Two for Minoru…

October 8, 2014

minoru1 minoru2

…Yamasaki, that is.  Something about his buildings..?


Calatrava White Elephant?

June 27, 2012

I am a civil engineer, so I cannot help but be thrilled at the sight of the Calatrava PATH terminal taking shape (the elliptical foundation in the middle of the photo) beneath my window at World Trade Center site – it will be amazing!  And the memorial park itself is pretty nice too – I visited it for the first time last week.

Of course, the base of the Freedom Tower looks disturbingly like Godzilla’s foot stamping on Bambi, but no matter.  They’ll fancy it up…a bit.

In the end, as I gaze down at the massive construction site, with more people and money moving in and out of it than some entire countries no doubt, I wonder about that PATH building:  let’s forget the money-losing tower for now.  What is it for?  Penn Station handles more than seven times the number of passengers, and this terminal will do nothing to increase capacity.  It will simply look fantastic.  Is it worth $3.5 billion, and counting?  That would buy a lot of nitty-gritty upgrades for the cars and tracks that actually move people around the city.

I have to conclude that it’s a colossal waste of money, what used to be known in architectural circles as a ‘folly’.  All those bridge and train tolls gonna rise…$3.5 billion and counting.  We will pay for the megalomania of the PA NYNJ directors.  From the Wiki article:

A large transit station was not part of the 2003 Memory Foundations master plan for the site by Daniel Libeskind, which called for a smaller station along the lines of the original subterranean station that existed beneath the World Trade Center. Libeskind’s design called for the space to be left open, forming a “Wedge of Light” so that sun rays around the autumnal equinox would hit the World Trade Center footprints each September.

In early 2004, the Port Authority, which owns the land, modified the Libeskind plan to include a world-class transportation station downtown that was intended to rival Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal.

For a little perspective, consider that Grand Central, completed in 1913 for $80 million, $1.9 billion today, has 44 platforms, on two levels, and 67 tracks.  It was built with private money, and marked a tremendous advance in the design of complicated rail terminals, besides being a Beaux Arts monument.  The PATH terminal will have, uh…four tracks?

If I go back to using the PATH, I will go from Hoboken, left and center, to NYC, at the right, in the photos below.


9/11

September 10, 2011

I am very happy that the tenth anniversary of our humiliating victimization by a band of fanatical terrorists falls on a Sunday.  That means I don’t have to fight the crowds of visitors and dignitaries, security personnel, and media hordes to get to my cubicle where I toil for my salary. Other than that, the only observation I have is that the ‘remembrance’ often strikes me as morbid and a bit ghoulish.  Certainly, there are individuals who have tremendous losses to mourn, and I wish them the best, but that’s an individual drama and anguish.  I’m not sure that the articles, TV comments, speechifying and whatnot support and nurture that.

How admirably short and direct was Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Perhaps we will be lucky, and receive the same.


Batting 500

May 2, 2011

I thought he would never be captured or killed – I was wrong.  Oh, well, I was right about those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The reasons for my relative sang froid regarding this event are illustrated by this quote from the journalistic blusterer, Ross Douthat:

They can strike us, they can wound us, they can kill us. They can goad us into tactical errors and strategic blunders. But they are not, and never will be, an existential threat.

This was not clear immediately after 9/11.

As with his fellow windbag, Thomas Friedman, as well as many, many, politicians and talking-head wannabee pundits, he takes far too long to learn his lessons.  The sense of those two sentences that are in bold was very evident to me in 2001, and to John Kerry in 2004, and to the writer of an op-ed piece that I recall from the NYTimes shortly after 9/11 (citations, please, if anyone can find it![Here it is.]) that stated that Osama bin Laden’s was a form of ‘politics’ doomed for the dustbin.  Yes, there were plenty of reasonable people who understood what was what, but the hysteria of people like Ross and his fellow scribblers, not to mention GWB, made it hard to understand what they were saying.


