It seems surreal. 10 Years ago, today, the world changed as we know it. How we live changed, irreversibly. 10 years later, I, like everyone, can remember that morning with such finite detail. In honor of the memories of those who gave everything, I thought I'd bring back the entry I wrote 5 years ago, today.
The Power of a Symbol
Five years ago, today, I sat in class, structures class if I remember correctly, trying to stay awake. After all, it was an 8:30 lecture. The moment class ended, a student stood up and said, simply, “The World Trade Center was just attacked.” It was 9:25 am.
The student walked out without saying another word, and for a moment, I thought it was some weird practical joke. I would find out, five minutes later, eyes riveted to a television set in the department office, that it was not. It’s been said over and over again, the world changed that day. It’s not an exaggeration.
I watched, on television, as the World Trade Center crumbled down, floor by floor, until it was lost in the cloud of its own dust. I remember our academic advisor bursting out into tears, as we stared on in disbelief. I remember walking home, after school officially closed, thinking, how could the weather be so perfect, the day so unbelievably beautiful, when, elsewhere, chaos was erupting.
As we would learn, the targets were specific. The buildings were chosen for the special meanings they embodied. They were symbols, markers. It was meant to be as significant a psychological blow as it was a physical catastrophe.
As we look on, five years later, so much has yet to be done. The wound is still open, the healing not really begun. In the wake of 9/11, a call went out, a challenge made, one which some considered the opportunity for architects to reassert the value of their work. Rebuild on suddenly sacred ground, and create something that respected the past while inspiring the future. It was a wish for remembrance. It was a cry for defiance.
I fear for the success. I feel deflated by the solution. And perhaps, more than anything else, I am disappointed by the process. Politics, egos, personal interests – they dominate the rebuilding process. They are the stories to arise from the rubble of that day.
Three years ago, during a scholarship interview, I was asked the question on everyone’s mind, “What do you think should be done at the World Trade Center site?” A loaded question. I faced four strangers who looked on expectantly.
I told them that what I hoped for. I hoped for a place that would remember the significance of the event while engendering new life, new activity, a new spirit. I hoped that, in the process of reconstruction, disparate parties might unite under a common goal, a vision that could encapsulate the hopes, memories, desires of the expectant millions watching. I told them that the challenge, above anything else, would be reconciling the desires of those who saw the site as a massive graveyard and those who saw the site as an opportunity for massive redevelopment. I told them that any solution would have to successfully address both. That life and death, happiness and sadness, would need to exist, side by side. I told them that I believed architecture had the power to reach such greatness.
I still believe in that greatness. I still believe that architecture can take on such weight, such responsibility. It is the power of a symbol – this ability for concrete objects to illicit abstract emotions. I just don’t know, given the process so far, if the results will ever meet the heavy expectations. Some might say nothing would. And perhaps they are right. But, perhaps, if the process hadn’t been derailed the way it has, there might have been a better chance for success.