FAIR AND BALANCED: Paddy & Michael Look at BIG’s New Plans for a Fox WTC Tower

by Paddy Johnson and Michael Anthony Farley on June 9, 2015 Opinion

In April, rumors circulated that Foster and Partner’s lack-luster design for WTC tower 2 was being scrapped and Bjarke Ingles Group was being brought in to redesign the project. New tenants News Corporation and 21st Century Fox were in negations with Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to secure headquarters there, and they felt the original design was more fitting of an investment bank than a media company. Today, those rumors were substantiated with the reveal of BIG’s proposal. This is huge news, as this is a skyline-altering project of epic proportions. At 1,340 feet, this tower is just 28 feet shorter than both the new Freedom Tower’s roofline and the original World Trade Center—almost restoring the symmetrical Twin Towers look that characterized the lower Manhattan skyline until 9/11.

Michael: I like that BIG’s design makes further reference to that almost-symmetry with a slightly-angled facade that reaches outward towards the Freedom Tower at the same angle as that tower’s gradual taper. BIG’s time-tested strategy of combining two typologies (here, the glass office tower and the stacked volumes of Tribeca low-rises) is also a nice gesture, but it feels a little formulaic here. The building doesn’t seem to have the same materiality as other attempts at a “vertical village” like Moshe Safdie’s concrete Habitat ‘66 but isn’t really as elegant as a sculptural glass building like we’d see from Rem Koolhaas. This feels like a kind of awkward compromise. Overall though, I think it’s a huge improvement from the Foster design.

Paddy: It’s true, the monument/crazy-stacked-cubes in this building proposal remind me of a mullet: serious up front, party at the back.

Michael: I can totally picture bro-y day traders and Fox News financial analysts downing beers on those roof decks after a long day of screwing over the middle class! Which brings up the weird part about the pairing of a right-wing news company with a socially/environmentally-minded firm like BIG. So many of their projects are about a generosity of spirit or are commissioned for a social cause (infrastructure, mixed-income housing, public buildings). I think that’s where so much of their charm comes from. This feels a little soulless, but I am not sure what else to expect. Obviously BIG can’t make a big “green” statement like they’re known for for a client that needs to maintain an image of climate-change denial.

Paddy: I know right? This is less on the green side of things, but I’m thinking of their Mountain Dwellings in Copenhagen right now, which placed a 100 unit residential slab on top of a parking lot, and divided every residence up evenly. Every unit got a courtyard. I love that because it replaced ugly cement vistas with greenery—from the highway, they even printed a mountain on the facade of building—but even better was that the ideology it imposed.  It’s forceful democracy. Not the kind of thing you can expect Fox to lap up.

Michael: Exactly! I think the inherent contradiction of this building is its need to present something as iconic as a public building (given its site) for a client that’s all about defending the interests of private capital. There are a few extraverted details that I appreciate though, like the LED tickers on the bottom of the cantilevered volumes. They’re clearly aimed to the pedestrian looking up. Rather than being a “gift”, however, like a public bike path—they conjure up a dystopian association like the hyper-capitalist Blade Runner cityscape or one of Won Ju Lim’s beautifully eery installations. I wonder if this was a subtle subversive reference. Every architect loves Blade Runner’s production design so it could be a sort of secret message. I like to think Bjarke Ingles hates Fox as much as we all do.

Paddy: I like to think that was well. At certain angles the building looks off-kilter, like it’s about to topple. That’s the playfulness that BIG is known for, but I also read it as a subtle fuck-you. I mean, he’s probably not giving his client the finger, but it’s not the like the public doesn’t have good reason to find the work Fox produces corrosive. I hope I’m not the only one who sees the illusion of instability as a metaphor.


Images via Dezeen

Michael: Rupert Murdoch’s “house of cards” or “Hanging Gardens/Tower of Babylon”. I wonder if this new, more public glass-house will lend itself to more poetic rock-throwing. When Copenhagen residents were pissed-off that the Danish government moved The Little Mermaid statue to Beijing for the Danish Pavilion at Expo 2010, BIG brokered a compromise with a satellite-streaming live video feed of the sculpture to a billboard back in the Copenhagen harbor so citizens could still see it. That video feed actually became one of the only uncensored lines out of China to the West. Consequently, the pavilion became a sort of accidental site of free speech and pro-democracy protests for the Chinese public. I hope there’s some sort of loophole like that incorporated into this design too.

Paddy: OMG, me too. Ingels describes this project in Wired as being more difficult to navigate than most because it’s essentially a public building being funded through traditional market sources. I have no idea how that affects the work he’s doing—it’s not spelled out—but he does talk about how this project more than any other is about “turning practicalities into poetry”. Is that supposed be hint that those loopholes are harder to find? I dunno, but if there’s anyone who can look beyond the architecture itself, perhaps its BIG. Their buildings have never just been about the buildings themselves, but the community they serve. In some ways I wish this were part two of their Dry Line proposal and they were proposing a giant public park in the form of a highrise.

Michael: But who knows? Maybe cool, glass design from the windswept tundras of socialist Scandinavia is just above the melting-point of Ann Coulter’s heart. BIG’s architecture has always been about making the impossibly optimistic seem within reach.

fox news

Fox News will soon be broadcasting, ironically enough, with a public transportation hub designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava as a backdrop.

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