Skip to main content

Paul Goldberger

Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker magazine. The design for the World Trade Center site has been chosen and architect Daniel Libeskind created the winning proposal. Goldberger will describe the selection process and comment on the winning design.

43:25

Other segments from the episode on March 3, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 3, 2003: Interview with Paul Goldberger; Review of two documentary films.

Transcript

DATE March 3, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
 TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
 NETWORK NPR
 PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Paul Goldberger of The New Yorker discusses the
design chosen for the World Trade Center site
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

The architectural void at the World Trade Center site began to take shape with
last week's announcement of Studio Daniel Libeskind's winning design. At the
official ceremony, Libeskind thanks the people of New York for their
extraordinary commitment and passion. He said surely buildings are built out
of concrete and steel and glass but they're actually built out of the
spiritual content of the hearts and the soul of citizens. This collaboration
is what has made the design process for the World Trade Center site so
remarkable.

My guest Paul Goldberger says the fact that a design of beauty and depth has
emerged out of such unprecedented public participation and urban planning is
an important part of the story. Goldberger is the architecture critic for
The New Yorker and has written about the process of rebuilding ground zero in
a series of articles for the magazine. His latest appears in this week's
edition. I asked him to describe the key elements of the Libeskind design.

Mr. PAUL GOLDBERGER (The New Yorker): Its most famous feature, the one that
everyone has seemed to have grabbed on to and that attracted a lot of people
to Libeskind's design is his notion that you memorialize the people who died
on September 11th and the sense of loss and tragedy by leaving what's in
effect a kind of open wound in the cityscape by leaving some of the foundation
of the original World Trade Center open and exposed in perpetuity as a relic,
as almost like an archaeological site, rather as you might have in ancient
Rome, and that that would create a sense of going back into the past and also
that somehow going down in is a way of connecting and respecting and reaching
back.

Libeskind has also pointed out, I think, correctly, that the huge concrete
walls that surrounded the foundation of the World Trade Center held on
September 11th. They did not buckle and collapse, and that he sees in that a
kind of metaphor for the stability of American democracy, and that by keeping
them visible to people, that will remind them that the country went on, the
country survived, that everything was not lost even though many people were
lost.

BOGAEV: I'm thinking of The New York Times editorial last week about the
design that the design somehow caught both the grieving and the idealism in
the air after 9/11.

Mr. GOLDBERGER: I think it did, and I think it has a very subtle balance of
grieving and idealism as you've said or looking backwards and looking forward,
because it also has a lot of very positive things. There's a wonderful spire
that is sort of a balance between the high-tech and the poetic that would be
the tallest thing in the country, and I believe, in fact, in the world. It
would not be a regular office building. It would be a spire attached to an
office building but it would go up 1,776 feet high and it would contain an
antenna for broadcast, an observation tower, a restaurant, and Libeskind has
this idea of putting some sort of hanging gardens in it which may or may not
work out. He's had to reduce the number of gardens up in the sky from his
earlier versions of this, so that there you have a great symbol in the sky.

And I think that's terribly important because people, particularly those who
were lucky enough not to have lost people on September 11th felt what they had
lost was the skyline and they have been yearning to heal the skyline, to heal
that wound in the skyline of Lower Manhattan and to build something tall makes
great sense to do that, to respond to that desire.

On the other hand, we don't really want another 100-story office building or
apartment building or hotel. I don't think at this moment people want to
occupy a building like that. So a symbolic spire is a way of going back into
the sky, of making this statement and yet not of creating an enormous and
expensive building that would possibly end up being empty.

BOGAEV: Now I'm thinking that you have been very critical of skyscraper
proposals and I think you wrote directly in The New Yorker after September
11th that perhaps the destruction of the World Trade Center put an end to this
kind of thing is how you put it, this building of such a visible symbol of
power and strength and wealth.

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Well, a lot of people, including me, have speculated over
whether it would. And, you know, it's important to remember that we were
beginning to have somewhat second thoughts about the virtues of very, very,
very tall skyscrapers for a long time. There's a kind of excess bravado to
them, and it's not an accident that the only building taller than the World
Trade Center in this country is Sears Tower in Chicago, which was built all
the way back to 1974, only a year after the World Trade Center.

