Rebuilding our faith in human ingenuity

Rebuilding the World Trade Center is stirring stuff, but it shouldn’t take tragedy for us to celebrate our mighty skyscrapers.

David Bowden

Topics Culture

Remember the fuss that was caused by the unveiling of London’s new skyscraper, known as the Shard, last year? ‘A flashing warning sign of disease’, declared one critic, joining a chorus of broadsheet disapproval about its ‘arrogance’ and ‘hubris’, while Simon Jenkins proclaimed it a scar on the face of London, violently imposed on the local denizens of, er, Zone 1. Architect Renzo Piano took to jokingly describing his creation as ‘worse than the Taliban’.

What larks it all seems now, a year on: no sun-deprived villagers have succumbed to rickets; no raging god has yet struck Babel from the sky. Some people even quite like it (like it a lot, if some reports are to be believed). Certainly, while watching spellbinding Channel 4 documentary Rebuilding The World Trade Center this week, the row seemed hilariously parochial, transforming the elite debate over Europe’s largest building into a storm in a tea cup being sipped on a puny, irrelevant little island.

Of course, the situations were radically different. As Marcus Robinson’s film hinted at, the building of One World Trade Center – formerly known as ‘The Freedom Tower’ – has been fraught with its own difficulties since plans were drawn up to rebuild on Ground Zero, the site of 2,753 deaths. Even setting aside the ferocious argument over the 9/11 memorial, and the proximity of a planned mosque, the 1,776-feet tower was subject to a bitter dispute between architects Daniel Libeskind and David Child.

This film, however, was not really interested in documenting these arguments. Instead, having filmed continually since work began on the new tower in 2006, Rebuilding The World Trade Center served up seven years’ worth of construction in the space of less than an hour. The result is delirious time-lapse footage of the on-the-ground work as 1WTC goes from being a genuine scar on the face of a city to the biggest diamond in the Western hemisphere.

Yet, alongside footage of workers speeding along like busy ants, Robinson gave the film a giddy, disorientating pace by including interviews with the workers themselves where many explain their own connection to the project. It was a nice touch, hearing from the voices not usually included in architecture films (the builders). One volunteered for the rebuilding programme immediately after 9/11, since a family member had been crippled in building the original and he didn’t want his sacrifice to be ‘for nothing’. Others saw themselves as doing an essential role in helping to heal the nation’s wounds and honour the dead. Some, such as the foreman who started work several hours before his working day began, simply wanted to ensure his crew did the best job they could on a project of rare ambition.

It was certainly stirring, inspirational stuff and a wonderful tribute to the unacknowledged souls toiling away to bring such a mighty building to life, far away from the pretentious gibberish spouted about Libeskind’s original plan for ‘a space for people, not just corporations’. It was, however, a labour of love tinged with an unexpected sadness. For all the talk of this project as a kind of collective national therapy, there was the thought that all these workers will probably now be back working on another building, only to be met with the scorn of those denouncing the arrogance or vandalism of such ambitious developments – those, that is, who would like a more humble and sustainable city, held forever in aspic.

It’s a shame. Whatever your views on the design itself, Rebuilding The World Trade Center highlighted the extent to which these constructions are already pretty people-centred. It’s a double shame that it takes a real tragedy to let us celebrate them.

David Bowden is a columnist for spiked.

Watch Rebuilding The World Trade Center on 4oD.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Culture


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today