Q&A: Basic Books Publicity Interview with Eric Darton, January 2000
Q) How did you first get interested in the World Trade Center and why write a book about it?
A) In 1992, I was working on my graduate thesis in the Media Studies program at Hunter College. I wanted to explore the idea that certain world-recognized architectural symbols are a mass medium in their own right, like TV or the movies or the web. I looked around for a project that would fill the bill. Virtually every high-visibility landmark had been "done" - and sometimes to death. But the World Trade Center was up for grabs. It was astonishing that nobody had bothered to seriously ask what this immense icon of urban civilization was actually about. What spurred my interest too was how the WTC's builders had touted it as a paradigm of the coming information age way back in the early 1960s - "the first buildings of the 21st Century" they called it.
Then in February 1993, when I was a little less than a year into my research, the trade center was bombed, killing six people and injuring over 1,000. A horrifying event that changed the way we look at our high-rise cities. For all that, it amounted to a lucky near miss compared to the carnage the bombers had intended. From that point out, it was clear that I was working on a bigger story than I'd realized.
Q) There are lots of books on the growth of cities and on skyscrapers. What makes Divided We Stand different?
A) Most books about modern cities and their buildings see them mainly as a collection of historical factoids or architectural styles. Divided We Stand identifies the World Trade Center as a key symbol of the turning point between two eras of urban life: the industrial and the informational.
The world had never seen buildings like the trade towers before. Though their size and twin-ness has been copied - notably by the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur - the WTC represents a seismic event unique to its time and place. The trade towers were the first in a succession of urban peaks thrust upward by the traumatic global clash of Industrial Revolution and Information Age tectonic plates.
Though the twin towers are creatures of Lower Manhattan in the mid-twentieth century, their repercussions continue in new millennium. Wherever we make our homes and livelihoods today, we are living in the shadow of the World Trade Center. My book looks at these buildings and sees in them a defining moment for citizens of the 21st century - a moment when industrial-era technologies and planning strategies were harnessed to create the most massive structures ever devoted to the workings of finance, insurance and real estate - built atop the ruins of New York City's once-great port.
Like Greek masks symbolizing comedy and tragedy, the WTC presents two faces. These great buildings can be read either as tombstones of the industrial age or as beacons of the new global economy - or both.
Q) What surprised you most in researching this book?
A) The degree to which the modern city acts as a stage for the reenactment of primal social conflict. In what I call New York's "World Trade Center Moment," this conflict played out along the lines of a struggle between the city's organic, self-inventing, self-regulating economic energies, and the master plans and profit-motives of a handful of very powerful men - among them David and Nelson Rockefeller - at that time New York's biggest banker and the NY State's governor.
At bottom the story of the building of the WTC is a tale of how New York's power-brokers hijacked a public agency, the Port Authority, to build a massive real estate speculation. Their goal was to use the trade center as leverage to expand Lower Manhattan's financial district - in which they were heavily invested - while driving up property values throughout the whole area. It is hard to imagine a more blatant instance of entrenched power and wealth circumventing - and in fact, subverting - the democratic process. So the WTC can also be looked at as a monument to the abuse of public trust.
Q) In your book you draw a parallel between the mindsets of master-builders and terrorists that is sure to arouse some controversy. Could you expand on this?
A) From the late 1940s through the '70s, the urban renewal movement, operating under the banner of "slum clearance," flattened American cities and displaced populations at a rate comparable to that of the devastation caused by World War II in Europe. The result is a city engineered and built for finance, not for people.
In mid-century New York, David Rockefeller and Robert Moses concurred that most of Lower Manhattan was hopelessly outmoded and simply had to be leveled. In their view, neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo, TriBeCa and the South Street Seaport represented just so much urban blight.
In 1958, David Rockefeller offered a Billion Dollar Plan for the renewal of Lower Manhattan. He believed above all in the rightness of what he called "catalytic bigness." Had Rockefeller and Moses succeeded one hundred percent, there would be nothing but highways and slab highrises from Washington Square Park down to the Battery today.
Both master-builders and terrorists consider everyday life at street level to be absolutely trivial. The former carry out make their plans the rarefied air of executive boardrooms; while the latter carry out their schemes, quite literally, underground.