We've allowed the Asian cultures mainly--Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore--to
build supertall buildings because they're the ones that in a way are kind of
younger and less mature on the world economic stage, even though they're very
old cultures in other ways, and they've wanted to sort of flex their muscles
and it's a way in which people flex their muscles.

I think going up into the sky is a very beautiful thing, and I have always
hoped that we would find a way to sort of navigate between these difficult
things, between not wanting to be too arrogant, not wanting to be excessive
and build out of hubris and yet not want to cower on the ground, either, and
not want to give up something that really is in the DNA of New York which is
to go up into the sky.

BOGAEV: Just one more question about the tower. What do you think of this
1,776-foot-high business?

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Well, I find it actually a little hokey in some ways, and I
do think that Libeskind for all his gifts as an architect does have an
occasional tendency to play to the sentimental a little too much. And the
notion of picking that as an arbitrary number--1776 is a critical date in the
history of America--it doesn't automatically translate into a logical height
for a building, and I think he tends sometimes to mix up historical symbols
and architectural expressions in a way that kind of gets a little muddy and
confused.

On the other hand, it might also be a really skillful political move because
if the Port Authority, which has a lot of control over this project as the
original builders of the World Trade Center and the owners of ground zero,
decides it's a little too big and a little too expensive and says, `Let's cut
it down,' Libeskind can say, `You're destroying 1,776, this important number.
How can you do that? 1676 is not an important number. 1776 is an important
number,' and maybe it could be a way of keeping it as tall as he wants it.
So actually maybe I'm not being fair to him by dismissing that number as
sentimental. Maybe it's actually very crafty.

BOGAEV: Now the original Libeskind design featured also two ground-level
parks, one positioned to capture a wedge of sunlight--each year on September
11th from the time the first plane hit the Trade Centers' north tower until
the time that the second tower fell. So is that still part of the proposal
and what do you think of it?

Mr. GOLDBERGER: That is part of the proposal. Libeskind calls it the Wedge
of Light. That, too, is one of those things that's sort of just on the edge
of a little bit hokey. On the other hand, it could work. On the other hand,
if it's cloudy on September 11th, no one will know anyway, but he has sort of
positioned the buildings in such a way that the position of the sun at that
hour on that day would assure that it would come directly in with no shadows.

Now of course, it's not only on that day, but probably on September 10th and
September 12th that would be pretty similar as well. The sun, you know, only
moves a tiny bit day to day. It's a little much, but I certainly don't think
it's sort of evil or bad, and, you know, there's another thing that kind of
goes along with it that he's calling the Path of Heroes, I believe, which is
he wants to put markings in the pavement that go from the center of ground
zero out in all kinds of different directions, in all kind of different lines,
almost like a--so these little granite strips or lines or markings would
almost look like a million of those children's Pick Up Sticks, that game.

And what that would do would be draw a line between ground zero and a pointer
in the direction of each fire company or rescue company or ambulance squad or
police group that responded to the call on 9/11, pointing toward their home
base to show that people came from all directions to participate in the rescue
effort and it would be a way of honoring that.

That is also one of those things that on the one hand, it's a little too much;
on the other hand, if you were walking on the sidewalk in this
neighborhood--imagine it was all now newly rebuilt--and you saw this unusual
line, this little strip, perhaps of granite, in the sidewalk, it would be a
very beautiful and subtle way of showing you that this place was special and
connected to an extraordinary historical event while also weaving that into
day-to-day life as you kind of walk down the street. So it might work, and
I'm certainly for giving him a try and letting it happen and we'll see.

BOGAEV: Paul Goldberger is the architecture critic for The New Yorker. His
latest article in a series about the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site
appears in this week's edition. We'll continue our conversation after this
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: I'm talking with Paul Goldberger. He's the architecture critic for
The New Yorker magazine.

The competing design to the Libeskind proposal was from Rafael Vinoly's team,
the THINK team. Can you remind us what the think team design was and what
were some of the objections to it?

