There is no telling how long we will be staring into the abyss of Ground Zero. I do not believe in 'decision by commitee'. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Collective design is an oxymoron. The eventual selection was be a pastiche of personal agendas. Thus the final design of the World Trade Center was underwhelming and beneath the potential of our greatness. Subsequently, it has become mired in red tape and infighting.
Maybe that's a blessing. Maybe we can rethink the design, a visual we will live with for decades to come (G-d willing).
I love the families of the victims of 9/11 but what do they know about design? And the same can be said of a good many other decisionmakers. It is the individual that accomplishes that which is truly remarkable. Yes I vote for the individual.
The above rendering is Santiago's Calatrava's World Trade Center transportation hub. With little fanfare and almost no publicity. Mr Calatrava has designed and executed his plan for a subway station for WTC.
If I were King of the Forest, I would designate the individual with an illustrious career refracted into three component parts - architecture, sculpture, and civil engineering - and it is impossible to say which is uppermost. All converge so seamlessly in the genesis of everything he does that, even though he is best known as an architect, it is not clear if he is, in fact, a sculptor who designs buildings, an architect who makes sculptures, or an engineer who excels at both. [New York Sun]
In other words, Sanitago Calatrava. There is a new exhibition of his illustrious career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.Last week, The New York Sun said this about him;
That Mr. Calatrava is a great architect, possibly the most brilliant alive, is or should be common knowledge by now. Wherever his buildings alight, you hear almost unanimous praise. People can't stop talking about the stadium he created for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the signature cultural landmark of the games. Even unbuilt, the transit hub he designed for the World Trade Center site is the only part of that dreary spectacle to have transcended controversy and become a popular and critical success. The catenary of cubes he envisions for a 90-story residential tower at 80 South Street similarly captured the imagination of New Yorkers - before ground had even been broken. And his large-scale design of the City of Arts and Sciences in his native Valencia - with its science center in the shape of an eye that opens and shuts - is widely seen as a wonder of the post-industrial world. Shimmering models of all four projects, as well as a stunning computer-simulated walk-through of the transit hub, are on view at the Met.
Not quite as well known is that Mr. Calatrava is a gifted sculptor.
Prior to this exhibition, I had seen a number of his efforts, mostly those large, kinetic shadow contraptions that look like finger exercises for his buildings. Though a number of these are featured at the Met, the show also gives New Yorkers their first real chance to see his smaller, more purely sculptural works, which are better than I had anticipated.
Still, he does not attain in this medium the eminence he has achieved in architecture. Part of the reason is that the force of his architecture consists in the inspired application to buildings of an older language that is largely derived from sculpture; when that language is reapplied to sculpture itself, the results are distinguished, but only in a conventional way.
The formal terms of his sculpture echo the movements of the early and middle years of the last century. In Surrealism and its offshoots, in the work of Arp and Noguchi, he has found the source for a more organic sculpture, usually carved from marble or honed from wood, whose differing materials he exploits with great sympathy and skill. Meanwhile, his mechanized, kinetic sculpture is an adaptation of the works of artists like Pol Bury in the early 1960s. And from the Russian Constructivists he derives his fascination with open, abstract forms constructed out of wire.
Russian Constructivism, which has given Mr. Calatrava so much of the vocabulary for both sculpture and architecture, was itself derived from the strictly utilitarian machine aesthetic of 19th-century engineering. It is no coincidence that Mr. Calatrava has a Ph.D. in civil engineering from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. One of the felicities of his work as an architect is that he has managed to revitalize the most essentially Modernist formal vocabulary, derived from engineering, and to turn it into something vibrantly new and Postmodern.
At the same time, there is a quiet, almost subliminal contextualism to his built structures. Through an ingenious visual pun, he uses the often arid and impersonal vocabulary of engineering to evoke the arcuations of the mythic Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi, and of Gaudi's own inspiration, the Gothic architecture of medieval Spain. This - together with that sensitivity to materials in which Postmodern architecture invariably surpasses its Modernist counterparts - allows Mr. Calatrava to transcend the glamorous but somewhat soulless functionalism of Pier Luigi Nervi, the great Italian architect and engineer to whom he is sometimes compared.
To speak in general terms, Mr. Calatrava's architecture combines the careers of men like Richard Meier and Frank Gehry. Like Mr. Meier, he favors white, clean, pure forms that result in an evocative Neo-Modernism. But the mood of Mr. Meier's work is highly classical, rational, and dispassionate: It does not - perhaps it cannot - evoke much beyond formal beauty and lustrous competence. For his part, Mr. Gehry is largely the progenitor of the architectural stunt, all sound and fury with little real function: What he makes is sculpture that presumes to the status of architecture.
But Santiago Calatrava, by drawing on his roots in sculpture and engineering as well as architecture, has forged a synthesis in order to achieve something grander than either Mr. Meier or Mr. Gehry has attained to date.
Until March 5 (1000 Fifth Avenue, at 82nd Street, 212-535-7710).