As an architect who witnessed the towers collapse and walked home among ash-covered survivors it was a privilege to see the 9/11 Memorial Plaza so soon after it opened.
It was a nice plaza to visit, tastefully designed with modern details and several architectural pavilions of warped polygonal geometry.
And the memorial fountains were awesome in a way not unlike the original towers, seductive in their brute power and impersonal majesty.
But seeing the old WTC columns sequestered behind glass & hidden below grade was a reminder of what was sorely missing from the space: any direct physical sense of what had happened there and the terrible wreckage that New Yorkers witnessed and lived through.
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, destroyed during World War II, came to mind as one example where incredibly powerful, genuine remnants of catastrophe coexist with the everyday requirements of dense urbanity.
It’s unfortunate that all sense of 9/11’s catastrophe – the Pile, the Shard, the Bathtub – has been banished from the public plaza.
Combined with the terrified bunker taking shape at the base of One World Trade, the nondescript blocks of World Financial Center at the western horizon, and the massive amounts of energy being consumed to keep it all operational, it feels more like a memorial to 20th century corporate architecture than the site of tragedy and remembrance.
So here’s a modest suggestion.
Place the old WTC columns where they belong: on the plaza.
Let them stand as mute witness to a terrible day, broadcast their solemnity to the otherwise unconcerned, and fill this highly-stylized and tightly controlled void with a sorely needed, difficult and authentic presence.
The columns are tough enough to handle the exposure. Can’t we?