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Sure, the THINK team was a remarkable group of three really
gifted architects and a landscape architect: Rafael Vinoly, Fred Schwartz and
Shigeru Ban--who's an architect from Tokyo; Fred Schwartz is another New
Yorker, and Ken Smith, a landscape architect. They came up with a fascinating
and I think very moving and beautiful proposal which was to create a
latticework over the footprints of the original twin towers that would more or
less echo the original towers but as a kind of ghostly, transparent skeleton
or latticework. And their notion was to place inside the latticework smaller
sections that would be like little buildings that would be cultural facilities
of one kind or another that would be inside this kind of framework or
truss-work, but most of it would be open. And then around the perimeter, away
from the footprints themselves, they planned, as Libeskind did, to put office
buildings and the transportation center and possibly a hotel and other things.
However, it was their wish to leave that stuff pretty open and not be too
specific about it, leaving the possibility that other architects might do it.

It was actually a very pragmatic and visionary proposal at the same time. It
was the most visionary in that those towers were really a pretty extraordinary
and amazing thing. Had they worked, they could have been the shimmering,
poetic, almost towers of light, barely material. You would have seen this
sort of stainless steel framework whooshing up into the sky holding these
little pods inside it, and then the rest of it would have been just letting
the ordinary city kind of develop around it. So that part would have been
quite pragmatic and it would have made a very powerful statement for the
public realm coming first and then you fill in private stuff around the edges
later.

I was very impressed with it and actually not unhappy when there was a sense
that it might be winning the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's
preference. I had a tough time myself deciding between the two because of the
larger group of designs that were proposed last December as part of this whole
exercise in which they invited teams of some of the best architects in the
world to propose plans, the two that were my favorites were, in fact, the two
that turned out to be the finalists, so I knew that I was not going to be that
unhappy with either one.

The objections to the Vinoly plan were twofold. One was that it was quite
expensive, and while cost was not the key issue, it did somewhere play some
role. The deciding objection, though, I gather, was the fact that to some
people, it felt not like a beautiful and shimmering symbol of the new and
looking ahead, but like two enormous tombstones, like, echoing the World Trade
Center in a skeletal form that would have reminded people forever of what had
happened.

And there was a sense on the part of I know the governor who felt strongly
about this, that it was one thing to do a great and significant memorial on
the ground but that what went up in the skyline should only look forward and
not look back. Now the architects, of course, felt this was looking forward
and didn't really like hearing it described that way, but to some people it
was, and I think that's what ultimately did it in, and my understanding is
that while people admired the Libeskind, at the end of the day, what carried
the vote was not so much pro-Libeskind feeling as a negative feeling on the
part of some key players in this whole thing about how people would interpret
those THINK team towers and the fear that they would be seen as huge
tombstones. Somebody said it's the skeletons of death, not, you know, a
future-looking thing. And while I don't agree with that and the architects
certainly didn't agree with that, a couple of key people did and so they went
to the other plan.

BOGAEV: Who ultimately made the decision? Who were the players involved?

Mr. GOLDBERGER: The players are the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation,
which is an agency set up by the state of New York, the Port Authority, which
is a New York-New Jersey bistate agency that owns ground zero, the city of New
York itself, whose mayor, Michael Bloomberg, controls some of the seats on the
board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and the state of New
York whose governor, George Pataki, ultimately holds the most cards in his
hand here.

BOGAEV: Well, it's such a difficult thing to maneuver around, and I think in
your writing in The New Yorker, you've alluded to this, that so many people
expressed the desire for the twin towers to be rebuilt in the wake of 9/11...

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Yes.

BOGAEV: ...and that there seem to be this collective--I don't know, sense of
denial that they knew this wasn't going to happen, we weren't going to rebuild
the World Trade Center...

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Right.

BOGAEV: ...as it once was, but somehow they might not have wanted to let go
of that.

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Right. I think that's right. You know, there are still a
few people running around saying, `Let's rebuild them as they were.' I think
it's a terrible idea because it is no disrespect to those who died to say that
they were not really very good buildings and that they did not represent the
very best we're capable of now, certainly, and to repeat what was really in
many ways an architectural mistake when we also have 30 years more of
knowledge of how to build buildings better and how to make cities better would
be a terrible mistake and would do no honor to these people. But there are a
lot of people who both want to do that or who just don't really want to come
to a conclusion about this.

And I think it's now beginning to be time. I felt in the months immediately
following 9/11 it was, in fact, unseemly to push too fast to decide what to
do. It was much more important to mourn at that time, but we're now
approaching a year and a half, and that's a very different feeling from the
immediate few months, and I think now it is time to move more and more toward
a forward look and less and less toward looking back.

