Hardblog Tactics

Over at MSNBC, David "Hardblogger" Shuster is hardblogging up a storm about Lower Manhattan's controversial Freedom Tower. But more importantly he's pushing the alternative of rebuilding the Twin Towers, a questionable act in this "softblogger's" opinion.

His first post criticizes the design and engineering of the Freedom Tower, basically saying that the design isn't something to be proud of, and that it does not send the proper message to those who want to terrorize and scare our nation. He also insinuates that the monetary ties of the Lauder family (heirs of Estee Lauder's cosmetics fortune) to New York governor George Pataki played a deciding role in Libeskind's selection for the WTC site's master plan, since the architect is a friend of the family, after all.

In his next post Shuster tells us there is an evident lack of pride and confidence in the Freedom Tower design, and he proposes the only (in his mind, apparently) alternative: rebuild the Twin Towers "slightly off-set from where the old ones stood." A vote is put to the readers to choose between "America's Freedom Tower" and "A new Twin Towers."

His most recent post from last Friday indicates that 80% of the 3,483 respondents to the poll voted for the Twin Towers to be rebuilt, "stronger and mightier than ever." To Shuster, the reality is that Americans want the Twin Towers to "rise again."


SOM's Freedom Tower montaged with the rest of the master plan in Lower Manhattan is on the left; a replica of the Twin Towers is on the right.

The desire to rebuild has been in evidence since September 12, 2001, but Shuster appears to be going beyond his journalistic limits into activism, under the guise of exposing the "truth" behind Libeskind's selection. Granted that many people don't like Freedom Tower and its surrounding master plan, but here's what I think is wrong with Shuster's argument and tactics:

  • The Twin Tower weren't loved until they were destroyed. They were a unique presence on the skyline, but they were terrible on the ground and cut off different parts of Lower Manhattan from each other. So we must ask if rebuilding the towers should be done in this regard.

  • Shuster frames his argument as either/or; either we rebuild the Twin Towers or we build the Freedom Tower. Besides ignoring other options (such as Michael Sorkin's idea of a park on the site and the distribution of building over the five boroughs), he's arguing apples and oranges, since the Freedom Tower is but one component of the WTC site's plan which spreads out the 10 million s.f. of office space over five towers, not one (or two in the case of rebuilding). And even though the Twin Towers were two buildings, they were twins, in effect acting like one entity split by a gap.

  • With quotes like "not rebuilding [the Twin Towers] is a defeat" and "Anything less is a memorial to fear," symbolism is taking priority over the improvement of the urban environment. Rebuilding them would indicate we haven't learned anything, about our situation or the people that attacked us (necessary but never the part of the equation in these arguments).

  • Influence over the Freedom Tower design does not appear to be an option, instead the argument becomes, "We don't want that. Rebuild the Twin Towers!" Perhaps Mr. Shuster needs to look somewhere in between these two. Seeing that the design of the Freedom Tower has malleability (since it never existed and is only a collection of ideas on "paper") is much better than settling for an already-designed relic...at least in my opinion. This malleability wouldn't seem to be the case, but that's due to the egos involved more than the desire to create something meaningful on the WTC site. The tower's - and the master plan's - fate aren't written in stone, so the activism Shuster proposes can possibly have effect, but let's hope it's not for his original aim.

  • But I'm not writing all this because I like the Freedom Tower design (I don't) or hate the Twin Towers (I always like the space in-between each tower and the way they anchored Manhattan on the skyline), but because I think the whole rebuilding (the site, not the Twin Towers) process needs to be open to many alternatives, not just the either/or situation Shuster poses, a proposition as dire as Bush's "you're either with us or against us."

    Update 03.13: Deroy Murdock, at the National Review Online, pushes for a reconstruction of the Twin Towers (via Archinect).


    1. I say go on with the Freedom tower as well. Better something go up than indecision and a vacant lot. We need to move on. There is too much politics in this building to hope for anything good anyway. And, as you say, the Twin Towers were no masterpeace.

    2. John,

      I really love this site. Thanks so much for your time: a generous gift.


    3. even on the point of symbolism, i think the freedom tower still wins. considering the new tower would generate energy via the wind turbines mounted within its upper frame, that says more to would-be terrorists about our resolve to become independant of their oil than rebuilding inefficient towers. it also shows that we can think in the present instead of getting nostalgic and rebuilding towers that symbolize our mourning nostalgia for the better days of the past. we can now say that the future is bright and we will proceed.

      as with any public project, the majority will hate the plan until it's built and then they will proudly adopt it as an icon of their home city.

    4. I'd guess of the thousands polled that think rebuilding the towers was a good idea, maybe a dozen would have approved of building them in the first place. Rebuilding the towers would be a defeat, the ultimate acceptance of the utter failure of our imagination. The merit of the idea lies in that the easiest thing for the greatest number of people to agree on is to wallow in nostalgia. I can appreciate the emotional appeal of such a simple and hardheaded decision, but it is a weak idea, and I think the "make it bigger" part belies a certain conceptual insecurity.

    5. Thanks for all the comments and the gracious words.

      One tidbit in the hardblogger's original post struck me as I was thinking about it earlier today: Shuster talks about a worker at Windows on the World, the 102nd floor restaurant in one of the Twin Towers. This worker says he would never reopen the restaurant in the Freedom Tower, because the highest occupied floor (68) is thirty floors below the tower's cap, unsuitable for such an endeavor. This is framed in a manner that is pro-rebuilding the Twin Towers.

      To me that's a manipulative argument. He basically says we can't have Windows on the World because the tower's too low, so the design is inferior, but he leaves out that we don't necessarily want or need Windows on the World again anyways. A similar (false) argument is like saying that we shouldn't have wind turbines on Freedom Tower, because they weren't part of the original! (a part of the design, hijiki, that I agree adds a certain, appropriate symbolism - I'm hoping the architects incorporate this element elegantly as the design evolves)

      I would love to see what the poll would have been if they added a third "Do something else" to the other two.

    6. Let Freedom Tower Ring, I mean rise! It is already watered down by the likes of the developer SOM, Childs.

      What would life be without controversy? Thanks John for promoting more of it. Let the hullabaloo continue.

    7. I don't mean to offend anyone, but personally I think both rebuilding the twin towers or a "freedom tower" is an inappropriate response.

      Why is the architectural response to the catastrophe of 9-11 so macho? To me, this seems rather a rather insensitive development, and very much caught up in projecting some sort of American power to "would-be terrorists".

      There are other means of projecting a message, without being so literal or masochistic.

    8. i thank in my opinion i thank that they should rebuild the twin towers because me i thank they were a masterpeace in my heart and the reson i thank we rebuild the twin towers is that if we build the freedom tower theres a way much higher chance the it will be terrorists will target it than something thats called the world trade center or the twin towers but something called freedom tower there going to target that because there going to want to hit us were it hurt and we are all about freedom soo thank about it and ya there be a chance the if we rebuild the twin towers that there going to get targeted but it wouldnt be as high as something called the freedom tower remember the terrorists are crazy not stupid.


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