Both master-builders and bombers adhere to singleminded cataclysmic visions - either the creation of a bright, corporate future; or a return to the "fundamental" values of the past. Both visions are abstract projections of an ideal world which has nothing to do with the here-and-now.
To them, people are insubstantial - the plan is what is real. When you think like this, whether you are a futurist or a fundamentalist, it becomes possible - even desirable - to push aside whomever and whatever gets in your way. You can justify anything without ever falling prey to doubt, or guilt.
Q) Since the bombing on February 26, 1993 how has our view of the World Trade Center changed?
A) One result of the bombing is that we've now got a twin mind to go along with our twin towers. While one part of our awareness still sees them as all-powerful symbols of modern engineering technology, the other part sees how in an unprotected instant, the whole edifice of modernity can come down around our ears. I take this as tentative sign of American social maturity. When you're a kid, you believe in the absolute power of mass and brawn. As you get older, you realize that what looks invulnerable often has an Achilles heel. We're a big country though and pretty much addicted to the positive value of bigness for bigness' sake. So it's a tough psychological adjustment to make.
When we built the WTC, we thought we were invulnerable to anything but a nuclear strike. Now it seems anyone can do anything to us anytime. Our "new paradigm" isn't big, indefensible spaces like the WTC - it's the World Wide Web. Some people saw the centerless world of the internet as a magic pill for all social problems, but that hallucination didn't last more than a "New York minute." So we've developed this sense that there really are no safe zones.
The terrorists hit the WTC in 1993, but they could have struck anywhere. The victims might have been any of us. But who are the terrorists anyway? Ramzi Yousef, the trade towers' convicted bomber and his cohorts? Osama bin Laden? The Unibomber? The Oklahoma City bomber? Or a couple of kids from an average Colorado high school? It reminds me of the line from the old Pogo cartoon strip: "we have met the enemy and he is us."
Q) How has New York changed in the thirty years since the "World Trade Center Moment"?
A) For the past thirty years, and coinciding with the rise of the WTC, New York has been hard at work gutting its once-rich economic mix. We've gone from being a city that simultaneously financed, manufactured and transported things to a virtual economy organized around finance, insurance and real estate. And right now, of course, privileged New Yorkers are too busy counting their eggs to check how the basket is holding up. Historically, though, economic monocultures flare brilliantly and die out fast. To survive long-term a city has got to be, at bottom, a trading post - a place where anyone can come and set up shop. Everything glamorous about urban culture is an overlay on that reality.
So New York's present boom has masked a lot of very deep problems. The Times recently reported that New York has the widest gap in the nation between the rich and the working poor. On nearly every block the commercial districts with numbing regularity, you can see a huge, generic national chain store displacing a dozen viable locally-owned business. Why? Because New York's mandarins, as well as most elected officials of both parties, believe that any move to strengthen local business - such as instituting commercial rent controls - would violate a fundamental tenet of real estate orthodoxy. Come what may, they say, let rents seek their "natural" level. Then we shower our biggest developers with tax breaks and throw billions after corporations who promise they won't desert us - this year.
As a result, we've abandoned almost any pretense of offering social services to those who need them most. And we've achieved an absolute crisis in affordable housing, and with it, homelessness.
These incredible distortions of social life around the drive for real estate profit are part of the enduring legacy of New York's World Trade Center moment. Of course, there are always other, more sane and humane cities we could build and live in if we develop the political will to make them real. Part of what has changed since the twin towers were built is that the issue of redistributing wealth and resources, both globally and in our cities, has ceased to be solely a moral issue. People are now beginning to perceive economic inequality as a threat to everyone's survival.
Q) Any predictions on where cities are heading today?
A) The early years of the 21st century will see dozens of megacities of ten to twenty million as poverty pushes more people off the land, particularly in the global sunbelt. Greater Mexico City is already at 25 million, with São Paulo not far behind. Many of these urban agglomerations are gaining population exponentially. Mumbai (formerly Bombay) recently surpassed and is growing much faster than Los Angeles - whose population of 14 million is triple what it was in 1950.
Many of these new, gargantuan cities live on the edge of social and environmental catastrophe. They are creations of the widening gap between rich and poor worldwide. It is desperation, not aspiration that swells them past sustainability. The ironic thing is that in the rapidly growing cities of the Pacific Rim, the World Trade Center is seen as the ultimate symbol of prosperity and power. The idea is to top New York by building skyscrapers that show that, say, Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong or Shanghai has arrived as the new market center for the millennium. The World Trade Center absolutely failed to live up to its name, but it did succeed in becoming the universally-recognized logo of the global economy. And the question the New York's twin towers raised into high relief a generation ago is now being asked around the world: What are cities for?