BOGAEV: It sounds as if perhaps that that collective fantasy about the twin
towers was more about the grieving process than about architecture.

Mr. GOLDBERGER: I certainly hope it was more about the grieving process than
about architecture. I think that's a good way to put it because it can be
excused if it's part of the grieving process because people are certainly
entitled to grieve in any way they want and none of us should ever be so
arrogant as to tell people how to grieve. They're entitled to make their own
choice, but it's not a good architectural choice. It may be a good choice in
terms of helping one heal to think about rebuilding the towers, but
ultimately, it's not really the right decision as we begin now to think more
and more of building for the future.

BOGAEV: There was a flurry of lobbying and media campaigning in the past few
weeks and both architects, Daniel Libeskind and Rafael Vinoly, appeared on
"Oprah." They also held kind of minisalons or forums at hot spots in the city
for architecture critics and the press and officials. Did you go to any of
those events?

Mr. GOLDBERGER: I did not go to any of the forums and stuff like that,
although I went to some big public forums where a number of architects spoke,
not just these but all the architects involved in the whole exercise,
including the ones who did not end up being finalists. I didn't do much in
the three weeks since Libeskind and the THINK group were named as finalists,
and most of my conversations with the architects have been sort of more
one-on-one briefings in their offices, not other situations.

But I watched it with amusement because I think it's part of the story. I
mean, here we are with this amazing situation in which architecture, which is
usually a subject that is relegated to the inside pages of a newspaper, if at
all, is suddenly on the front page all the time. It's in the gossip columns.
Everybody's talking about it. It's sort of like being, you know--I feel as an
architecture critic sort of like I've always been covering--I don't know, like
a sports reporter who used to cover lacrosse who suddenly is covering the
World Series instead and everybody is paying attention to your subject and
everybody's watching every move and it gets right on the front page. So it
does change everything.

It's both good and bad, of course. You know, it's great to see people
caring about architecture. It's what those of us who love architecture have
always wanted, and what could be better than being on "Oprah"? But I hope it
doesn't result in watering down all the ideas for public consumption so much
that their serious ambition gets lost.

This is one of the few times in I think my lifetime that I've seen some of the
best architects in the world make proposals for important public places in New
York and get taken really, really seriously as opposed to being put on a shelf
so that the thing could really be given to some political hack. Well, we're
not seeing that this time, and so in that way, things are better than ever
before. Whether the culture of celebrity is going to ultimately bring us
better architecture, that's another matter, you know, and we just got to see
over time.

BOGAEV: Paul Goldberger is the architecture critic for The New Yorker
magazine. We'll continue our conversation about the new design for rebuilding
the World Trade Center site in the second half of the show. I'm Barbara
Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.

Let's get back to our interview with Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for
The New Yorker magazine. Last week, the Berlin-based firm Studio Daniel
Libeskind was announced the winner of a design competition for rebuilding the
site of the World Trade Center. This decision comes after a long series of
public forums and proposals on how to restore Lower Manhattan.

I'd like to step back and talk about the history of this whole process, how
this city got to this decision on the Libeskind design.

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Sure. Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: And six proposals for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site
were unveiled in July 2002 at the public meeting that was held at the Javits
Center. Afterwards, nearly 5,000 people gave their opinions of the designs
and almost all were negative. It was a melee, really. And you wrote in The
New Yorker that that meeting at the Javits Center was an emblematic event in
the history of city planning. Emblematic of what?

Mr. GOLDBERGER: I think it was emblematic of people asking for boldness in
vision. We're not used to that. We're used to people settling for the
ordinary. Or people when they become actively involved in the public process
doing it to say no; not to say yes. They were complaining--and correctly
so--about the way in which those six early plans seemed mainly focused on
office space and getting that site back into profit-making condition again, so
to speak. And the fact that it didn't have a powerful symbol, it didn't
respond enough to the gravity of the events of 9/11 and the need for
commemoration in a really significant way. And that it--those plans did very
little to suggest that this is not an ordinary piece of land.

And for people to say, in a public meeting, `This is not ordinary. This is
special. Give us architecture that reflects that and is equal to the
magnitude of this extraordinary, if tragic, event,' well, that's an amazing
moment. And, in fact, it created a very interesting and difficult dilemma for
the public officials because they were fully behind those plans before, but
they had also said this was going to be a public and open process and they
intended to listen to the people. So when the people said, `Uh-uh,' the
governor and the officials of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation had
only two choices: they could have either said, `Well, we didn't really mean
it, people, so we're not going to listen to you. We're just going ahead,' or
`Be prepared to make significant changes.'

