|Escape from a tall building|
unedited, unfinished, fall 2001, New York.
Tall buildings are not really there.
From far away skyscrapers look like sticks in the city, but up close they do not register to human scale, they just become an abstract perspective to the sky and a comparison to the next tall building. There are a few types of skyscrapers: The Empire State building type, picturesque and with an elaborate façade, like one of those old buildings but very tall. When they were built they had of course the shock of the new, they represented technology and the future, now they have become logos for jazz clubs, old-school intellectual gathering spots and candlesticks for multi colored lights in the sky. Today red, white and blue, tomorrow white. And they are good for postcards and offices.
New skyscrapers are worst, especially the ones that pretend to be architecture, like the fashion mini tower in midtown: A baroque-minimal facade full of folds and twists, pretending to be different and risky, while being just a good business for the architect.
The World Trade Center was of course twice flat, and double. And there was no competing for height; they were already the two tallest, identical.
But the World Trade Center was not really there. In the city it functioned as a trademark and a navigation tool. As you came up from the downtown underworld, you searched it to know which way was south. On the skyline, it was the double building, a unique condition anywhere in the world. On a post card, you could never mistake New York for another city.
In-between it was virtual reality, a few moments in a closet that went up so fast your ears hurt. Outside this closet, 108 floors of abstract procedures, email exchange, people, business.
The World Trade Center was pure abstraction; Anti-architecture; Vertical mythology. Not even a building, it was a money making proposition.
All this was before the war.
Now tall buildings have become dangerous.
Now it's a pile of rubble, hard to imagine that people could ever have been part of what's left. Now it suddenly isn't abstract anymore, its total reality. It is steel and asbestos burning, computers and people. So, what happened on the 11th was in fact a snap. Somebody snapped his fingers, and the virtual reality of WTC crashed for ever. Now it is Ground Zero, like what you see in your fireplace only in urban scale, a fire bigger than you ever imagined.
More than a crash, more than an airplane exploding inside a building and killing thousands, what happened was like an unexpected operating system installed on our lives. An operating system that comes out of your computer, into your room, out on the street, everywhere.
Now every siren is possible panic, every airplane flying above is a possible threat.
If they rebuilt it will that reality come back? Will it be abstract again?
It's impossible, and the discussion on how to commemorate the 11th of September is strange. Monuments are about stillness and certainty, and September 11th is still burning. Monuments are history carved into stone, an unimaginable event harnessed into something understandable. The function of the monument is to help your brain understand what it cannot. The death of thousands of soldiers becomes two black walls.
Right now the most monumental space in New York is the sky above Ground Zero. Where you used to see the two towers disappearing into the clouds, now you just see emptiness, a bright sky, and then a night sky glowing from the rehabilitation workers' lights. You search for what was there, some kind of mark in the clouds where the two towers stood. Maybe you could see two square holes up in the clouds, maybe you want to believe that the towers just took off and went up to the sky. You are tired of searching since there is no mark, no sign of anything. These skyscrapers did not scrape the sky after all. You are tired, and you can feel the new operating system.
Instead of proposing a monument I would rather uninstall the Windows WTC operating system, and escape to a reality upgrade. Like one of those big hangars in Japan that contain fake beaches, where the visitors agree to believe that they are on a tropical island, or they agree to believe they are skiing in the mountains when in fact they are inside a huge parking lot.
If I could uninstall Windows WTC, I'd go back to whatever I was using before and click on safeplaces.net, an old Website from last year, but still one of my favorite places.