A 2.5 million square foot General Motors plant in North Tarrytown, New York, closed permanently in June 1996 was described (erroneously) by the New York Times as "bigger than the World Trade Center." (ED)
In 1996, the Times described the Port Authority's planned renovation of Kennedy Airport as "notable simply for its scale: $3 billion is triple what it cost to build the World Trade Center." (ED)
As of 1998, the "Authorized New York Edition" of Parker Brother's classic real estate game Monopoly, the World Trade Center takes the place of slummy Baltic Avenue, and may be picked up for a mere $60. The South St. Seaport, the trade towers' downscale neighbor to the east, goes for scarcely more ($80), but it completes the monopoly that enables their owner to build houses and hotels, and start collecting rent. At the other end of the real estate spectrum and further north on Fifth Avenue - Trump Tower stands in for Boardwalk and is valued at a cool $400, while its pair Tiffany's (Park Place) goes for $350. (ED)
In 1903, before Frank Lloyd Wright proposed his mile-high skyscraper, or Bruno Taut dreamed of his utopian Stadtkrone (city crown), Ted Starrett - then New York City's leading building contractor and patriarch to a dynasty of megadevelopers - envisioned a tower one hundred stories tall that would stratify "the cultural, commercial and industrial activities of a great city." The vertical order from the ground floor up consisted of: factories, offices, residences and a hotel, with each section separated by a public plaza. Thus, the twentieth story would be a market, the fortieth a cluster of theaters, the sixtieth a "shopping district," and at the summit, an "amusement park, roof garden and swimming pool" - all climate controlled. (ED)
Brancusi once airily suggested an apartment tower above Central park shaped like his sculpture, "Endless Column." In 1995 the architectural firm of Murphy/Jahn proposed an "endless tower" - two high-rises built out of steel box sections forming an external tube. Skin of reflective glass, patterned spandrel glass, high performance clear glass at skygardens, solar glass at interior walls and skygardens. "This project consists of two similar towers in which the container is juxtaposed with the contained. The bold simplicity of the forms is inspired by the artist Brancusi." (ED)
The building on the Zeppelin Field was begun at once, in order to have at least the platform ready for the coming Party Rally. To clear ground for it, the Nuremberg streetcar depot had to be removed. I passed by its remains after it had been blown up. The iron reinforcements protruded from concrete debris and had already begun to rust. One could easily imagine their further decay. This dreary sight led me to some thoughts which I later propounded to Hitler under the pretentious heading of 'A Theory of Ruin Value.' The idea was that buildings of modern construction were poorly suited to form that 'bridge of tradition' to future generations which Hitler was calling for. It was hard to imagine that rusting heaps of rubble could communicate these heroic inspirations which Hitler admired in monuments of the past. My 'theory' was intended to deal with this dilemma. By using special materials and by applying certain principles of statics, we should be able to build structures which even in a state of decay, after hundreds of (such were our reckonings) thousands of years would more or less resemble Roman models.
- Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich. New York: Macmillan, 1970.
In the former East Berlin, sixty years later, the demands of reconstruction took on quite different, yet no less idealized forms. Here, in 1946, K.F. Schinkel's war-damaged but salvageable Academy of Architecture and Construction, was leveled by the Communist authorities and replaced by a gigantic horizontal Foreign Ministry building, which, in turn was demolished by the new authorities in 1995. Part of the plan for reinventing Berlin as the cultural capitol of a unified Europe is the rebuilding of the Schinkel Academy, brick for brick.
