My picture of the top of the new WTC from Calyer Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn
The new World Trade Center really has topped out this time. The final 2 sections were hauled up to the top of the spire and bolted on early this morning. The building is not finished. The top of it isn't even finished. The broadcast ring is still under construction, and it won't be until next year before enough of the interior is completed to open. Still, this is a major milestone in the building's construction.
My pictures taken today, May 10, 2013, about noon of the topped out World Trade Center; taken at my usual spot by the East River Ferry port in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Pictures taken this morning by a park ranger on Ellis Island of the topping out of the new World Trade Center:
My pictures over the years of the death and resurrection of the World Trade Center:
This is a detail from that 1994 picture.
From the East River Ferry port in Williamsburg, September, 2010
From the same place, February, 2011
From the same place today, May 10, 2013
I must confess that I've very much enjoyed watching this prodigious project go up; so much so that its completion will be an anticlimax for me. I've never seen so large a construction project in all my life, and I'm sure I will never see anything like it again.
I don't know if there's ever been a major building that has been through such a life, death, and resurrection cycle as this. The only ones I can think of are all from far back in history. The Parthenon was one such building and Chartres Cathedral was another, buildings that replaced earlier monuments destroyed by catastrophe. Of course this building does not measure up to either of those monuments which set standards for architecture for centuries to come. No one will ever say that about this building. I seriously doubt that this building will last as long as both of those have. I don't think terrorists will destroy it again. I think it will simply become obsolete, and probably sooner rather than later. The World Trade Center was not built for the ages, neither this one nor the first one. It was and is again a commercial venture built in an era that doesn't really believe in anything like "the ages." Now, and only now, is all that matters. We are afraid of the past, and we don't really believe in the future, certainly not like our grandparents did even 50 years ago.
That doesn't necessarily mean that this huge pile of steel and glass is meaningless. I can think of no other commercial construction project anywhere at any time involving so much tangled and powerful emotion. There is no other commercial project anywhere incorporating death and resurrection imagery, and even a cemetery, at its center. This office complex and transportation hub is also the final resting place of more than a thousand people, and a memorial to thousands more. So many emotions of grief, anger, and injured national and civic pride are incorporated into a commercial project that may not be able to fully carry them all.
But is that really the fault of the buildings if they cannot successfully carry all that emotional weight?
Our largest and most ambitious buildings reflect our deepest and most sincere convictions. Nothing else could possibly sustain the energy required to build such things. As I've said many times, the towers looming over Manhattan and city centers around the world are our real cathedrals reflecting what we really believe despite what we say we believe. The World Trade Center, all of Manhattan's towers, and every skyline proclaim our faith in the transformative power of money, the god who really does work the miracles, and upon whom we all pin our hopes for salvation. Money may not be a transcendent god, but it is a god nonetheless. The power, and the success, of that belief drives these buildings upward. Just as much as in the days of temples and cathedrals, our own pride drives these things up as well. They are huge monuments of ego, individual and collective. Our belief in money and success is not prepared to deal with death and catastrophe. The ambivalence of this project reflects our ambivalence about those issues. We don't believe in misfortune any more than the ancients did. We no longer believe in curses from angry gods repaying us for transgressions, but we cling to no less a superstition that says that we are all the sole authors of our destinies.
Art and architecture are vainglorious things, and huge prodigious constructions like this one are especially vain and hubristic. And yet, we should all be poorer without them. There is not a single monument on the earth that doesn't have some smell about it. Monuments ranging from the Great Wall of China to the US Capitol were built with slave labor. The Parthenon was paid for with embezzled funds. The people of Reims rioted over the taxes levied to pay for their cathedral, and the people of Laon killed their bishop over the taxes he levied to pay for his cathedral. In our admiration for the dark spirituality of Hagia Sophia, we forget that it was originally the Emperor's palace chapel and reflects the imperial ambitions of Emperor Justinian who had it built. Even the houses of Frank Lloyd Wright carry their taints of corruption. And yet no one is sorry that any of these were built. We are more sorry when they are destroyed.
I thought of this scene from Fritz Lang's Metropolis today:
What I've always thought curious is that this version of the story is closer to Jewish rabbinical understandings than to Christian interpretations. In the Midrashic literature, the Tower of Babel is indeed a rebellion against God, but the rabbis saw it as the creation not only of human pride but of cruelty as well. One story says that the Tower rose so high that it took a year to hoist bricks to the top. As a result, each fallen and broken brick was given a funeral while fallen workers were thrown out with the rubbish.
I don't see the World Trade Center as any kind of rebellion against God (our age doesn't believe in God anyway). I don't see it as any great pyramid built by toiling slaves. Compared to the thousands upon thousands who toiled on ziggurats and pyramids in ancient times, the World Trade Center is being built by a small army of skilled and highly paid specialists, almost all of whom are unionized and display the union insignia prominently at the construction site.
I do see the Tower as the creation of pride and hubris.
Perhaps Wagner comes closer to our tower in the final scene of Das Rheingold (Wagner goes great with New York's architectural and engineering prodigies). The storm clouds and mists part to reveal the newly completed Valhalla. It is the work of the giants Fafner and Fasolt. It was paid for by gold stolen from the Rhine Maidens. The giants quarrel over the gold and Fasolt lies dead reminding all of the crime that underwrote Valhalla's construction. Loge recoils in revulsion at all of this as the Rhine Maidens sing mournfully of their stolen gold. Wotan salutes the magnificent new fortress and leads the gods over a rainbow bridge into Valhalla at the conclusion.
Indeed, there was a lot of scandal and pride behind the construction of the first World Trade Center, the complete destruction of an entire neighborhood on the lower West Side. There were the Rockefeller brothers Nelson and David using their money and influence on state and city governments to use eminent domain laws to clear residents out the proposed site. Only a small Greek Orthodox church was spared. I doubt you will find anything better in the history of any other prodigious construction in history. These histories are witness to basic human animal selfishness and to the crapulence of the universe.
Great monuments, great art, and other great accomplishments are more often than not testimony to what we can do despite ourselves.
Here are the Port Authority's usual faint-inducing close ups of the installation of the final piece of the spire yesterday. These also give you an idea of just how big all of this is.
And here's the silent video: