freedom center

It will be fascinating to see the memorial building at the site of the WTC in New York (sorry, New York Times link, free registration required. You could try username jilltxt, password jilltxt). I’m absurdly proud that it’s designed by Norwegian architectual firm Sn¯hetta and find it rather surprising that they’d choose non-Americans for such a symbolic strcutre. Everything about the project drips with symbolism, of course, starting with its name, “Freedom Center”. The American insistance on “freedom” as basic tenet of their nation is astounding, and apparently entirely unironic. To me “Freedom Center” sounds rather like the sort of name the Soviet or maoist China would have chosen for a memorial. But I think Americans hear and use the word “freedom” differently than I do.

The New York Times reporter does, in fact, use the word “Orwellian” about the building, but not (as I would) about its name.

But the experience soon becomes Orwellian. The center’s upper-level galleries will be arranged in a spiral around the central light well. Under the current design, visitors will have to ride an elevator to the top and then walk back down along the spiral on a so-called “Freedom Walk.”

Martin comments on this with an analysis that seems convincing to me:

I think it’s interesting that the NY Times critic is highly skeptical of the fact that, after taking the lift to the top of the building, one is forced to take a long, spiraling walk down a spiral path inside the building’s light well. He thinks of it as a removal of freedom of the visitor, and even calls it “totalitarian.” I think the symbolism of this walk is highly appropriate. I read it as being simultaneously a criticism of the erosion of civil rights and the respect for human rights under a US administration which claims to celebrate freedom (a spiraling descent into unfreedom caused by the fall from the top – that is, the fall of the towers), and a reminder of the neccesity of – and conditions for real freedom: work, dedication and having the ability to think and work in the long term. The building seems to say that freedom is not easily won, which seems appropriate.

Interesting, too, that the New York Times reporter calls the building “a theme-park view of American ideals in an alluring wrapper” and also deplores the lack of bi-partisanality in the choices made — apparently only republicans have been allowed to determine the politics of it all. Towards the end of the article, the reporter writes that “the Freedom Center is bound to be viewed by much of the world as a jingoistic propaganda tool. What is missing at ground zero is a sense of humility.”

It sounds like a building full of ambivalence and self-contradiction. And beauty. Rather like the USA.

21. May 2005 by Jill

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