September 27, 2001 NY TIMES

Designers Look Beyond Debris

On Tuesday night, an impressive sampling of New York architectural
talent streamed into the Great Hall at the Cooper Union for the
Advancement of Science and Art to share grief, locate friends and
discuss how not to be left out of the rebuilding process in downtown
Manhattan. For these architects, engineers and design professors,
Sept. 11 was both a tragedy and a call to take a creative stand.

Some recounted fleeing office buildings near the World Trade Center
that had caught fire or standing in the center's eerily quiet plaza
watching falling debris. Others leaped ahead to new visions for the
16-acre plot now known as ground zero.

The gathering, co-sponsored by the Architectural League and the
Cooper Union, attracted a near-capacity crowd of about 700
designers. While the World Trade Center was the main theme, the
21 official speakers did not limit themselves to a discussion of
whether to focus on building a memorial or new skyscrapers. The
entire process of building in New York must be challenged, they said.

With politicians, developers and business leaders already
considering ways to fill the void, most speakers made passionate
bids to slow down and rethink all assumptions about reshaping the

"We do not dignify the dead nor fight the enemies of peace by
denying that something has shifted, by rushing out to spend again,
by fantasizing about 150-story towers that will take an additional hour
to evacuate when the next disaster strikes," said Michael Sorkin, an
architect and urban planner. There were some concrete
suggestions. Diane Lewis, an architect and professor at the Cooper
Union, proposed that the blasted site house an international institute
against terrorism, possibly built with the rubble from the ruined

Another architect, Susana Torre, dismissed the idea of holding a
design competition, as many expect, in favor of giving a commission
outright to Frank Gehry to design a new "world arts center."

Several architects voiced concern that in the rush to rebuild, due
process — especially community reviews and zoning — would be
swept away. On the other hand, Ms. Lewis said, the rebuilding
process could promote "a new sobriety" that would lead to a more
egalitarian urbanism and an architectural sensibility devoid of brash

For now, any discussion about rebuilding is strictly speculative. And
construction will have to wait for the removal of tons of debris from
the site and surrounding blocks, a process that most estimates
suggest will take about a year. In the meantime, New York's design
institutions are developing their own ways to respond, interpret and
offer salve in the aftermath of the attack.

The Municipal Art Society, in conjunction with City Lore, has
commissioned Martha Cooper, a photographer, to capture images of
the memorials and tributes that have flowered across the city, from
the American flags sprouting on the statue of George Washington in
Union Square to the candlelit testaments to the missing along the
Promenade in Brooklyn Heights. The show of photographs will open
at the society on Oct. 19.

A period of mourning should precede any consideration of new plans
for the site, said officials of several design institutions. "The first
order of the day is to memorialize and to do things that recognize the
loss," said Frank Sanchis, executive director of the Municipal Art
Society. "We feel things are moving too fast. We're put off and
frightened by all the announcements of commissions and building
the towers back up. It just hasn't sunk in."

The society does plan to support several memorial projects,
including the so-called Towers of Light project by the architects
Gustavo Bonevardi and John Bennett collaborating with the artists
Paul Myoda and Julian LaVerdiere and the Creative Time arts
organization, which will use light projections to recreate the twin
towers as ghostly apparitions.

The Skyscraper Museum, whose gallery space at 110 Maiden Lane
has been taken over by the emergency headquarters of the Small
Businesses Administration, is assembling two exhibitions on the
history of the construction of the World Trade Center. The first will
open in the next few weeks in a vacant ground floor space at 1
Battery Park Plaza. Designed to be viewed primarily from the street,
the exhibition features an 18-minute film of the towers being built.

In February, the museum will open a second show, at the New- York
Historical Society. A lecture series on the World Trade Center that the
Skyscraper Museum was developing to celebrate its acquisition of
the center's archives will not take place: the archives were destroyed.

Other design institutions are not altering their lineup of events but are
considering subtle alterations and shifts of emphasis to shows
already in the works. Some have taken on a grim relevance. At the
Museum of Modern Art, Paola Antonelli, a design curator, was
already at work for eight months on "Emergency," an exhibition of
products, Ms. Antonelli said, designed to deal with crisis situations,
from emergency room surgical instruments to firetrucks to safety
instructions. "These are objects and graphic designs where there is
absolutely no room for anything superfluous," Ms. Antonelli said,
noting that there was as yet no date scheduled for the exhibition. "I
want to show the public in some visceral way the importance of
design in the real world," she said.

The Van Alen Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes public
architecture, plans to stage a show in December on how cities like
Sarajevo, Oklahoma City, Berlin and Kobe, Japan, have rebuilt in the
wake of both human-induced and natural disasters.

Recent events have rendered parts of some exhibitions obsolete. At
the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, Donald Albrecht, a
curator, is reconsidering some of the installations for a show on
hotels that is scheduled to open in October 2002. A commission for
Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture of Asymptote to design their
vision of a hotel airbus will go ahead, but an artist's conceptual vision
of a Japanese-style capsule hotel inserted into a scale model of an
atomic bomb will not. "Some projects that seemed clever a few
weeks ago now seem utterly inappropriate," Mr. Albrecht said.
"People are going to become more sensitive to things that they
perceive are irreverent or irrelevant."

Architects and designers interviewed over the last few days
anticipate a new mood of seriousness and a fuller social
consciousness in their work and others. The new sobriety had
begun to surface even before Sept. 11 as a deteriorating economy
caused projects to shrink and become more tightly focused. "There's
an intensity to a 3,000-square-foot job where you have to clarify and
hone your skills," said Alan Wanzenberg, an architect. "It's kind of
great." Mr. Wanzenberg, whose partner Jed Johnson died in TWA
Flight 800 off Long Island in 1996, said that he believed that in times
of stress people looked for comfort in more formal, less abstract
design solutions. "We may well start seeing people wanting more
explicit, softer and more traditional images in design and art," Mr.
Wanzenberg said.

Karim Rashid, an industrial designer in New York, was not so much
changing his tack in response to recent events as finding new
applications. David Shearer, owner of the design store Totem, noted
that a coming line of Mr. Rashid's disposable cardboard furniture
would be easy to transport in case of emergency. And a new line of
clothes designed with Pia Myrvold of Cybercouture, a fashion
designer, will be made with an electroluminescent material that will
make it easy to locate people in the dark. "Design should take the
new world into consideration," Mr. Shearer said. "It needs to be
stronger, more straightforward and utilitarian, not just decorative."