The forthcoming replacement for the World Trade Center, the Freedom Tower, has been in the news recently. It's a rather Orwellian name—next, the Department of Warmongering is to rename itself the Department of Defense—and a rather unimaginative one, too. Leaving that aside, the design itself has some merit, consciously modelled on the simple grandeur of the Empire State Building. As you can see, the square base gives way to a series of isosceles triangles with an octagonal cross-section—in architectural lingo, the 'edges are chamfered back'—before culminating in another square at a 45-degree rotation to the base. 'Ultra-clear' glass will apparently lend the exterior a gleaming, ivoryish quality. There's some number-symbolism too, as the tower's total height will be 1,776 feet high, in celebration of the birth of E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822). So far, so good. Here's what the Freedom Tower website says about the project, just the sort of appalling drivel that you expect from American officials about this type of thing:
FREEDOM TOWER IS A BOLD AND SIMPLE ICON IN THE SKY THAT ACKNOWLEDGES THE MEMORIAL BELOW. WHILE THE MEMORIAL, CARVED OUT OF THE EARTH, SPEAKS OF THE PAST AND OF REMEMBRANCE, FREEDOM TOWER SPEAKS ABOUT THE FUTURE AND HOPE AS IT RISES INTO THE SKY IN A FACETED, CRYSTALLINE FORM FILLED WITH, AND REFLECTING LIGHT.'Lovely'. There are some curious reminiscences here. The language of light and crystalline form stems immediately from the rhetoric of the Expressionist architects of early 20th-century Germany, glutted with the new delights of steel and especially glass. The visionary poet and science-fictionist Paul Scheerbart composed a slew of couplets for his friend Bruno Taut's extraordinary Glass Pavilion in 1914, including:
Das Licht will durch das ganzeBut if the aesthetic is expressionist, the general conception harks back to Wren's new design for St. Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire of 1666, his vision completed in 1708. The old cathedral had been substantially damaged in the Civil War, but after the fire it was unsalvageable. The new building was to be grander and more impressive, with a dome inspired by St. Peter's in Rome, hence the large Baroque-classical edifice today. Wren's work, like the Freedom Tower, was thus a statement of national superiority and defiance against disaster, as well as explicitly commemorating fiery conflagration. (Wren even erected a subsidiary monument to the blaze, a 311-step hollow tower which, if it fell in the right direction, would touch with its tip the exact location of the fire's origin.) St. Paul's, too, has a significant height, stretching 365 feet from ground to summit, one foot for each day of the year.
All und ist Lebendig im Kristall
Light wills through all space,
And comes alive in crystal.