Memorial Architecture at Ground ZeroTerm Paper

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"There was a moment on September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center in New York City became Ground Zero…the media had found the new name and it stuck," (Sturken 311). What to with the World Trade Center site has been one of the most contentious and politicized urban development stories in American history. Even the term Ground Zero represents the different opinions about how to memorialize September 11. As Sturken points out, "the term Ground Zero connotes complete annihilation and "nuclear obliteration' but is also connotes a "starting point" or tabula rasa, in that zero implies starting from scratch," (311). Yet who gets to decide what Ground Zero symbolizes, and how those symbols are rendered in spatial, aesthetic, and architectural realms? It has repeatedly been suggested that "the politically and economically powerful" have "frozen the moment of September 11," (Low 327). The politically powerful have essentially co-opted the symbol of September 11, as if they outright purchased the rights to it as commodity. Herein lies the conundrum of the World Trade Center development. What was once a zone of intense commercial activity had its own symbolic import, which is why the terrorists selected this of all other buildings. Now, the tabula rasa absorbs the diversity of voices and has yet to coalesce into a range of public and private spaces that all can agree upon.

Discourse surrounding the World Trade Center site takes into account the ironies and problems associated with memorializing a disaster. There is a disturbing voyeuristic element in creating observation zones, for example, Lisle refers to the first viewing platform erected six months after the terrorist event. The platform was designed by four "prominent New York architects -- David Rockwell, Kevin Kennon, Liz Diller and Rick Scofidio" and was able to be "rushed through the usual red tape of urban planning," (3). Right away, it is apparent that powerful economic interests were at stake immediately as the architects were able to bypass red tape. Moreover, the event of September 11 became a sort of currency. It could be used to garner sympathy and support. The act of looking at the disaster site is therefore similar to the act of "consuming" disaster as one does when watching a violent movie. As Zuber notes, violence does have its own aesthetic in the public consciousness. September 11 represented the warped sense of appreciation for violence. Zuber also notes that his students in New York were "all too willing to repeat what they were hearing on televisions," with regards to how they digested the terrorist attack (269). Moreover, the students who were active consumers of infotainment admitted to feeling "like they were living in an exciting disaster movie," in what Zuber calls a "frank enjoyment" of the disaster (269). A parallel can be drawn to the way tourists would come and take photos of the disaster site, as if they would go home and brag to their friends.

Rebuilding on the World Trade Center site does not necessarily have to mirror the consumption of violence in society. It is theoretically possible to have redeveloped the site without any interest at all in opening it for a memorial. Yet there is an obvious pull towards creating interactive memorial zones including public art and museums designed specifically for tourism. As a consumer institution, tourism to the World Trade Center site is unavoidable voyeuristic, even when it is also meditative, intellectual, thoughtful, cathartic, and informative. The first viewing platforms built in the months following the 2001 disaster ironically increased tourism to New York City, even when tourism rates in general had dipped (Lisle). The primary economic stakeholders must have realized early on the commercial potential of creating a memorial site designed for tourists. Tourism to the World Trade Center site raises important questions about who uses public spaces, why they use it, and how. As the site stands now, it has evolved from little more than random chaos into a planned mixture of disparate interests. Most of those interests remain commercial, in keeping with the spirit of the original edifices.

Lisle points out an important political dimension of tourism to the World Trade Center as well, which is the reality that tourists occupy a transnational space. As such, issues related to cultural diversity are not possible to ignore when contemplating the use of the site formerly known as Ground Zero. The World Trade Center has also been developed in ways that are politically controversial from another perspective. That is, New Yorkers are omitted thoroughly from the discussion on how the space should be used and developed. Only the dominant players -- those with economic and political power -- have had a say in the planning of the World Trade Center site. The leaseholder of the site Larry Silverstein, the Port Authority of NY, and other stakeholders directly "selected architects who represent their interests by allocating space in certain ways and by expressing their dominant values in architectural and spatial form," (Low 326). Local people were systematically excluded from the discussion, and still are, according to Low. Absent from the World Trade Center museum is genuine, authentic emotional discourse to allow the "mourning, anger…outpouring of emotion and ideas" surrounding the initial terrorist event (Low 326). Ironically, the memorial has been designed to promote forgetting rather than remembrance.

The politically and economically powerful have "co-opted its commemoration" in ways that are perhaps unavoidable (Low 327). The ideal response to the situation now is for local artists to reclaim the space in whatever way possible, through working directly with the city in incorporating public art. The current state of the World Trade Center site includes several completed skyscrapers such as One WTC, several in planned development, such as a "transportation and retail hub," and the core of "Ground Zero" elements. The Ground Zero elements include the memorial and the museum. The memorial consists of a large public green space with two reflective pools that occupy the footprint of the twin towers. Devoting the entire "Ground Zero" space to non-commercial activity was a symbolic measure on the part of the planning committee and does seem appropriate in this case. While the memorial raises important questions related to the voyeurism of disaster, the tourism of disaster, and the misappropriation of emotionally-charged sites, the power embedded in the memorial cannot be denied. The architects have woven into the memorial complex threads of anger, despair, and confusion. The names of the dead are prominently placed. Trees symbolize new life. Ground Zero has finally become something new.

The design of the museum building itself does integrate well with the memorial. An abundance of glass mirrors the reflective pools and their theme of meditation. The building is wide and expansive, and ironically, almost has an aerodynamic feel to it. However, there is a potential political problem with the museum. Admission is not free. The enterprise has become commercialized to a degree that ethnographers and architects have warned. Not only does the museum represent the commercialization of violence, it also represents the ability to capitalize on the violence aesthetic. Those endowed with political and economic power appropriated a disaster event. There are artifacts from the disaster on display in a stunning and overt voyeuristic enterprise. These items on display bear a resemblance to the "ritualized objects" of despair and mourning that people collect for their personal collection' but putting them on display for the public is something different altogether (Sturken 312). Going through the museum allows the visitor to recreate the events of September 11 in a macabre manner, similar to the ways Zuber's students remarked that they felt September 11 was like a movie; disaster had become a form of interactive entertainment. Now, visitors can pay admission to relive September 11 and interact with the "ritualized objects" of the dead. Sturken warned about the process of object collection for the planned museum, noting that the collection of objects had taken place immediately after the disaster.

Of the unfinished buildings at the World Trade Center complex are zones dedicated more directly and overtly to commercial activity, as if the World Trade Center has reverted to its original purpose. Discourse on the use of World Trade Center raises poignant questions about the role of architects and urban planners in designing memorials in politically relevant ways. There are several confounding variables at stake. One of those variables is the diversity of the city itself. It would be utterly impossible to have a confluence of ideas on how World Trade Center land should be used and allocated for the memorial. The city is diverse on every dimension: age, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. Therefore, a cacophony of voices has cluttered discourse on how to best use the site.

Second, there are financial variables that inevitably influence the design and outcome of public spaces. Finally, there is the issue of how memorial spaces function and how people interact with them. After the terrorist attack, Ground Zero assumed a sort of holy or sacred site status in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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