Adjacent to the Academy stood a building which, until it was firebombed by the Allied airforce in 1945, had been one of Europe's most celebrated architectural monuments: Frederick the Great's rococo Royal Castle, designed by Schlüter. Hated by the Communist authorities for its imperial associations, the remains of the Castle were leveled and turned into a parade ground for party spectacles. Only part of the original Schloss was preserved for its political-historical value: the balcony from which Karl Leibnicht proclaimed the Communist Republic in November, 1918. In the late 1970s, a gaudy barn-like structure called the Palace of the Republic was built on the site. Truly a "mixed-use" facility, the Palace housed numerous restaurants, bars and shops as well as the East German National Parliament. In the aftermath of reuinfication, plans for eliminating this vulgar Communist-era behemoth were hotly contested. One developer proposed the expedient of sheathing the building in a trompe-l'oeil Royal Castle exostructure. Revulsion for the crassness of this proposal has pushed public sentiment toward reconstructing the original Schloss, stone by stone. If it is possible and desirable to genetically reconstitute a woolly mammoth, then why not the imperial sightlines of Frederickian Berlin?
[I am indebted to Wolfgang Schivelbusch for his descriptions of the former East Berlin's "Ruckbauen" - an untranslatable concept-word that describes simultaneous unbuilding and rebuilding.] (WS/ED)
In the booming 1980's no one gambled on real estate like the Toronto-based Reichmann brothers, owners of Olympia & York, and builders of New York's World Financial Center. But Canary Wharf in London was the largest bet anyone, even the Reichmanns, had ever made on an infinitely expanding market for office space.
Billed as the keystone of a vast redevelopment of the Docklands - an economically depressed former shipping district at the eastern edge of London - Canary Wharf received the strong support of Margaret Thatcher's Tories, who saw in it a symbol of Britains's triumphant emergence into the post-industrial age.
Even a government White Paper, caught up in the language of real estate hyperbole, called the Docklands "the biggest thing in London since the Great Fire of 1666 - the biggest in Europe - a tabula rasa (once the clearing and filling is done) of 5,500 acres." The London Times editorialized that the Docklands "beckoned for the creative genius of a Baron Haussmann." The attempted Haussmannization of the Docklands unleashed a decade of acrimonious local conflicts as neighboring working-class boroughs battled an onslaught of uncontrolled commercial and luxury residential development.
Completed, the $7 billion, 71 acre Canary Wharf complex was to have included 10 million square feet of office space devoted to international banking and financial services, 500,000 square feet of stores and a four hundred room hotel - all linked to central London by the new Jubilee rail line. When the London real estate market and the commercial paper speculations that had fueled O&Y's real estate empire collapsed, Canary Wharf was half built. In 1992, as O&Y's crisis deepened, the complex went into receivership leaving eleven banks and numerous other creditors holding the bag.
If Canary Wharf was intended as a challenge to New York's downtown Central Business District, the Bourse and La Défense, it has proven a hollow symbol. But its combined visibility (the architecture is eerily reminiscent of a glitzed-up World Financial Center) and its vulnerability, conspired to make it an irresistible target. In early February 1996, a powerful IRA bomb placed in a van blew up beneath the Canary Wharf train station killing two people, injuring 100 others and seriously damaging several buildings - which, fortunately, were only partially occupied. It was not the first time the epicenter of a speculative real estate bust had served as the site of a terrorist boom. (ED)
Begun in the early-80's and completed in the mid '90s, Eurotunnel - familiarly known as the Chunnel - is an ambitious passenger and freight rail link between England and the continent, running beneath the English Channel. Built at a cost of $15 billion, its construction was plagued by delays and cost overruns. By the late '90s, Chunnel had - despite an intensive marketing campaign - failed to turn a profit for its investors and was hemorrhaging money at an alarming rate. But what was its Anglo-French investment syndicate to do besides hang tough and continually try to renegotiate its debt service? As Eurotunnel's co-chair Sir Alastair Morton observed dryly, "you cannot sell a hole in the ground for much if you've closed it."
In the US, an earlier spate of hole-digging had dotted the countryside from sea to shining sea with nuclear missile silos. Each installation cost in excess of $140 million to construct and furnish with its own missile and warhead. But the end of the Cold War, and the advent of satellite-based "defense" systems precipitated a bust in the missile warehousing market. In the late '90s, a decommissioned silo - sans ICBM - could be picked up at government auction for as little as $800. Though some of the holes are simply being filled in and farmed over, one owner has converted his former Atlas-E silo - and its network of tunnels running beneath the pastures of Eastern Kansas - into an "earth home." Another launch site in Green Valley, Arizona now functions as a roadside attraction: the Titan Missile Museum. (ED)
In March 1994, a photo captioned "A Failed Promise Is Razed in Newark" appeared on the front page of the New York Times. The picture caught the Christopher Columbus Houses a high-rise public housing project in Newark, New Jersey - at the moment it was being dynamited on orders from municipal officials. Built in 1956, the Columbus Houses were now suffering the same fate as had earlier befallen another project dating from the same year: WTC designer Minoru Yamasaki's Pruitt-Igoe Homes in St. Louis. In 1972, all 33 identical blocks of the Pruitt-Igoe complex were imploded, even as Yamasaki's gleaming new twin towers on the Hudson filled up with office workers. During their short 16 year lifespan, Pruitt-Igoe had become an world-recognized symbol of the architecture of social engineering gone catastrophically awry.
