Thursday, May 2, 2013

World's Finest

Emmitt Smith, known for the time he spent as a member of America’s Team,  has the world’s most rushing yards.  When he first hit this record he got some criticism from people who complained that the only reason he beat the previous record was because he didn’t retire as early as other men.  They were missing the larger point – he didn’t retire.  He stayed in until he broke the damn record. 

If you know nothing of architecture or engineering you could suppose the same is true with a building.  You want the tallest building?  Then keep building!  You’re upset that it’s not the tallest building?  Put more building on top of that building, if that’s what’s important to you.

The building they’re building at One World Trade Center is being bragged about for all the wrong reasons.  In fact, everything they DO brag about highlights everything that it’s not.

The building is trying to raise its 408ft spire, but that spire sours the accomplishment of the 1,368 feet of actual building.  They wanted the whole structure to be 1,776 feet, fine, we dig a bit of symbolism.  But the enormity of the spire makes it look like we couldn’t actually build anything that high, so we’re holding up a long stick to make up the difference.  It’s like that kid in class who really wanted to be called on, so he held up his pencil by the tip of its eraser in hopes of getting noticed, only to be trumped by the douchebag next to him who did the same fucking thing with his ruler.

The current boasts are that it’s the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere – but wasn’t the point to make the height symbolic?  It shouldn’t matter whether it’s the tallest.  It may not even be the tallest, because the spire raises an issue of what you should measure and where you should measure from, which makes it neigh impossible to ignore the parallels of phallic worship.  Every red-blooded American man did, at some point in his life, hold a ruler up to his business and had a moment of hesitation when he couldn’t figure out where to start the ruler.  (If you’re a woman reading this, please turn to the man nearest you and ask what that means.  Even if you already know.  His reaction will probably be awesome.)

Supposing the spire officially counts in the total height of the building, are we really proud of having the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere?  Are we bragging that we can build shit taller than Bolivia?  By pointing out it’s the tallest in the Western Hemisphere you’re just highlighting that it’s the tallest building ever as long as you don’t count the places where there are bigger ones.  In that case, fine, Chicago is home to the two largest buildings in Chicago.

Yes, it’s a tremendous feat of engineering, but that’s not why it should be celebrated.  We didn’t build this because someone knocked over our Legos.  It wasn’t our architectural standards that were being attacked.  Nearly a dozen years ago, a new generation had reason to answer the question “Where were you that day?”  The last time a tragedy hit us that hard as a nation was nearly forty years earlier.  Visual coverage then was relatively minimal, so the events of November 1963 aren’t as viscerally remembered, nor can they be so vicariously revisited unto further generations and lived anew.  This was bigger.  This was harder.  This scared us in a way we’d only been theoretically scared before.  When the shit was still raining down that morning we didn’t know when or if it was over yet.  Maybe this was just stage one, a distraction from the next thing.  Colorado high school football teams loaded up their pickup trucks and headed off to the mountains in case the Commies paratrooped their way in through Mexico. 

In the long run it didn’t just take lives, it took our unity.  It made us fight each other over the best way to respond, widening the gulf between those of us who had difficulty agreeing with each other in the first place.  To this day the people with the loudest voices are the ones who are subjugating and de-humanizing anyone with a passing resemblance to the people who attacked us that day.

Building the tallest tower doesn’t replace what we lost.  It won’t revisit the better angels of our nature who have since became demons.  Indeed, the whole enterprise has become rather anticlimactic.  Two wars were started, then screwed up to the point that everyone in that administration has been nothing but a punch line.  It’s been two years since we got the guy who was ultimately responsible.  So now, nearly a dozen years later, we almost have a tower which may or may not be allowed to be considered the symbolic height paralleling the founding of our country.

In any case it’s still a year away from opening, and it’s kind of an afterthought, like the guy who gets insulted at a party and doesn’t think up a really good comeback until three days later when it suddenly hits him on his lunch break, but now no one could possibly give a shit.

We responded to that day in a lot of ways.  In the minority are the ways which resulted in creation rather than destruction.  Hopefully the legacy of One World Trade Center will be less about what it literally is and how it measures against unrelated projects with unrelated purposes and more about what it means to build ourselves back up instead of tearing something else down.

Also, let’s also be glad it’s no longer called the “Freedom Tower.”