Americans Storm Over MVRDV's Clouded Vision

Americans Storm Over MVRDV's Clouded Vision

Guy Horton, a frequent contributor to AN, here adds his thoughts on the still-steaming controversy over MVRDV’s twin towers.

MVRDV’s design for what they call The Cloud, a twin high-rise with a connecting “cloud” above the waistline, has resulted in an blitz of negative criticism. Americans who have never heard of the Dutch firm are now phoning and emailing threats and condemnation non-stop—some are personal threats aimed at individuals. They have even been called “Al Qaeda lovers.”

From the American point of view, a highly emotional response was probably predictable. How dare they, right after the tenth anniversary of 9/11, right when One World Trade Center (formerly Freedom Tower) is set to reach it’s symbolic 1776-foot mark, at last filling the long-vacant airspace of lower Manhattan? How could these…these…Dutchmen re-animate this trauma buried in the American psyche? Well…the point is that they aren’t re-animating anything. And while the memorial at Ground Zero is buried, the trauma is not. It’s frightening and revealing how close to the surface it is when a single image can spark it.

They didn’t do it on purpose. They are just architects, after all, and architects sometimes forget to reflect on their designs in terms of, say, the War on Terror, or on events that transpired ten years ago in a foreign country—our country being foreign to them. In sum, not everything everywhere revolves around what happened on 9/11. It’s not always about us.

Furthermore, we don’t require MVRDV for reminders of 9/11. The casualties from two wars, a devastated economy, polarized politics, torture, NDAA, militarized police forces in our cities, the Patriot Act, TSA strip-searches, the fact that if you appear to be of Middle-Eastern decent you are assumed to be a terrorist—the list of everyday reminders expands seemingly like the design of the cloud itself, block by block, forming a storm front around us.

A building designed by Dutch architects for South Koreans is hardly relevant when compared to the very real impact 9/11 has had on our democracy and, by extension, our built environment. So, let us leave the Dutch architects alone. They were just being MVRDV, international starchitects, playing with logic as they often do. The Cloud is merely an extension of their obsession with fractal repetition…the potential of monotony to produce something non-monotonous. But this, too, is subjective—just like ghost sightings of 9/11 in an architectural rendering.

They have said they are sorry, but the developer has not announced officially whether there are plans to change the early concept design. Nor should they be forced to change it. In a recent blog entry, Aaron Betsky says that because the design is now out there, it has become a poisoned meme signifying all those bad memories and therefore fails as a building. “Back to the drawing board, MVRDV,” he concludes.

So, while we can acknowledge that The Cloud is a meme of one sort to Americans, it is also obviously a different sort of meme to others. What is far more troubling is the reaction to the concept design. It demonstrates that we are still a long way from recovery and while the wars are winding down we are still at war with ourselves.

MVRDV is inadvertently giving us a small opportunity to look up and just see clouds for a change. As an American, I for one would prefer this to a meme any day. But, as Mr. Betsky notes, memes are hard to escape. Please, MVRDV, help us find new memes!

[Guy Horton writes on the culture and business of architecture in his column, CONTOURS on Archinect, and blogs for GOOD Magazine and The Huffington Post. He is also the author of the book The Real Architect’s Handbook: Things I Didn’t Learn in Architecture School.]