Have the dark clouds of 9/11 once again descended on architecture?

December 21, 2011

A pair of proposed South Korean luxury towers are the center of controversy this month after critics denounced the project's design as looking too reminiscent of the images of the World Trade Center towers during the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks.

Called "The Cloud," the Seoul project features two closely-set rectangular twin residential towers. About half-way up, the towers are joined by a clustered 10-story mass internal public spaces and planted rooftops that resemble a cloud descending upon the building.

But for some, the visual turbulence in the middle of the two towers resembled the smoke and fireballs of the exploding WTC buildings.

When renderings were released earlier this month, the project's designer, Dutch architects MVRDV said it began receiving hate mail and "calls of angry people calling us Al Qaeda-lovers and worse."

Most of the calls reportedly came from U.S. But the London Daily Mail got in an understated lick, saying the design "does not appear to be a sick joke." 

Under the title "The Most Offensive Building Ever?" talker Glenn Beck asked on his website, "Is this building – which is still on track for construction – a purposeful slam on America? Is it a celebration of the terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 innocent Americans?"

A commenter on the website World Architecture News.com: "I actually watched the WTC towers burn and fall. This design clearly brings those horrid memories back...It does feel like an insult and I am not an American." A commenter from Massachusetts, however, said, "Sorry critics - I actually watched as each plane hit the towers. It looked NOTHING like this - it was fire and debris."

MVRDV ended up issuing an apology for the design, saying it "regrets deeply any connotations The Cloud projects evokes regarding 9/11." The project is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

The anger of the project is ludicrous. Which is not to say The Cloud is above criticism. Upon further review, the form linking the two buildings looks more like the shape of Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67 than it does the fire and smoke of 9/11. And look at that sculpture proposed at the base of the building to the right there. That's Flamingo, the Alexander Calder statue that has sat in Chicago's federal building plaza for 40 years.

But the hurt, anger, outrage and fear after 9/11 is not easy to dismiss. We are a country still haunted by the images we saw again and again that day and in the weeks that followed. For some, it is the spot that cannot be easily removed. And include myself in that number. When I saw images of "The Cloud," the first thing I thought about was 9/11. 

And three months ago in this space, I did a 9/11 anniversary post that showed clips of the towers in their heyday. But I purposely did not include the following 1996 AT&T commercial because the pole vaulter descending the tower reminded me too much of the images of people falling from the towers in 2001. Again, it was the spot that cannot be easily removed:


 

But is The Cloud insensitive as it relates to 9/11? I'd like to hear from you in the comment section below.

Meanwhile here is an image of the building and of the interior of the space that has spawned so much discussion: