The attacks on World Trade Center once seemed to me like something that demanded a clear, unequivocal design response. But after four years of political jockeying, architectural gestures, litigious countergestures, and cynical commitments to culture that barely qualify as lipservice, the role of design at that charged, emotional site seems more ambiguous, and contested, than ever.
In September 2003, the artist Ellsworth Kelly sent architectural critic Herbert Muschamp a collage representing his proposal for the site: nothing. Or, rather, a simple rounded carpet of green grass. "I feel strongly that what is needed is a 'visual experience,' not additional buildings, a museum, a list of names or proposals for a freedom monument." These, wrote Kelly, would be "distractions from a spiritual vision for the site: a vision for the future."
The urgency of a massive new building project in an overbuilt market, at a moment when hundreds of thousands of Americans have been rendered newly homeless, is worth questioning. Kelly's proposal, which stuck me as a copout two years ago, now seems honorable and wise. There will be time enough for building.