The design of the tower currently called 2 World Trade Center marks the arrival into the heart of American and global business of the conceptual logic developed several decades ago by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). Its presentation—in the form of a video (below) as slick as anything on the multiple screens that make up our window into current and future reality—shows the transformation of architectural representation into something more akin to games or advertisements. The building’s program evidences the dominance of communications and data in all aspects of our economy. Luckily, the synthesis of all of this is an appealing design by Bjarke Ingels and BIG, the current King of Konceptual Ikons.
First, the presentation. Created by Squint/Opera, it stars Ingels in his matter-of-fact, but self-assured manner, seemingly drawing in the air and over buildings around Manhattan. He explains that all he is doing is stacking up the basic blocks that make up Manhattan’s meat to create a tower almost as tall as the bland One World Trade Center, while preserving views and sun corridors and sculpting the whole to fit into Daniel Libeskind, AIA’s master plan for Ground Zero. I am not buying it all, but the argument and its cartoon explanation certainly work well, while the fly-throughs of the un-built structure that follow are, if fairly standard in style, remarkable in their level of detail and lightness. Long gone are the days of renderings with architects playing air guitar over them. Now reality, and the promise thereof, are not so much the same, as the latter is a hyper-version of the former. Buildings are not just more beautiful under construction then when they are finished: their promo movies are often better than their construction.
The idea running through this particular design is a simple one: The tower’s client is Rupert Murdoch and his Fox media empire, which needs everything from large studios to regular offices stacked on top of each other in the most efficient manner, even though the pieces all demand different floor sizes and cores. Ingels did the logical thing by giving each project section its own block with its own size, shifting and cantilevering them to maintain their balance as they fit on top of each other. Along the way he liberated the tower from the twin traditions of setbacks and sculptural soaring to create a form that is simpler and more active than anything we have seen in this scale of skyscraper. It promises to be the perfect counterpoint to his West 57th, currently under construction, which fulfills Hugh Ferriss’s promise of tall structures turning into human-made mountains.
The way the whole project is coming together makes it clear that Ferriss’ vision may come true after almost a century of remaining a mirage. The realization of his “Buildings like crystals…forms as cool as ice,” which he predicted in his The Metropolis of Tomorrow (Ives Washburn, New York, 1929) will have the peculiar quality of being both inevitable and ethereal: The current crop of skyscrapers follows the logic of technology and economic conditions, but the result will be clad in skins so taut as to make the makeover seem like a botox job on the face of Manhattan, while their forms will be so abstract as to bring to mind not so much geology or minerals as the blocks and blobs we see floating around in Sci-Fi films.
With the construction of Ingels’ buildings, or perhaps even with their representation, the transformation of Manhattan into art will take another step. Things fall apart, rise up, abstract, and take shape with the inexorable logic of money, but here in and as the landscape of New York, offering a real and aesthetically pleasing reality to the game of zeros and ones turning into images that tell us what to think and what to buy. Fox’s and Ingels’ image production will find an unstable, tension-filled high point with this tower. Just don’t ask for any reality or meaning.
For more images and information on 2 World Trade Center, visit ARCHITECT's Project Gallery.