March 15, 2005

Brooklyn Bridge and WTC

All my life I have lived no more than 35 miles west of Manhattan. I can see the skyline from my roof, and have often spent time in the city visiting my sister or father. After reading Hart Crane's poem "To Brooklyn Bridge" and Dr. Jerz's weblog "World Trade Center: Literary and Cultural Reflections," I felt justified that someone else felt what I have always known - that New York City, with its buildings, bridges, and streets, is beautiful.

The Brooklyn Bridge is often considered one of the most beautiful bridges ever created. At its completion in 1883, it was the largest suspension bridge in the world. Its beauty has not been diminished nor dwarfed in the wake of skyscrapers, and it has continued to be one of the most well-known bridges of our time. The Brooklyn Bridge connects Brooklyn Heights to Downtown Manhattan, close to where another architectural beauty was erected.

I have often heard that when the World Trade Center was first erected, many people felt that it ruined the city's skyline and that is was not beautiful enough to stand with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Since I had never known the city without the Twin Towers, I have always felt that they were beautiful. They added a sense of symmetry to the skyline, anchored by the height of the Empire State Building in Midtown. Because of 9/11 I now know what the city looks like without the WTC, and I cannot say that it is improved. Adam Weiss is quoted as saying that:

"Much of the discussion and news of the crash, quite justifiably, surrounds the tremendous tragedy and loss of human life that resulted. But in a group of architects we may also lament the loss of the building."

I suppose I have a little architect in me, because now when I drive up Route 3 and the skyline comes into view, my eyes are immediately drawn to the gaping hole downtown. I have seen the sketches for the WTC's rebuilding, and like the protestors of the original WTC, I do not find any of these plans beautiful. I do not see them fitting in with the aesthetic scheme of the city, and believe that their presence will only magnify the absence of the Twin Towers. I am sure, though, that future generations who grow up with the rebuilt WTC will find it just as beautiful as I found its predecessor.

Donald McNeill's essay "Skyscraper Geography" made me think of skyscrapers and skylines as more than just the aesthetic makeup of a city. He says that: "They also provide a poignant reminder of visibility in society, both of the powerful, who buy, sell, design, or promote the buildings, and of the hidden labourers who construct and maintain them" (46). This idea was prominantly portrayed in Metropolis, where the towering skyscrapers (at the time part of the Science Fiction) symbolized how the the classes were divided. The upper class, or the owners and thinkers, lived at the top of the cities - in the penthouses. The lower class, or the laborours, lived in the bottom of the city where they acted as the foundation of the upper class city. With their hands, the laborours built the skyscrapers in which the upper class did their thinking and ruling. The tall buildings displayed the power and dominance of the upper class, and that meaning was just as important as the buildings' technical uses.

As McNeill suggested, that symbolic value is not wasted on our skyscrapers of today. There is a reason Al Quaeda targeted the World Trade Center. The Twin Towers stood for our country's success and domination over the Middle East. By destroying that symbol, they attempted to prove to us that despite our public display of wealth and power, we could be brought down. Al Qaeda used the symbolic power of our skyscrapers in the same way the workers in Metropolis used their city. Their attempt to destroy it was not so that their children would be drowned, but so that the thinkers would finally realize that they couldn't be ignored any more.

Posted by JohannaDreyfuss at March 15, 2005 04:05 AM | TrackBack
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