In yesterday’s NY Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff notes the onset of 21st-century medievalism, the siege-like architectural style that has surfaced since 9/11.
Equating Baghdad’s Green Zone and Israel’s West Bank barrier with the concrete bollards that line Park Ave. and Wall Street, Ouroussoff writes that a new protectionism has emerged in contrast to architecture’s era of transparency. He compares the ethos of American military headquarters in Baghdad to gated communities of Southern California and wonders whether designs like visually appealing barricades at London’s US Embassy "could somehow negate the notion that we are surrendering to the inevitable."
Ouroussoff reserves his sharpest rebuke for, you guessed it, the 1,776-story Freedom Tower:
The most chilling example of the new medievalism is New York’s Freedom Tower, which was once touted as a symbol of enlightenment. Designed by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, it rests on a 20-story, windowless fortified concrete base decorated in prismatic glass panels in a grotesque attempt to disguise its underlying paranoia. And the brooding, obelish-like form above is more of an expression of American hubris than of freedom.
To some, compromise may be preferable to surrounding our cities with barbed wire and sandbags. The notion that we can design our way out of these problems should give us pause, however. Our streets may be prettier, but the prettiness is camouflage for the budding reality of a society ruled by fear.
While we aren’t into fear-based architecture, we’re not really sure that New York City is suffering from an abundance of it. Except for the Freedom Tower, glass is still way more popular than concrete. Yes, security-minded planning has transformed the Financial District, for example, but we're not so sure architects - both celebrity and non - will embrace this aesthetic here on a large scale.
Not right now, at least.