Glass, Towers


The other week, Bjarke Ingels unveiled his design for the final tower of the new World Trade Center, a big ol’ stack of boxes. Once completed, the “revitalized World Trade Center” will be “bigger,” “bolder,” “better than ever” and “Manhattan’s new center of gravity — a vision of tomorrow realized today,” according to the World Trade Center’s official website. From a certain point of view, this is not untrue: We are seeing a plausible vision of the Manhattan of tomorrow — an alien colony of largely empty glassy spikes and cubes.

The architect of the twin towers, Minoru Yamasaki, would probably disagree on the point about the World Trade Center being “better than ever” though? In April 1973, the day after the World Trade Center’s dedication ceremony, the New York Times’ architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, published a fairly scathing review — as did most architecture critics of the time — deriding the lobbies as “pure schmaltz” and the towers as “pure technology” and “the daintiest big buildings in the world,” concluding flatly that they are “big buildings but they are not great architecture.” She criticized in particular the narrow, twenty-two-inch-wide windows as “pure visual frustration” that destroyed “one of the miraculous benefits of the tall buliding, the panoramic view.” (It is not a litle strange reading her review from a post-9/11 viewport; over the years, the Twin Towers became fully iconic, while most of her criticisms would seem presciently applied to any of the structures currently erupting from the 57th Street corridor.)

In response, Yamasaki wrote a long and thoughtful letter to Huxtable. It’s reproduced in full in the World Trade Center issue of CLOG. What’s remarkable to read now is his view of all-glass buildings, which could not be more stark:


Yamasaki’s practical concerns about “enormous panes of glass” are more than outmoded now, but it’s hard to escape the sense he’s not a little right to ask if a “glass world” is really the future we want for cities. We’ll find out in the next five years or so!!!!!


Top photo by BIG; bottom photo by NY NIMBY

Correction: CLOG is an independent publication and not associated with the Guggenheim, although its most recent issue is dedicated to it. I regret the error a lot