen Dowd recently attacked Twitter in her column [to which BLDGBLOG responded] – and I think failed to see the irony of her general attack of the ‘net, as her column for the NY Times has essentially become a blog.
~ Why would these people want more ‘legitimate’ criticism to be happening online, anyways? Then they would actually be out of a job – whereas the current abundance of ‘eye candy’ based sites leaves a great void for critics and professional journalists to fill. And to suggest that some sites that do discuss theory / criticism more frequently aren’t legitimate because of their choice of content [as Mr. Abrahams has] is to suggest that we shouldn’t be allowed to pursue our personal interests. How should we interpret his comment on Sit Down Man, You’re a Bloody Tragedy? Should that apply across the board? Should we be worried about people who blog about antique cars, taking over and destroying a future of power windows and door-locks?
~ Blogs link EVERYWHERE – including new articles in the glossies or a new book’s amazon page. Abrahams suggests a system based on blogs linking only to each other, creating a group of connected bloggers – but this isn’t the case. The reality is that this linking connects all of architecture culture online, which is made up of much more than blogs [Abrahams article, included – I’d be willing to bet the majority of people reading his article are actually online].
~ PA Press [a publisher of books, can you believe it?] pays for ad space on a number of blogs – just look to the upper right of this very site. Doesn’t that suggest that blogs encourage a certain amount of book-buying? That would imply that people are reading – arch books are too pricey to buy and use to prop up your table.
~ The fact of the matter is that if you read blogs, then you’re exposed to more architecture than those who don’t. No, it isn’t the same as going and visiting a building – but neither is a book or magazine [and I’d guess the average architect doesn’t have much to spend on travel right now]. Can anyone argue that blogs have reduced the amount of designers and architects who have been exposed to readers? Reduced the ideas these designers are trying to express? Or is the average internet-surfing architect now more aware of a wider variety of work?
~ A lot of this feels like misplaced anger – much like newspapers lashing out at news blogs. The internet isn’t putting print out of business because readers have changed mediums, or because everyone has stopped buying papers / magazines – ADVERTISERS have had the largest impact, opting to pay cheaper prices online rather than taking out ads in papers and glossies. Capitalism fails us yet again.
Finally, I say this, to all you naysayers and shit talkers: Man up. In the face of a challenge a true ninja doesn’t back down – he/she rises to the occasion and whoops some ass. If you’re so concerned about the state of things, write something worth reading and discussing – don’t debase yourselves, trashing your supposed ‘competition’ [note: I don’t believe blogs are the ‘competition’, I’m simply sticking with what seems to be the common feeling among aggravated journalists]. If my blog is garbage, and you take the time to write and publish an article calling me on it, what does that make your publication? Sure, that’s a little bit “I’m rubber, you’re glue…”, but I think it’s a legitimate question.