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Ground Zero

Ground Zero

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Published by Frederick Turner

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Published by: Frederick Turner on Feb 28, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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A Vision for Ground Zero
Frederick TurnerThe recent crop of designs for the redevelopment of Ground Zero have rightly beenwidely condemned as miserably unimaginative. They not only fail to satisfy either thespiritual or the economic mandate implied by the site—perhaps the most important pieceof real estate in the world—they also express, as clearly as if it had been written all overthem, that America was defeated by the terrorists.Whatever else we do, the replacement for the World Trade Center has got to be moresplendid, more beautiful and more truly symbolic of New York and of America than itspredecessor. It must be a fitting monument to the citizens who worked there—and whobehaved, as far as we know, more than magnificently in their moment of trial—to thefirefighters who charged up the stairs, and to the police who died there. The presentwrangling between those who want the whole site to be a garden, and those who wantcommercial development, is itself miserable, and is reflected in the misery of the designsthat have been proposed. In actual fact, there is a desperate futility in the project aspresently conceived, because even if the whole site were turned into a memorial garden itwould be in the wrong place. For most of the dead did not die there at all, but a thousandfeet away, a sixth of a mile, directly above. Ancient epics and dramas—the
, the
—tell of the unease and pollution of an improperly buried or unburiedcorpse; the present quarrel reflects that unease in twentieth century terms: our loss of courage in the marketplace, our baseless guilt at our prosperity, our secret qualms thatmaybe we deserved to be attacked. The rebuilding of Ground Zero must be a monumentthat will begin to heal those deep spiritual wounds and illnesses.To be such a monument it must embody the future hopes of the nation, its resilience, itspride, and the peculiarly American technique for achieving its goals.What is that “American technique”? There is an ancient saying, that you cannot serveGod and Mammon. The Old World always took this saying as a simple command orprohibition, an injunction to make the right choice. The genius of the framers of theAmerican Constitution is that they took it as a “koan”, so to speak. A koan in theBuddhist tradition is a paradoxical utterance whose form is that of a puzzle but whosesolution is not an answer but a change in the answerer and thus a change in the conditionsin which the puzzle itself exists.If it is a simple and absolute choice, between the spiritual and the economic, then of course we should choose the spiritual. But if we do, rejecting any temptation to improveour economic lot, we should not be too surprised--as the national sponsors of radicalIslamic terrorism have found--when it turns out that our economic decline into hideoussqualor ends up compromising any possible spiritual goal of our society. In another
saying Jesus hinted at something that did not imply that terrible choice, between theworld and one’s soul: render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, he said of the coin of money he was shown, and unto God that which is God’s.The solution to the problem that the American framers found was simple and radical:make Mammon serve God, and then to serve Mammon is to serve God. The free marketdemocratic republic that resulted has spent two hundred years of fine-tuning the marketso that it has become almost impossible to get rich without in the process enrichingeveryone else. Probably the best thing I could do in practical charity for my fellowhumans across the globe would be to buy a brand new Lexus. The stimulus to the worldeconomy would be efficient, and would lead to the creation of wealth, technological andscientific progress, the ability of employees to buy educational and medical services, theopening up of trade relationships between countries which might otherwise prefer to goto war, the demand for a better natural environment, and the emancipation of women.More real human benefit would likely accrue per dollar from my purchase than anycontribution of an equal amount of money to hunger relief, humanitarian aid, or thirdworld national development efforts. The free market as it has evolved, with its apparatusof legal property rights, banks, joint stock companies, and so on, has solved the koan byredefining the nature of money. In the Roman Empire of the first century in which Jesusproposed the koan, money was still predominantly the sign of the other’s lack. Todaymoney has become predominantly the sign of the other’s wellbeing. Then, others werepoor because I was rich. Now, others are rich because I am rich.The World Trade Center was a huge tool of that American solution. But its architecturein the context of its site said no more than that. It served Mammon, but did not expressby its form that the Mammon it served served God. Its replacement must saytriumphantly that the terrorists have been defeated not only in terms of wealth and power,but in terms of spiritual goodness and moral beauty as well.The site itself offers three great architectural models for how New York historicallyexpressed these ideas: John A. Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and thesplendid Art Deco of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings further uptown. TheGothic arches of the Brooklyn Bridge explicitly recall the religious vocabulary of Europe,while the bridge itself was a mighty engine of economic development up and down theeast coast of the American continent. The great uptown skyscrapers were cathedralscelebrating the servitude of profit to virtue and the paradox that the servitude enhancedthe profit. And Lady Liberty welcomed to the New World exactly the people that Jesusand the Prophets had commanded us to serve:
"Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
The golden door was the gate to profitable employment and the creation of wealth.So the mandate for the new design for Ground Zero is as follows: it must be a monumentto those who served and protected world trade, it must be a golden door, it must expressas did the old World Trade Center the engineering genius that enabled the financialdistrict to enrich the world, it must nobly echo the architecture of hope and aspiration, itmust firmly insist by its very form on the preeminence of spiritual over economicconcerns, and it must at the same time indicate that spiritual concerns, in the Americanway, are only possible with the support of economic progress. It must delineate ahierarchy of values, not a choice between them—the koan, not the command. In thisspirit, the design sketched here is offered.If one could call up the ghosts of John Roebling, Donato Bramante of St. Peter’s, theAbbot Suger of Notre Dame, and Ictinos of the Parthenon, what would they say inresponse to the mandate? I believe that the first thing they would say would be verysimple. Since the immediate practical problem is how to have a memorial garden and aprofitable business building in the same place, and you cannot put a building on top of agarden without destroying the garden, I think they would say “Then put the garden on topof the building”. “Memorialize the dead where they died, a thousand feet above thestreet,” they would say; “not down below where their cenotaph would in any caseobstruct the creative work of the living.” The second thing I think they would say is thatif you want a golden door—and New York has no great gate or triumphal arch on thescale of St. Louis’ parabola or San Francisco’s Golden Gate—then build one. So wealready have the basic form: a memorial garden on top of a triumphal arch that is also amajor business skyscraper. The design says that you can have god and mammon if mammon is serving god, for the spiritual garden is supported by the secular marketplace,and the marketplace is crowned by the garden.New York Harbor would now be framed by Lady Liberty on one hand and thewelcoming gate of downtown on the other. The gothic archway of the gate will echo thearches of Roebling’s bridge on the other side of the island. Millions of people uptownwill look downtown and see, beyond the spires of the Empire State and the ChryslerBuilding, the art deco curved ribs of the great arch and the cantilevers of the garden itsupports; and would remember with a comfortable familiarity the twin towers that havenow been rebuilt in a more graceful form. And downtown will have its own CentralPark, a thousand feet up above the harbor and Wall Street, a haven of peace and memoryabove the roar of the market below, in the very place where our fellow-citizens died.Grand staircase/escalator wells, open to the sky, will carry the thousands of visitors,pilgrims and tourists up the last three storeys into the cool upper air. They will wanderthe paths and woodlands and little hills and the lakeshore until they come to the noblemonument to the dead in the center of the garden. And they will find their way to thestaggering views around its edge: sixty miles up and down the coast, inland to theHudson Valley, out into the Atlantic Ocean. They will notice how the very plantings3

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