Friday, 11 September 2009
Possibly you've seen this ad by the World Wildlife Fund (who'd have guessed?) kicking around the net recently. Possibly you haven't, because you are not yet incapable of unplugging from the digital world and have been off having 'face time' somewhere with someone. Lucky you. In any case, the ad sent people tropo (here, here, and here – 'oh no you di-unt'). The WWF's message is simple: the Boxing Day Tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. Fair point. Well made. But even 8 years later people are still not really sure whether we can say those sorts of things. Apparently it takes 12.
I am fascinated by the Twin Towers – I don’t mind admitting that.
September 11, by contrast, is not a subject I indulge in, and for that reason I have decided to not make this a post about the towers (opening image excluded).
Of course I have my own ideas about the meaning, the causes and the results of those terrorist attacks, but that’s not for here. Buy me a beer and we’ll talk it all over.
Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the Twins, is the real subject here. I'm going to start with his personal life: he is the only man I have ever heard of who married a woman, divorced her, married two more, and then re-married the first again. Weird. As far as his architectural skills go, he was clearly a man of great talent. However, his theories of urban planning were whack. To the question "why did you make two 110 storey buildings when you could have made one 220 tower?" he is quoted as reflecting a moment and responding (apparently sincerely) "I didn't want to lose the human scale".
The most extreme conspiracy theorists will tell you it was the government that destroyed the Twin Towers. If this is the case, then that makes 9/11 the second time the state has intervened to demolish Yamasaki's projects: the other famous one being the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex in St. Louis.
Infamous amongst public and architects alike, Pruitt and Igoe were segregated projects (named after Pruitt– a black WW2 pilot, and Igoe– a white congressman) built in '55. Essentially, all his theories about how people would use the blocks were wrong. Apartments were purposely built small in order to encourage tenants to use the large public corridors and rooms, found on every second floor. Needless to say, these spaces became occupied by muggers, and the buildings became renowned for their violence and vandalism. The architect's drawings of smiling children rolling down the halls on tricycles never materialised. Like a lot of Modernists, Yamasaki was extremely naive about how the people actually lived, he said "I never thought people could be that destructive." Jencks famoulsy gloated that the projects' destruction marked the end of Modernism. Their demolition, less than 20 years after their construction, was captured in the film Koyaanisqatsi (music by Philip Glass). If you can spare 8 minutes of your life, watch the video below, its truly amazing.