The Times article accompanying the photo made no mention of Pruitt-Igoe, but termed the Columbus demolition "long-awaited" and observed with some delicacy that at the time they were constructed "officials in many industrial cities thought that high-rise projects would be a safe and inexpensive way to house workers who moved north after World War II." The "workers" referred to were overwhelmingly African-American.
By the mid-'80s living conditions at the Columbus Houses had become so horrendous that a senior Federal housing official touring them was quoted as saying: "no human should ever have to live that way, no animal should ever have to live that way." The day they were imploded, Newark's Mayor Sharp James hailed the demolition as a symbolic "end of an American dream that failed."
A year and a half later the headline: "Destroying a Housing Project, to Save It," appearing above a Times article on a Baltimore implosion, raised an intriguing question. Were the editors deliberately echoing the Orwellian language of the Vietnam War era? And if so, why? What sorts of connections might be drawn between an "inner-city" American housing project and a Vietnamese village under military occupation? A photograph - at once iconic and generic - of high-rise apartment blocks collapsing in on themselves illustrated a report on the demolition of the 1955 Lafayette Courts as "part of a strategy to replace rundown, overcrowded apartment buildings with town houses that will create a neighborhood setting."
By the late '90s, the ritual blow-down of a public housing project had taken on a celebratory, carnival-like character. The Times described Lafayette Courts's destruction - as a "neighborhood demolition party ... a gala." Thus "one of the largest multi-structure implosions in the Western Hemisphere," featured a parade, commemorative T-shirts and a sale of souvenir bricks. Just prior to the demolition, as the community marching band played, Penny Dunlop, a former resident stood at the perimeter "wondering if she could watch her building leveled." She was weeping, yet filled with an odd exhilaration. On learning that the apartment had lived in was rigged with explosives she said "I don't know if I should take a picture or cry."
The massive task of demolishing the scores of unlivable Pruitt-Igoe era public projects continues into the present century under the auspices of a federal Housing and Urban Development program called Hope VI. By the late 1990s HUD had imploded 22,000 of the apartments government agencies had built in the '50s and '60s, and was in the midst of a $2.5 billion, 8 year plan to raze 100,000 more. (ED)
Le Corbusier: "Our streets no longer work. Streets are an obsolete notion. There ought not to be such things as streets; we have to create something to replace them. ... To breathe! TO LIVE! ... The present idea of the street must be abolished: DEATH OF THE STREET! DEATH OF THE STREET! ... In the Radiant City, one door provides access and egress for 2,700 residents. It is not merely a door, therefore, but also a port. A harbor for automobiles to drive into ... "
The superblocks advocated by Le Corbusier resided at the heart of large scale redevelopment plans, (including Rockefeller Center, the UN, Lincoln Center and the WTC) for much of the 20th century.
Though he could not claim lay claim to the high functionalist esthetics of Le Corbusier, Fred French, an innovative New York developer, came up with his own homegrown version of the superblock as a means of solving the problem of urban congestion and concentration. "The surest way to solve the traffic problem," wrote French, "is to eliminate it." When in 1920, French developed Tudor City - a high-rise cluster located south and west of what is now the United Nations complex and built on the site of a former slaughterhouse district called Prospect Hill - he closed off through streets and raised the entire project onto a platform in the interest of providing a tranquil, protected atmosphere suitable to a self-contained enclave. To this day, Tudor City's feels a world apart from the frenetic swirl of traffic around it.
Never a man at a loss for a plan, French pioneered the investor syndicate as a method of financing real-estate developments in times of tight money. Unable to find an institutional mortgage lender for Tudor City, French tapped into the pooled resources of small investors who could now claim to own a stake in real property.
