In September, the MacArthur Foundation announced its 2011 fellows. Among them is the Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, who is one of only five architects ever to have received the honor often called the “genius grant.” We wrote about Gang’s innovative approach to materials and construction in our June 2008 cover story, “The Art of Nesting,” by Stephen Zacks.

Still Searching for Meaning
Philip Nobel’s meditation on the search for meaning at Ground Zero (“Memory Holes,” September 2011, p. 62) and his lament for the end of a decade-long, ad-hoc circular processional that has been replaced by intentioned work prompt me to counter that perhaps—after all—we ended up with what we really needed: a literal and symbolic void, the antidifice, a place for peaceful remembrance, internal reflection, and awe. Not perfect, but what ever is? When I visit, I will likely choose to miss the museum full of the relics of suffering. I have already had ten years of the media showing videos of the towers falling again and again, from every possible vantage point, until I am soul weary.

But at the end of the day, all the money, all the politics, all the designers eager to foist their latest towers on the public, all the contractors vying for pieces of the pie, all the gee-whiz engineering feats, and all the media wallowing in anniversary hype cannot take away from the new site’s basic trait: its humility.

The real winners are the people of New York, especially the survivors of the perished and the humble heroes who lived but who still suffer the effects of exposure to toxic dust and debris. This has always been a story about humanity’s extremes: the yin of hate offset by the yang of enduring kindness. The most memorable stories I have seen in the countless 9/11 documentaries are the ones about individual people, how their lives were affected, and how they have patiently worked for this memorial, to be sure that we never forget.

Nobel begins with snobbery—oh, those vulgar tourists and their “nine-eleven”! He proceeds, inexplicably, to sneer at Yamasaki for making the original towers square, and says, “What we all call ‘the footprints’ are really an opportunistic half-memory of the towers’ roof plan, projected down on to the site plan with cartographic temerity.” Opportunistic? Cartographic temerity? What does any of this even mean?

Then: “Ghettoizing the locus of sanctity”? The memorial had to be built somewhere. Doesn’t every memorial or monument or sacred site “ghettoize a locus of sanctity”?

In the end, we’re told the “purpose-built memorial” (should it have been built accidentally?) is “deeply compromised, existentially confused, and flawed by bad taste,” without much of an explanation as to why.

I can discern no substantive complaint here, only a generalized tone of grievance and elitism. I’d be interested in reading a well-thought-out, substantive critique of what’s been built, but this isn’t one.

The date in a caption on page 61 of our September 2011 issue included the wrong year. The firehouse pictured lost eight firefighters on September 11, 2001, not 2011.

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