Since it was an election year and the governor was up for re-election, he was
not going to choose the first alternative. He chose the second, and ordered
that the process be shifted and changed. And the LMDC, under a man named
Roland Bets, who was a member of the board, who probably has had the most sort
of passionate feeling about architecture on the part of the board members,
suggested issuing a call to the best architects in the world and seeing who
was interested and just inviting them to submit proposals, and that's what
happened.

BOGAEV: Alex Garvin, this VP for planning at the Lower Manhattan Development
Corporation, is a kind of interesting influential figure in this whole story.
It seems that his fingerprints are all over it, like Zelig somehow. And you
wrote in The New Yorker...

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Yes.

BOGAEV: ...that he hosted a daylong briefing with the seven design teams that
were winnowed down from these more than 400 who submitted ideas, and Garvin
took them to ground zero. What did he talk to them about there, and what kind
of ideas did he plant? What requirements did he place on them for their
designs?

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Well, Garvin, who along with Roland Bets, who is the board
member who at the sort of executive level pushed this, and then Garvin is the
man who sort of really did a lot of the day-to-day work, had an idea that what
really mattered most was this balance between great architecture and restoring
the fabric of the city. He's always believed that you make a great public
space and then the private sector sort of follows around it. And as he says,
if the public sector, if the city of New York had never built Central Park,
everything would be different. But all of the incredible value of land around
Central Park, on the perimeter, came because the private sector responded to
the first move made by the public sector. So his idea always had been do
something great sponsored by the public, and then you will create an
environment in which the private sector wants to participate and wants to
invest and wants to build.

So I think he talked to them all about that, he talked to the architects about
the meaning of Lower Manhattan, the meaning of ground zero, about the
relationship between the two and about a vision that he had of a day when
Lower Manhattan would be filled with people coming to pay homage to those who
were lost on September 11th, to visit the memorial, to work, to attend
conferences, to attend operas and concerts, to shop, to live; that he wanted
all of these different things to be happening, and he explained and promoted
the idea that what makes the city great is the interweaving of all these
things, and his vision for the site was of a place where all of these things
wove together in that, you know, subtle and exciting and powerful way.

BOGAEV: So let's say--and this is being pessimistic--that what has legs of
Libeskind's plan is this bathtub(ph), the pit, the memorial in the ground that
preserves the slurry walls. How do you think it'll stand up to some
international memorial sites to national tragedies?

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Well, what the ground zero memorial has that very few
memorials do is the power of place, the power of authenticity of place. It is
not honoring something that happened somewhere else or honoring people who
died somewhere else. But when you come to it, you know you are in the place
in which this happened. That's very different from something even as great
and important as the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, say. It's more like
Gettysburg, in a way, going to the Gettysburg battlefield or some of the great
battlefield memorials in Europe, where the power of the place is a lot of the
meaning.

Now sometimes memorials work in spite of that. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
is a great example. The Lincoln Memorial, I think, is a great example. We
think about that as a way of connecting us to the ideas that Lincoln
represented, not to the fact that Lincoln was in Washington or, you know,
wasn't on that site anyway. It was, I think, landfill. And I don't think it
was even--I think it was part of the river when Lincoln was in Washington.
But we bring to a memorial some of our own experience, some of our own
passions and knowledge, and yet we also expect it to bring us emotionally to a
different place, to take that and carry it further.

I hope that the power of place at ground zero will mean that that's what will
happen with the Libeskind memorial in the bathtub. Of course, we don't really
know also how the memorial will be completed because what Libeskind and all of
the competitors were asked to do was create an overall master plan for ground
zero that would include an appropriate setting for a memorial. So the
Libeskind idea, even though it's a pretty powerful memorial in itself, is
still technically just going to be a backdrop for something else that will go
down there that somebody will design. And the Lower Manhattan Development
Corporation is just now gearing up to launch an international competition for
something that will go into that space that will not be designed by Libeskind;
will be designed by somebody else. It might be just a way of commemorating
the names, it might be sculpture, it might be some other thing entirely.

