Beyond Buildings


Not Nine Eleven

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Welcome to all of you that survived 9/11.  By that I mean the 10th anniversary, of course. You might even have forgotten the tragic loss of thousands of lives because of the miasma of remembrance that blanketed the media in this country. It was so suffocating that I could barely do anything else this past weekend.

I do not mean to sound cynical, but we just spent countless hours remembering that a pair of bad buildings that happened to be very tall and on a prominent location disappeared. You would wish that we had just a fraction of that much attention for the disappearance of the original Penn Station or other truly beautiful buildings. We do, of course, mourn the loss of several thousand lives. But the 9/11 memorial will not be a good building. It will be a hole in the ground that you, because of value engineering, will not be able to enter. Go figure.

Everything changed on 9/11/01. Not so much, except that getting through airports became progressively more difficult. And we spent trillions of dollars on what I believe were wholly unnecessary wars and will spend countless more on a war on terrorism that is about as productive as the war on drugs.


But to stick, myopically, to the supposed subject of this blog: We are still building tall buildings, and most of them are still mediocre in design. We have built more concrete into some of them, notably around ground zero, but we are careful to cover that protection with sheets of glass, just as we disguise anti-tank or car-bomb barriers as bollards that aren’t quite high enough to tie your horse to.

If any space opened up, it was an ever-wider gulf between our government and us. I do not mean this metaphorically or politically, though you wonder whether the physical separation between the places where our governors do their business and us has not contributed to the sense of alienation that many of us feel from our bureaucratic leaders.

True, there was the one moment of absolute horror, followed by the strange suspension of activity around the world, and the hopeful reimagination of a new city that took up much of the year after the planes hit. Those are memories worth holding onto, telling your children and students about, and keeping in your heart. But remember also that both terror and hope faded, and we now once again reside and work in the bland boxes of absence that are our daily lot, ever further removed by the technology of fear from other human beings and the world we make together.

Time to come together, but just in memory of an event that was a milestone, not a catalyst.



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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.