Ground Zero: Back to the Future?

<p>Todd Seavey believes that if Ground Zero's designers took a cue from New York City's iconic Art Deco architecture, they would be making an optimistic statement about the future.</p>
December 1, 2006, 10am PST | Michael Dudley
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"Now would be the perfect time to relearn some of the lessons lost when modernism explicitly rejected the past, so that something can be built at Ground Zero that is elegant in the most timeless sense of the word, elegant in the way that the Woolworth Building, mere blocks from the Trade Center site, is. Elegant the way many buildings from the first, all too brief generation of skyscrapers were a century ago, before modernism declared ornament, decoration, gentle curves, and playful details to be frivolous.

The sad truth is that the World Trade Center, while ostensibly an icon of a hectic and diverse world of ever-changing commerce, was also a bland modernist structure-though it certainly didn't deserve its horrible fate.

True, postmodernism can sometimes be as garish as modernism is bland...Still, postmodernism's exuberance was a welcome change after modernism. Can we learn from that tension as we build something at Ground Zero, after five years of public-private, bipartisan, bureaucratic inactivity? The current plan, which may or may not actually come to fruition, appears to be little more than warmed-over modernism, a shiny-white futurist complex that looks like it may have come from Krypton.

Art Deco, with its chrome, spires, lightning bolts, and Fred Astaire–era class, manages to respect traditional notions of beauty while making you want to leap into the future with the confidence of Flash Gordon-a future that flowed gracefully from the past instead of being a brutal break. Art Deco was the product of a civilization that was prosperous, proud, eclectic, and fun, not so worried about giving offense or invoking the wrong tradition that it would rather make heartless boxes."

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Published on Friday, December 1, 2006 in Reason Online
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