Dismissed and derided when they stood, it’s time to reassess the twin towers | Rowan Moore

Twenty years after their destruction, we can finally see Yamasaki’s landmark pillars in all their glory

Few buildings illustrated architecture’s power to be different things to different people at different times than the twin towers of the World Trade Center. To their architect, Minoru Yamasaki, they were “a living symbol of man’s dedication to world peace”. The terrorists who destroyed them made them symbols of conflict. To a generation of New Yorkers, they represented the faceless civic-corporate bodies who razed a thriving and diverse district called Radio Row in order to build the towers. When I studied architecture, they typified vacuous modernism – the “largest radiators in the world”, said one of my tutors.

Yet the Japanese-American Yamasaki was dismissed by his contemporaries for being “dainty”, “prissy”, “epicene”, “ballet school”, for example, on account of the slender gothic-looking arcades that ran around the bases of the towers. Now, looking at the old images republished with the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the towers look stately and graceful, magically capturing the changing light, serene counterparts to the frenetic city stretched out beneath them. Not to mention pillars of the world that changed for ever with their collapse.

Suspect methods

Packets of ivermectin in Argentina.
Packets of ivermectin in Argentina, where its use was growing earlier this year. Photograph: Roberto Almeida Aveledo/Shutterstock

On a bus shelter outside the British Library in London – and, for all I know, in other locations – there appeared last week a poster lamenting the effects of lockdowns on children. It looked convincing and official, with the logos of the UK government and the NHS at the base, but if you scanned a QR code between the logos you were taken to an anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-lockdown website. It was devious, in other words, in a way that seems characteristic of those who promote alternatives to official positions on the pandemic.

See also the arguments used to pitch ivermectin, a drug more often used to deworm livestock, as something that prevents Covid. These are based on studies that have credibly been called “suspect” or have been withdrawn over “ethical concerns”. To which methods the question is, if your arguments are strong, why present them in these ways? In this context, I prefer the direct language of the US Food and Drug Administration. “You are not a horse,” it tweeted re ivermectin. “You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”

Childish ideas

child's drawing of house and family
Britain’s house builders should be able to do better than this. Photograph: Professor25/Getty Images/iStockphoto

“If you ask kids to draw a house, they’ll draw the Play School house, with a door in the middle, windows each side and a pitched roof,” says Andrew Whitaker, planning director of the Home Builders Federation. He is trying to justify the ubiquitous products of the volume housebuilders whom his organisation represents, which roughly answer that description, though somehow without the charm of a child’s drawing. I’d question how far one should take this idea of basing the adult world on infant perceptions: would anyone really want a child’s idea of a car turning up at the school gate, still less for Mummy and Daddy to emerge from it, in the form of stick people with circles for faces and triangles for skirts?

Embarrassing pup

Jeff Koons’ Puppy, at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.
Jeff Koons’ Puppy, at the Guggenheim, Bilbao, in full bloom. Photograph: Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has released a rap video to help crowdfund the restoration of the large, flower-covered statue of a puppy by Jeff Koons that stands outside its Frank Gehry building. “It’s the ‘P’ with the ‘U’ with the ‘P’ with the ‘P’ with the ‘Y’,” goes the local musician MC Gransan. “So please don’t kill my vibe.” It is dad-dancing cringe-making. Also, since Koons’ net worth is reputed to be hundreds of millions of dollars, and the Bilbao puppy helped build his reputation, you would have thought he could look down the back of his metaphorical sofa for the €100,000 (£85,000) needed. It would save everyone embarrassment.

• Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture critic


Rowan Moore

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