BOGAEV: How are security concerns integrated into some of these designs that
were proposed, and does security have to be integrated into the design process
early on now?

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Security is part of the design process for almost anything
now. It's a sad reality of the world in which we live. I think it's
integrated into the design that we now have. I don't think there's anything,
however, that it has done to make things different from what they might
otherwise have been, except that I know the Port Authority, which oversees
much of this project, has been very insistent about certain things being
underground, certain other things not being underground, places in which truck
deliveries to the area can be segregated, so that they can be kept secure and
separate, that sort of thing. It hasn't been integrated into a way that would
affect the average person's experience of the site particularly. Many of the
security things are not things you necessarily would see, you know, much more
advanced kinds of glass that will be used on buildings. But, of course, those
things might not even be decided now. We'll what materials, when the
buildings are actually being built in a few years, what materials are on the
market. There may be more advanced things that aren't even around today.

BOGAEV: Paul Goldberger is the architecture critic for The New Yorker. He
has a new article about rebuilding the World Trade Center site in this week's
edition. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back with Paul Goldberger. He's the architecture critic for The New
Yorker magazine.

I'm curious if you had a fantasy about the Manhattan skyline, how it should
look, how it might be restored.

Mr. GOLDBERGER: I've always wanted to see a great tower in Lower Manhattan,
to bring it back up again, not necessarily to look like the World Trade
Center, but to give us something that would make it other than the kind of
blurry mass that it is now. You know, before the World Trade Center, the
skyline in Lower Manhattan was a bunch of beautiful little narrow spindly
buildings, many of which were from the '20s and early '30s. They had been
largely obscured by sort of fatter, bulkier buildings, and the skyline only
became interesting again in Lower Manhattan when the Trade Center went up, and
it sort of upped the ante. With the Trade Center gone, we've got nothing but
that sort of blurry mass of dull buildings, and so something that's a point in
the sky, that brings some emotion back in, is very important.

I think the Libeskind spire actually has the potential of doing that. It's
slender, because it's not trying to be full of big office floors, which
created this sort of boxy skyline that we're now left with. It's just a point
in the sky, like the very old buildings, and the idea of something that could
be like sort of the Eiffel Tower of the 21st century, that would use the
technology of our time as creatively as Eiffel used the technology of the 19th
century, appeals to me very much, and I think Libeskind has actually gotten
that idea and tried to express it in his tower.

BOGAEV: This a broader question and it's not specifically about the World
Trade Center site, but I know that you've done so much thinking about cities
and the role of architecture in creating the life and the soul of a city, and
I'm also thinking that right now, Americans are under so much strain, there's
so much general anxiety about a possible war, about the stalled economy, about
New York and cities and heightened security in cities. Can you talk in a
general way about how you see urban planning speaking to some of these
anxieties of our time?

Mr. GOLDBERGER: It's a wonderful question, and it's a wonderful and
troubling question, because it raises a key issue about what the city is. The
very idea of the city and the very idea of democracy go hand in hand, because
cities are about the freedom to move about, to move about spontaneously, to go
where you want to go. They're about the serendipity of chance encounter, and
when we live in an age in which terrorism dominates and security becomes
all-consuming as a concern, it becomes harder and harder for those things that
make the city what it is to function well. We have to make very different
kinds of choices. We rush from one place to another, never lingering in
between, and what makes city life wonderful to me is the magic of the places
in between, often, as much as anything else. That's one part of it. Many
people also don't even appear in public as they might for security reasons, so
people who can afford it, you know, rush in cars to and fro, and don't walk
even short distances because they get nervous, or people don't go outside as
much as they might. All of those things damage and compromise city life.

Now having said that, I do think there are ways architects and planners can
respond. We've certainly seen architects respond very well to new security
guidelines and find ways in which to make buildings still welcoming and
comfortable. I'm very impressed with the new federal office building that's
going up in Oklahoma City to replace the one destroyed in the bombing. It had
to meet very tough new guidelines about security, but the architect has
managed to find a way to make the facade mostly of glass, even with those
guidelines, so that there's still a feeling of openness; it's not a concrete
bunker. And you know, we're working on it. We're aware of it, it's real
tough, and there's no question that you know, a city reflects political
reality, and when the political reality is grim, it is very hard for the city
to be joyful.

