Even before it opened earlier this month, One World Trade Center, formerly the Freedom Tower, drew tepid reviews from the architecture commentariat. The 1,776-foot-tall skyscraper, bearing the unenviable psychic load of having to replace New York City’s fallen twin towers without actually reminding anyone of those towers, is a “bold but flawed giant.” A real estate boondoggle. A bald attempt to rewrite history. And no one captures 1 WTC’s towering aesthetic transgressions better than a character in a book, the unnamed narrator of Joseph O’Neill‘s fourth novel The Dog. Here, he’s seeing the skyscraper, still unfinished, on his first visit to New York in four years:
The three-quarters-built Freedom Tower, if that’s still its name, looks–I’m afraid there is no other word for it–unintelligent. I saw the Burj Khalifa [the world’s tallest tower, in Dubai] at a comparable stage of completion. The Arabian spire had the natural inwit of a blade of grass. Its American counterpart, for all its massiveness, looks like a stump–a gargantuan remnant. From my inspection through the taxi window, I actually find it hard to accept that this protrusion is indeed the so-called Freedom Tower. The building seems, as I say, not without nationalistic embarrassment, dumb–a meathead tower. It’s not even that tall.
One World Trade Center, the Biff Tannen of the architecture world. And short, too! Yow. The Dog, which follows the mental peregrinations of a lonely New York lawyer adrift in Dubai, has plenty more incidental architecture criticism, including the most evocative description of the Burj Khalifa I’ve ever read. More novelists writing about buildings, please. (Just not this old coot.)