WTC memorial

My favourite Norwegian architects, Snøhetta (that's the name of the company), won the contract for the World Trade Center Museum Complex. I'm very excited about this. I only discovered Snøhetta fairly recently, after they built the new library in Alexandria. One of Norway's most prominent author's, Kjartan Fløgstad, wrote a book about them recently, which I have yet to get around to reading. It sounded very interesting at the reading, and it got me hooked on their ideas. The subtitle is "Snøhetta and the unmonumental monumentalism." This is precisely why Snøhetta should get this contract:

Mr. Dykers of Snohetta [has] a conception of what his building - on the northeast corner of Fulton and Greenwich Streets - should look like: "Simple, very unassuming and perhaps unimposing. But we would also like it to be memorable and to provide an identity for that corner.

"It should be a building that doesn't distract from the memorial," he said. "A building that is almost invisible."
(NY Times, Oct.13th.)

In other words, they won't build something large and imposing with the word Freedom or Justice in the name, but something respectful. They don't do pompous or loud. I'm hoping it will be something that doesn't canonize the dead or keeps building on the national myth accumulating around September 11th, of how it changed everything when it fact, it changed nothing.

I recently experienced the power of one Snøhetta building, the first I have actually experienced in real life, when I visited my friends M and T who are living temporarily in Sandvika. Snøhettas cultural centre there is amazing: a large, sloping, oblong building, seemingly sliding gently into the city centre. Despite it's size and directed-ness, and the sense of it almost falling, it seemed very quiet and unimposing. Very naturally located inbetween an otherwise nondescript city centre. It reminded me of the effect one gets when very large men are quiet, graceful people. They seem almost doubly quiet for their appearance of brutality and gracelessness.

The unique thing about the building in Sandvika is the way it exists along several axes at once. The building slopes along several planes, but somehow remains level inside. You walk into it, and everything seems normal until you have reached the front panoramic windows. Then, as you turn back, perspective disappears. Lines fall away into many vanishing points. The floor seems to slope and not slope at the same time. Often in the wrong direction from the building. It is as though several frames of relativity exist simultaneously, seemingly not allowing one sense of perspective to dominate. It is both a profoundly disturbing and exhilarating experience. I was for the longest time unable to figure out that the floor was actually level. Look at these two pictures. Can you tell?

It's just an optical illusion, of course, but it seems, when you're there, like it's something more than that. I walked back to the train station, afterwards, and the hopelessly square buildings of the rest of Sandvika seemed to slope and lean. As though my perception of right angles had changed. Or maybe more as though the building itself warps the nature of the straight line around it. Calls it an abstraction and pretends to dispense with it, while instead creating several straight-line frames for people to move through and in. As such, the building seems at the same time to be a celebration of, and an assault on, euclidean space. It seems fitting for such a plurality to be the basis for a cultural center.

If this is the power of a building to change the way we think about things, the way we structure our thoughts, I can think of no architect that I would rather have doing something as important as the WTC memorial. Maybe they will contribute to the more sober reckoning of September 11th which becomes more and more neccesary for every day that goes by.

(Oh, and Frank Gehry, maker of the Bilbao Guggenheim and another of my favourite architects, won the Performing Arts Centre contract. I have hope for the site.)


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