Let Libeskind be Libeskind

Full of ghosts, ground zero's like that hotel in The Shining—and maybe that's OK

Let's hope the Invisible is still with Daniel Libeskind. Because it's gone missing now in New York. The poetry of the void has become the corn-dog-'n'-extra-relish Freedom Tower, its spire echoing the Statue of Liberty, hitting that idée fixe of 1,776 feet in height—a scheme The New York Times called "predictably kitsch." (This was the critical equivalent of The Shining's "Here's Johnny" moment.) "Whoa," stammers Libeskind in his book. "You can say a design is ugly. That it is impractical. You can even say it's a rip-off of another design. But don't ever call it kitsch."

Kitsch is sob stuff, as critics branded Libeskind's beloved slurry wall, the exposed foundation of the World Trade Center that was the politico-conceptual bedrock of his plan. (Cue the fluttering flags and solemn voice-over: "In refusing to fall, it seemed to attest, perhaps as eloquently as the Constitution, to the unshakable foundations of democracy and the value of human life and liberty.") To many sophisticates, this was pure corn. Rafael Viñoly, who led the competing THINK team's bid for the ground zero gig, dissed the sunken space as Libeskind's "own personal Wailing Wall." Yet scrape off the schlock, and you'll find what we desperately need in New York: more of the Invisible. Libeskind recalls his first vision of the slurry wall, Nina at his side, mojo working overtime: "It was many colors at once, patchwork overlapping patchwork, because over the years the wall has often had to be reinforced so that it wouldn't collapse. It was haptic, tactile, pulsing, a multilayered text written in every conceivable language." Kitsch this is not. It's a clairvoyant tour de force.

Ground zero's torqued, all right. The spirits are edgy. Ten million square feet of office space—Silverstein's unbudgeable number—is not so Invisible, after all. And as flashbulbs pop over new commissions on the site for Frank Gehry and others, Daniel Libeskind almost seems a ghostly memory himself. But wait. Remember in The Shining? Danny's imaginary friend, Tony? He's got a message for us: Let Libeskind be Libeskind. We need the tiny berserker flailing away at his bright-red accordion. Give us the mojo man who describes his collaboration with Freedom Tower architect David Childs as something like "the orchestrated arrangements between North and South Korea at the very tense border at Panmunjom." (Or, better still: "This is insane! Deranged, like out of The Brothers Karamazov!") Give us back the dervish who pictures himself as Alice gone through the looking glass into a world of Jabberwocks and Jubjub birds, and that badass thing Lewis Carroll called the "frumious Bandersnatch." Let loose the beasties. It's a jungle in there, and that's exactly how it should be.

Jeff Byles writes about architecture. His accordion is in hock.

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