"Never before," French wrote in the late '20s, "has the man with $100 to invest been given the same terms as the man with $100,000. ... to participate in the erection and ownership of income producing buildings and obtain a rightful share of the profits." This, of course was an exaggeration, since the six percent interest he promised hardly constituted a speculative killing. But, like the architecture of Tudor City itself, the "French plan" resonated with the aspirations of Americans beginning to imagine themselves as part of an economically enfranchised middle class.
Not long after, in the depression years of the early 1930s, when depopulation caused Lower East Side property values to plummet, a consortium of banks, title and mortgage companies, real estate firms and civic organizations banded together to form the Lower East Side Planning Association (LESPA). Office development seemed impractical since there was already an eighteen percent vacancy rate nearby in the Wall Street area. Instead, LESPA advocated a system of self-contained residential units - approximately four blocks square - each one large enough to contain a mini-neighborhood. According to the LESPA plan, the city would condemn blighted areas, buy up the land, erase city streets, then rezone and sell the assembled parcels to private developers. The plan called for the elimination of all but sixteen of forty-one miles of streets. LESPA adapted the idea for this self-contained urban unit, from sociologist and planner Clarence Perry, author of the Regional Plan Association's Neighborhoods and Community Planning, volume 7 in their regional survey and recommendations.
Perry, for his part, acknowledged and applauded the "cellular city" the automobile was creating. The advent of the auto - and its attendant vehicular arteries - favored breaking down the urban sprawl into manageable units. Neighborhoods were to be islands surrounded by great streams of traffic, walled off and enclosing a standardized set of institutions and services. The Lower East Side Plan superblock scheme resulted in the demolition of 7,000 dwelling units between 1934 and 1936, but nothing resembling the LESPA plan ever took shape there. (ED)
If, as the bombers planned, Tower Two had toppled against Tower One, bringing both of them down, killing perhaps as many as 75,000 people at one stroke, what would it be like to live in New York today? What sort of stories would we tell about what we were doing at lunchtime that day? (ED)
New World Twins: Procedure Against Rain
What the Dominican Republic needs when torrential rains drown crops is a proper supplicant who can walk in the rain without getting wet to send up urgent pleas to God and the Blessed Saint Barbara. Twins are especially good at leashing rain and scaring of thunder.
- Eduardo Galeano, "Procedure Against Rain," Memory of Fire: Century of the Wind. New York: Pantheon, 1988, p. 106.
Julie Tomasz, an intrepid adventurer in the great world beyond New York City, reports that Bombay's Parsi community - the last surviving Zoroastrians - dispose of their dead by carrying their bodies to the tops of two towering cylindrical bastions set in a park called the Hanging Gardens, on Malabar Hill. There, the corpses are laid out and exposed to the elements. Thus one feature of the Bombay skyline are the vultures circling above the towers, usually in the early morning and late afternoon at body-deposition time. (JT/ED)
The eclectic German-Jewish architect Erich Mendelsohn's signature project was the Einstein Tower and observatory in Potsdam. After Hitler's rise, Mendelsohn fled fascist Germany, emigrating first to Israel and then to the US, where his practice focused on designing synagogues. In 1951, Mendelsohn proposed that a monument to the six million Jews exterminated by the Nazis, be built in Battery Park at the foot of Lower Manhattan. A prominent feature of Mendelsohn's design was a stylized treatment of the twin tablets of Moses rendered on a scale comparable to Jerusalem's Western Wall. To critic Manfredo Tafuri, Mendelsohn's never-built project represented the yearnings of "an architect taking sanctuary in the Law of Judaism." [Modern Architecture, p. 135.] (ED)
The Hygeia towers - built in the mid-'90s and named for the daughter of the Greek god of healing - are a twin 18-story medical complex set atop an atrium and commercial mall. (ED)
"Twin Towers" is the nickname given to a $373 million maximum security LA County prison opened in 1996. The New York Times describes the facility as a "4,100 bed fortress resembling a Hyatt hotel from a travel guide by Kafka, with slits for windows and some of the most advanced high-tech prison gadgetry around." (ED)
Biological twins, science tells us, result from the splitting of a single egg. In physics, schizogenesis - reproduction by fission - occurs when an attempt at containment results in the production of the other. But Castor and Pollux are mythological twins, identified with the constellation Gemini and ruled, according to astrologers, by the planet Mercury. Mercury is the Roman name of Hermes the Greek god of eloquence and feats of skill. He protects traders and thieves, presides over roads and conducts departed souls to the Lower World. He also serves the messenger of the other gods and is represented in art as a young man with winged sandals and/or a winged hat. He carries the caduceus - two snakes entwining a shaft surmounted by wings - the symbolic staff of the herald, and of healing.
In ancient Rome, the Castor and Pollux cult was associated with the ceremonial parade of mounted knights. In Greek myth, Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces) were collectively known as the Dioscuri, twin sons of Leda, who was impregnated by Zeus taking the form of a swan. Castor and Pollux's egg-mates were Helen and, in some versions, Clytemnestra, whose post-hatching careers hardly lacked for drama.
In Greek tragedy, Castor and Pollux do not exercise power directly in the lives of mortals. Rather they provide explanations, however outlandish, for the nasty flim-flams visited by the Olympians upon humankind. At the close of Euripides's Electra, Castor and Pollux take time off from rescuing sailors and appear, literally out of the sky, to tie up the loose ends of the gruesome double murder of their sister Clytemnestra and her consort Aegisthus - slain by Orestes and Electra.
After prophesying Electra and Orestes's future (her marriage and his tribulations, trial and exile), Castor turns the subject to the corpses saying, in essence: "Wow, what a mess! OK, here's the deal: this body of your mother's boyfriend will be enshrined in a tomb by the citizens of this great city. Menelaus and Helen will take care of burying your mom. Menelaus just got back from sacking Troy. And Helen is on her way home from Egypt where she's been living on Proteus's island for years. Oh, and just so you know, Helen never went to Troy at all. Zeus sent a phantom of her to Troy just for the fun of watching you mortals slaughter one another."
In ancient sea lore, sailors made sacrifices to Castor and Pollux in exchange for favorable winds. They were also associated with the luminous optical phenomenon St. Elmo's Fire. Tempest-tossed mariners believed the appearance of two simultaneous flashes heralded the calming of the storm.
In the 1960s, as New York's maritime economy gave way before the onslaught of financial services, Lower Manhattanites invoked their own vernacular Dioscuri, naming the twin steel skeletons rising on the Hudson River shore after another pair of mythic brothers: David and Nelson Rockefeller. (ED)
Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (8th Edition), defines "come the double" as: 1. to exercise trickery; 2. to take more than one's fair share. (ED)
"Speculative Boom" is a familiar term, even to people not directly involved in high finance. To speculate is to engage in risky investments which have potential for either exponential profit or catastrophic loss. The word is derived from the Latin specula, or watchtower. In popular usage, financial speculation is associated with pyramid schemes or investment bubbles: the artificial inflation of values beyond structurally sustainable limits. In spatial terms, the speculation moves up and outward from its base like an expanding balloon. Boom! is the sound a bomb makes going off. The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd Edition, 1989), notes that "boom" is ultimately identical with "bomb." Boom is the sound that both heralds and echoes after the collapse of a real or imagined structure. Crash! is the sound of the collapse itself. In finance, it signifies the plummeting of values following a period of speculation - the freefall of securities prices - a traumatic return to level ground. Even the casual student of disasters will have observed that a crash may either be triggered by an explosion, or an explosion may follow a crash. Like the skyscraper, the bomb may be interpreted as the material realization of speculative - abstracted - unconscious wishes. In both cases, the imagined form, when enacted, yields a violent reconfiguration of space.
Though "boom" has many usages including several nautical ones, as regards economic activity it dates from the nineteenth century "with reference not so much to the sound (of a distant cannon or large bell) as to the suddenness and rush with which it is accompanied." (OED, 2nd Edition, 1989).
