NY WTC: A Living Archive

Afterwords - Afterimages
It is the first time that men have projected all their strength and labor into the sky -- a whole city in the free air of the sky. Good God, what disorder, what impetuosity! What perfection already. What promises!

-- Le Corbusier, When Cathedrals were White, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1947

In its American context, the skyscraper played to our national weaknesses: "our love of abstract magnitude, our interest in land gambling, our desire for conspicuous waste."

-- Lewis Mumford, quoted by Dore Ashton in New York, Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1972.

Jean Baudrillard, Simulations


Translated by Paul Foss, Paul Patton and Phil Beitchman (New York: Semiotext[e], 1983):

Why are there two towers at New York’s World Trade Center? All of Manhattan’s great buildings were always happy enough to confront each other in a competitive verticality, the result of which is an architectural panorama in the image of the capitalist system: as pyramidal jungle, all of the buildings attacking each other. The system profiled itself in a celebrated image that you had of New York when you arrived there by boat. This image has completely changed in the last few years. The effigy of the capitalist system has passed from the pyramid to the perforated card. Buildings are no longer suspicious one of the other, like columns in a statistical graph. This new architecture incarnates a system that is no longer competitive, but compatible, and where competition has disappeared for the benefit of the correlations. (New York is the world’s only city therefore that retraces all along it’s history, and with a prodigious fidelity and in all its scope, the actual form of the capitalistic system -- it changes instantly in function of the latter. No European city does so.) This architectural graphism is that of the monopoly; the two W.T.C. towers, perfect parallelepideds a quarter-mile high on a square base, perfectly balanced and blind communicating vessels. The fact that there are two of them signifies the end of all competition, the end of all original reference. Paradoxically, if there were only one, the monopoly would not be incarnated because we have seen how it stabilizes on a dual form. For the sign to be pure, it has to duplicate itself: it is the duplication of the sign that destroys its meaning. This is what Andy Warhol demonstrates also: the multiple replicas of Marilyn’s face are there to show at the same time the death of the original and the end of representation. The two towers of the W.T.C. are the visible sign of the closure of the system in a vertigo of duplication while the other skyscrapers are each of the them the original moment of a system constantly transcending itself in a perpetual crisis and self-challenge.

If Satan had wished to tempt Jesus with modern Manhattan, he might have taken him to the World Trade Center.

-- Mary Campbell Gallagher, "This Park is Central," Commonweal, April 1994.

If you sit on the east side [of the World Trade Center] in the morning when the sun hits the building, you can hear the whole thing pop. You hear the movement of the structure.

-- Diane Kaese, restoration architect, quoted in Karrie Jacobs, "Faulty Towers," New York magazine, March 16, 1998., p. 78.

Nothing collapses until a lot of things are wrong simultaneously.

--Donald Friedman, structural engineer and author of Historical Building Construction, quoted in Karrie Jacobs, "Faulty Towers," New York magazine, March 16, 1998., p. 78.

Obviously in the case of [rebuilding] the WTC a collective opinion is mandatory, as the owner is no longer the propritor of the site, it is the collective memory which has suddenly become the owner and must decide its destiny.

-- Jerry Sheerin, U.S. Architect / Madrid, December 2001.

The following dialogue is from the children’s interactive CD-ROM game Carmen Sandiego’s Think Quick Challenge. The character speaking is Chase Devineaux, Commander-in-Chief of Acme Academy, SF. (Copywrite 1999, The Learning Company).

"OK Acme agent -- this is Dr. Depth! He’s trying to steal all the steel. He wants to bring all the skyscrapers in the world down to his own subterranean level. If he gets his way, the high-rise will be history. Can you catch him, Agent ——— ?"

Excerpts from William Carlos Williams, In The American Grain

(New Directions, 1925)

This brilliant, genre-defying book, at once an overview and a close reading of the "grain" of the Americas, was published soon after this country’s participation in WWI brought it to the status of a genuine world power and altered our collective understanding of our place among nations. These excerpts dealing with the Puritans are included here for their resonance value with particular respect to the rhetoric of our political leadership in the aftermath of the events of 9/11. (E.D.)

"The May-Pole at Merry Mount"

A most confusing thing in American History, as we read it, is a nearly universal lack of scale. This parochialism is helped by such balanced statements as A.C. Adams’ preface to Thomas Morton’s The New English Canaan–in which the incident of the May-pole at Merry Mount is related. Adams has compared "that vulgar royalist libertine," Morton, and the Puritans of the Plymouth colony too closely. He has seen the time too near. He has accepted the mere chance presence of Morton in the neighborhood of Plymouth as the outstanding fact, letting his mind dwell upon that, trying one party against the other, as they quarreled in the flesh–till both are worn, in our eyes, to some unrecognizable, indifferent proportion. The description, "a vulgar royalist libertine, thrown by accident in to the midst of a Puritan Community, an extremely reckless but highly amusing old debauchee and tippler," is not adequate to describe a man living under the circumstances that surrounded Morton; its tone might do for a London clubman but not a New World planter taking his chances in the wilderness. It lacks scale.

"Cotton Mather’s Wonders of the Invisible World"

  1. Enchantments Encountered

1. …Hence ‘tis, that the Happiness of New England has been but for a time, as it was foretold, and not for a long time, as has been desir’d for us. A Variety of Calamity has long follow’d this Plantation; and we have all the Reason imaginable to ascribe it unto the Rebuke of Heaven upon us for our manifold Apostasies; we make no right use of our disasters: If we do not, Remember whence we are fallen and repent, and do the first Works. But yet our Afflictions may come under a further Consideration with us: There is a further Cause of our Afflictions, whose due must be given him.…

2. …Wherefore the Devil is making one Attempt more upon us; an Attempt more Difficult, more Surprizing, more snarl’d with unintelligible Circumstances than any that we have Encountered; an Attempt so Critical, that if we get well through, we shall soon Enjoy Halcyon Days with all the Vultures of Hell Trodden under our Feet. He has wanted his Incarnate Legions to Persecute us, as the People of God have in other Hemispheres been persecuted: he has therefore drawn forth his more Spiritual ones to make an attacque upon us. We have been advised by some Credible Christians yet alive, that a malefactor, accused of Witchcraft as well as Murder, and Executed in this place more than Forty Years ago, did then give Notice of, An Horrible PLOT against the Country by WITCHCRAFT, and a foundation of WITCHCRAFT then laid, which if it were not seasonably discovered, would probably Blow up, and pull down all the Churches in the Country. And we have now with Horror seen the Discovery of such a Witchcraft! An Army of Devils is horribly broke in upon the place which is the Center, and after a sort, the First-born of our English Settlements: and the Houses of the Good People there are fill’d with the doleful Shrieks of their Children and Servants, Tormented by Invisible Hands, with Tortures altogether preternatural.

Palilalia = immediate repitition of a word, phrase or sentence, as in: "I went downtown, downtown, downtown." [Gk.: again + talk]. Was the WTC an episode of palilalia in the language of architecture?

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Last Updated October 12, 2002