War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Victim is Hero

April 10, 2011

Make a note in the George Orwell, 1984 collection of historical amnesiac incidents…or is it?

The NYTimes had an article a few days ago about the quotation that is to be prominently inscribed in stone at the 9/11 memorial taking shape below my office window:  “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”  As the writer showed, the text is grotesquely inappropriate, being a line taken out of context that celebrates the memory of two soldiers brutally killed in an ambush.  The Aeneid was not a pastoral!  The line sounds lofty and noble, but do we want to memorialize the deaths of thousands of innocent civilian victims of an atrocity with a line celebrating ancient warrior values? The author of the OpEd piece thinks it is a bit of intellectual laziness, typical of the Internet age, when people snatch quotations off of websites without doing the reading necessary to understand them fully.  Well, nobody reads the classics anymore, so who cares?

As I wrote in my probably-never-to-be-published letter to the Times (but you loyal readers, can get the scoop here!) I suspect something else may be at work here.  We want to remember the victims, but not as victims. That’s too painful:  it reminds us of how unprepared we were, and how vulnerable we can be.  Better to remember them as the first casualties in a heroic war against terror.

This fits with the current overuse of the word “hero” in our popular culture.  Heroes are supposed to be people who choose to face death and danger, but now everyone who dies is a hero.   Rush into a burning building and die trying to save a child – you are a hero.  Killed by a falling timber as you rush in a panic out of a burning building, you’re a hero too!  People terrified by death who just couldn’t escape:  they don’t exist.  We all know what we are doing, and we are all heroes.  So nobody is a hero in the end…


Folly at NYC Ground Zero

September 18, 2010

In 18th century landscape architecture, a folly is a whimsical, usually ornamental building often in a rather outlandish style set in a garden.  The British were particularly fond of them.

In an earlier post, I remarked on a different sort of folly related to the rebuilding of the WTC site.  Today, the business columnist in the NYTimes, Joe Nocera, has an excellent analysis of the absurdity underlying the Freedom Tower now rising at the site.  All this in a town and country that prides itself on hard-headed economic analysis in the context of the free market.   I wonder how the local Tea Party members will feel if they have to pay more to cross the bridges in order to foot the bill for this folly.

A view of the behemoth rising outside my office window:


Trophy Mosque

August 31, 2010

At lunch, yesterday, I wandered by this building in downtown Manhattan.  There was a cluster of people in front, including a couple holding signs defending the rights of American citizens to build a mosque and community center if they want to.  I asked why they were protesting there and was told that this was the building where the mosque was to be built.  Clueless to time and space as usual, I had not even noticed what street I was on.

A stocky white woman was ranting to a lithe black man with a video camera about how this project is an offensive “trophy mosque.”   She compared it to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the oldest Islamic building in the world, which she said was built as a commemoration of Moslem conquests in that region.  Wikipedia makes no mention of this, saying it was built as a shrine for pilgrims to the site that is holy to Christians, Moslems, and Jews, and was not even planned as a place of regular worship.

It’s hard to imagine the local community boards and zoning reviews allowing a structure as eye-catching as the golden dome to be built on Park Place in Manhattan, but I guess that’s what people in the No-Mosque crowd fear.  The ranting lady conveyed with winks, nods, sarcasm and other broad rhetorical devices her absolute dismissal of the notion that the backers of the project are anything but evil agents of a foreign power – nation? religion? terrorist group?  Obviously they are not what they pretend to be – Americans who want to build a cultural center near where many of them work and live. 

It wasn’t too long ago that Jews were subject to this same sort of vile bigotry in America.  Being Jews, they must be loyal to a foreign entity.  Before the state of Israel existed, it was supposed to be some sort of international cabal of cannibals and bankers.  And Catholics too were treated the same way.  After all, they are not true Americans since their allegiance is actually to the pope.  JFK was rumored to be under the pontiff’s thumb.  A fifth-column of popery in DC!


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