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December 14, 2011

Some Thoughts on the MVRDV “9/11 Exploding World Trade Center” Building

I have to say, I’m a lot less concerned about MVRDV’s design than I am about the hysteria it’s generating. If there’s really something to worry about here, it’s the destruction of the opportunity for a more nuanced discussion given all the cultural, political, perceptual and aesthetic alarms going off. If the take-aways below simply serve as the stimulus for some deeper looking and thinking, I would say we’ve done justice to imagery crying out for a teaching moment….

1. Cultural Narcissism

The design firm is Dutch, the project was proposed for South Korea. But it’s still all about us, isn’t it?

2. Plain as Day

If something of a technical point, perhaps the most troubling thing here is the way in which media and the public are taking 2-D artistic renderings at face-value without any attempt to extrapolate to a more varied and complex reading of this design given three dimensions and various points of orientation, actual scale, weather and light, etc. Perhaps a larger message here is how impoverished we are when it comes to visual literacy and a more sophisticated way of relating to contemporary architecture.

3. The Horror

Even if 9/11, versus the namesake “cloud,” does have some validity, is there no room for debate as to the symbolic meaning and significance of such a reference? And then, who is to say that this association would have staying power beyond these loaded, “politically correct” first impressions?

4. What (WAPO architecture critic Philip) Kennicott said.

5. Parc 51 All Over Again

Did someone say “Ground Zero Mosque”? (1, 2)

6. Don’t think of an elephant.

I wouldn’t be doing justice without offering up some choice examples of the media firing up an association with 9/11, and then attempting to burn it into the mind’s eye.

National Post MVRDV 9 11 juxtaposition

(via The National Post)


(via ABC News)



Telegraph MVRDV


MVRDV 9 11 Inhabitat

(…and, representing the design blogs, Inhabitat. By the way, in the poll in their post asking readers if the design reminds them of the 9/11 attack on the WTC, the 1200 responses are running 2-1 in favor of “no” — and that’s with this juxtaposition right above it.)

(renderings: MVRDV)

  • Peter A. Calvin

    It looks like a Legos sculpture

  • bks

    Any art that captures international headlines is truly great art. 


  • Violet

    My first reaction was, “how the heck are they going to build it?” As a structural engineer, I find this a challenging and interesting design (man! so many overhangs, and so many openings). 

    My second one, are they going to object to any and all twin rectangular high rises? Because, the 9/11 twin towers didn’t catch fire at the same height or fell down (causing the dust cloud) at the same time. 

  • Notfullyformed

    Let it happen. Oh please let it happen. It’s one of the most truly (non 9/11) inspired pieces of architecture I’ve seen in years. The last one that really captured my attention was the spinning building in Dubai. Which I’m pretty sure is representative of the spiraling down of the US economy.

    And, yes, oh, yes we ARE a hysterical, narcissitic country. ANY art should be allowed to offend our delicate sensibilities. Let them build it.

    And as an added bonus, it Gives us a new target to blow up ourselves.

  • Thomas Gokey

    The design is undeniably cool from an architectural perspective., but it’s also undeniably a visual echo of 9/11.

    But let’s imagine this building was made in the mid 1990’s. Everyone and their mom would still see 9/11 when the looked at it after 9/11 happened, but would be clear that it was just a cool design. To me the most interesting aspect is time or sequence.

    I really don’t understand the people who are asking us to consider this building’s design naively as beautiful architecture as if it isn’t the spitting image of 9/11. It seems like willful visual ignorance rather than a visually literate assessment.

    Yes architects have long been trying to rethink the skyscraper and “explode” buildings or turn them inside out. Now one of the things that they have to work with or work around is 9/11 as a visual, cultural, political and psychological event. It’s another factor just like building codes or gravity or budgets. A good architect will find creative ways to continue to reinvent the skyscraper after 9/11. This design is an example of failing to do so without instantly triggering the most loaded traumatic images of the 21st century. And let’s not pretend that the architects didn’t know what they were doing. They’re pressing people’s psychological buttons, and they’re either not very skilled at designing interesting buildings without hitting everyone’s triggers, or, more likely, they were trying to deliberately trip these triggers. To what purpose?

    I think we have some architects who either don’t understand human beings very well or don’t like them very much.

    To me there’s a big difference between Park 51 and this design. The first is a matter of bigotry and civil rights. The second is a matter of aesthetics and they way it relates to trauma.

  • Lenox

    I suppose they could build it with just one tower – but then, wouldn’t it fall over?

  • Pingback: “The Bizarre Resemblance” of South Korean Building Design with 9/11 WTC Towers Explosion | How to Build a House

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