Here is what the OED has to say:
"1. a. A start of commercial activity, as when a new book, the shares of a commercial undertaking, or the like 'go off' with a 'boom'; a rapid advance in prices; a sudden bound of activity in any business or speculation. 1879 Lumberman's Gaz. 19 Dec.: There has not been the boom upon lumber experienced in many other articles of merchandise. 1880 World 3 Nov. 5: The election of the American President is expected to be followed by a 'boom' that will take up prices. 1884 St. James' G. 26 Jan. 4/1: With the revival of prosperity in the United States the great boom in railway properties set in. 1884 Times 28 Nov. 4 Building 'Boom' in the United States. - MARSTON Frank's Ranche 36: One railroad spoils a town, two brings it to par again, and three make a 'boom'. 1911 E.M. CLOWES On Wallaby ii. 31: The Land Boom - 'the Boom', as it is always called ... had a most potentially humanizing effect on the people. 1936 M. PLOWMAN Faith called Pacifism 28: The people of this country were enjoying a post-war boom. 1955 Bull. Atomic Sci. Mar. 88/2: Thus the uranium boom began. 1966 Economist 19 Nov. 778: The country is in boom and therefore deficit. b. Phr. boom and (or) bust: a period of great prosperity followed by a severe depression. orig. U.S. 1943 H.S. CANBY Walt Whitman iii. 18: The building trade, as usual, suffered from boom-and-bust. 1947 D. REISMAN in Yale Law Jrnl. Dec. 194: The luxury market would be ... entitled ... to its privilege of boom and bust. 1962 Times Lit. Suppl. 13 July 502/1: Cataclysmic alternatives - destruction or utopia, boom or bust."
A boom is associated with a bull market, its compelling image drawn from the headlong charge of an aroused male bovine. Another sort of bull, this one the official Papal edict, comes from the Latin bulla, a bubble or swelling. So in the peculiar, elliptical way of language, we come around to the tulip, Mississippi, South Seas and other celebrated investment bubbles.
Following these associations one leap further, a friend with ties to the international investment community related to me a Japanese client's business reversals since the market "crappsed" in 1987. This word, a rich neologism, sounding like a conflation of crash and collapse - is mentioned here to illustrate the epiphanies possible in the play of language. When we make a unlucky dice throw and "crap out", our speculative bubble bursts, our boom turns bust, and we return violently from airy heights to primal soil - to the cellar of our dreams. q.v. Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space and OED definitions of "crap," among them wheat chaff, beer dregs, fat renderings and excrement.
Many wonderful, ironic encounters with the transformation of the maritime may be found at the level of language. The first definition of "sky-scraper" in the OED is "A triangular sky-sail." Other definitions include a tall hat of the sort popularized by John D. Rockefeller, and an exaggerated or "tall" story. The OED also lists an etymological reference to the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1884: "The sky-scraping buildings that have been and will be erected downtown will never endanger human life, because they will only be occupied by people wide awake. [Italics mine.]
Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (8th Edition), also includes the following definitions: a high standing horse; a cocked hat; the penis; in cricket, a skied ball; a rider on a 'penny-farthing' bicycle. A related nautical term is 'jolly-jumper' - a light sail placed atop a 'sky-scraper.' (ED)
Before it was "liberated" by Napoleon, Venice's Jewish Ghetto was walled into the old foundry district (Geto), and could not expand outward. There, the buildings, most of them on narrow lots, evolved into "skyscrapers" as the population increased, with floors added on as needed - up to nine stories. Many of these structures, unlike any of the other building forms of Venice, survive as occupied dwellings to this day. (ED)
Unlike the World Trade Center, James Bogardus's mid-nineteenth century cast iron buildings were made to take apart. Bogardus, whose inventions included cotton spinning machines, clocks, mills, and gas meters also promoted cast-iron structures as efficient to construct, transportable and fireproof. Though Bogardus's structures never achieved the ubiquity of Eiffel's ready-made bridges, they were constructed in several US cities and three can be seen in Lower Manhattan today: 63 Nassau Street, 254 Canal Street, and 85 Leonard Street.
One Bogardus structure that did not survive was built in 1848 and lasted until 1970 when it was dismantled to make way for the Washington Square Market Urban Renewal Project just north of the trade center site. Granted official landmark status, and slated to be reassembled as part of the Manhattan Community College at West and Chambers Streets, the building's components were stored in a nearby lot. But the vast iron erector set, lying unguarded for years, proved too tempting a prize. In 1974, it was discovered that the parts had been hauled away and broken up by an overzealous scrap dealer.
Today a deliberate recreation of a "Bogardus Building" occupies the northwest corner of Fulton and Front Streets at the South Street Seaport. A tribute to the stolen building, the contemporary structure was designed by Beyer Blinder Belle, an architectural firm active in Lower Manhattan preservation and an early advocate of converting vacant skyscrapers to residences. (ED)
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