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The Twin Towers

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Veronica Poe
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« on: May 14, 2010, 01:08:49 pm »

The Twin Towers
By Rae Bichell
March 9, 2010 | 7:11 p.m
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The Burj Khalifa opened earlier this year as the world’s tallest building, sending a protrusion of steel slicing into the skyline along with a message to a new generation of Muslims: Near its record-setting peak will be a mosque.

Not so coincidentally, in New York, two cranes lifted more metal shafts into place for the Freedom Tower, soon to be this country’s tallest building. With its cutting-edge security and escape designs, it is also holds a message engineered for a new generation of Americans.

I’m not sure it’s a message we want to hear.

Designed by the same company, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill of Chicago, the two buildings are essentially brothers. Both are made with top-of-the-line materials and sustainable design, and both buildings speak of technological success, economic ability and vertical prowess. But while Burj Khalifa has generated talk because of its environmentally savvy design, world’s highest swimming pool and mile-high mosque—and, let’s be honest, about the wisdom of erecting it amid a severe economic decline in Dubai—the talk about the Freedom Tower has been almost exclusively about safety.

The tower boasts blast-resistant windows, a pressurized ventilation system with built-in biological filters, maximum-capacity elevators, 120 floors of extra-wide staircases and a stairwell built specifically for use by firemen—all wrapped in an arsenal of fireproofing, chemical screens and a 2-foot-thick concrete cocoon.

One World Trade Center is meant to be a monument to the fallen, but the obsessive design also makes it clear that it is nothing if not a target. While it’s understandable that smart precautions are needed for the tower, given the grim history of its location, the spectacle of the building has been replaced by paranoia, and the usual thrill and pride ingrained in seeing something so ambitious rise from the sky is morphing into a sense of dread.

All monuments speak to the generation that watches them go up. Big things send big messages, and tall buildings have the ability to embody an entire city, like the Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago, the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Great Pyramids. The Empire State Building defined the skyline, and the country, for a generation of young Americans in the ’30s.

With a mosque at its top, the Burj Khalifa sends a message that is both religious and optimistic. Its name declares the country’s president leader of the world, and its elevators—despite some electrical glitches—are engineered to reach speeds of 40 miles per hour shuttling people to a higher cause, a space of prayer on the 158th floor. By contrast, the Freedom Tower is engineered for speed in the opposite direction, funneling people as quickly as possible back down and out. This is the message that will be emblazoned across the skyline.

By the end of the month, according to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, One World Trade Center will be well on its way through the 21st floor, taking rapid but incremental steps towards its symbolic 1,776-foot twist of glass, steel and industrial-size emergency exits.

The building has undergone countless revisions, cycling through a series of competitions, controversies and architects—enough that we got beaten to the punch in building the tallest building in the world. Discussion of the Freedom Tower remained within an anxious elite of architects, owners and very powerful politicians—and it shows. Eight years of labor have produced only a couple dozen floors of building, described by Nicolai Ouroussoff as “grotesque attempt to disguise its underlying paranoia.” (By comparison, the Lincoln Memorial took 60 years of full public debate and proposals to get right.)

It is time to open up the dialogue again, and this time, maybe my generation should be included. “We shape our buildings,” Winston Churchill said, “and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

Rae Bichell, an anthropology major at Yale University, writes and edits for the university’s international affairs quarterly, The Yale Globalist.
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