BOGAEV: Can I ask you where your favorite place is to be in New York?

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Mm, God--I would say walking on a street is my favorite
thing, and that's said as somebody who, you know, adores great buildings. I
love to look at the Chrysler Building and the Woolworth Building and to walk
across the Brooklyn Bridge and to be in Central Park, to be in my own
apartment, to be in a million places in New York, and yet I think the thing
that gives me the most pleasure of all is a stroll up Madison Avenue or along
Fifth Avenue or along some interesting street in the boroughs, Atlantic Avenue
in Brooklyn, or Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, or a neighborhood street in some
other part of the city.

The streets ultimately make the city, even more than the buildings do, and you
know, Louis Kahn, the great Philadelphia architect, once said, `A street is
a room by agreement.' And it's a very beautiful and poetic way to look at the
street and the city. The city is a place of agreement, in a way, a place of
diversity, a place that we all share, that emphasizes and builds on our
commonality. And when we are faced with the horror of terrorism, it makes it
very hard to express those things, and we're forced to put them aside for the
moment, I hope just briefly, while we deal with what we would have to call,
you know, emergency priorities.

But ultimately, terrorism and the city do not go very well together, not just
because of the risk of a city being a target, as New York was on 9/11. The
whole idea of security leads people to fear being out in public, and being out
in public, walking on the streets, being surprised by new visual experiences,
by chance encounters, by seeing a million things you haven't seen before, by
seeing wonderful things that you love that you have seen before, by constant
visual stimulation, those things are all about freedom and looseness and the
pleasures of walking around, which is the ultimate urban pleasure, more than
any other, and they're very tough to do when you're cowering in fear.

BOGAEV: I want to thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking to you today.

Mr. GOLDBERGER: Great. Well, thank you. It's been fun.

BOGAEV: Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker. His latest
article about the rebuilding of ground zero appears in this week's edition of
the magazine.

(Soundbite of piano music)

BOGAEV: Ken Werner playing Gershwin.

Coming up, a review of two new DVDs that feature hip-hop. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New DVDs "Wild Style" and "Scratch," each documenting the
history of hip-hop
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

In just 20 years, hip-hop has gone from an underground scene in New York to a
global culture phenomenon. In 1982, Charlie Ahearn's feature "Wild Style"
caught rappers, graffiti artists, break dancers and deejays just before the
crossover began. In 2001, Doug Pray's documentary "Scratch" profiled a
current generation of deejays who look back to the early days of hip-hop for
inspiration. Both films are now out on DVD, and critic Milo Miles says they
show how much has and has not changed about hip-hop culture.

MILO MILES reporting:

In the documentary "Scratch," several hip-hop deejays, or as they now like to
be called, turntableists, pay homage to the vintage movie, "Wild Style." This
seems odd, at first. Deejays are not that prominent in the old film. But
then you realize that almost everything about hip-hop culture from the early
days has been transformed, or vanished, except deejays.

The so-called plot of "Wild Style" is such a throwaway, you only need to watch
it once. What makes the DVD edition valuable and repeatable is the added
commentary by director Charlie Ahearn and collaborator Freddy Braithwaite.
Braithwaite, a graffiti artist known as Fab Five Freddy, had a vision of what
hip-hop could become, and he was well ahead of the crowd. As you look at the
bombed-out Bronx of the early '80s and the graffiti-coated subway cars, Ahearn
and Freddy have to remind first-time viewers what the situation was then.

(Soundbite from "Wild Style" DVD)

Unidentified Man #1: You know what I wanted? I wanted to talk a little bit
about avant garde art and how deeply involved both of us were, what was the
cutting edge of experimental art at that time, experimental music...

Unidentified Man #2: Right.

Unidentified Man #1: ...and how this film was kind of an expression of that
for both of us.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, that's true, because also at the time, when we
were making "Wild Style," you guys got to remember if you heard any rap
records at this time, you might have heard the Sugar Hill Gang, but rap was
still--was not even a blip on the map. I remember when we would go to meet
people and try to get money to make this film, so many people laughed at us,
and we, you know, did everything we were supposed to do, but nobody wanted to
give us any money, and the money that we got to really get this film rolling,
ironically, came from the other side of the Atlantic.

MILES: Of course, the first thing you notice is that graffiti is so gone from
hip-hop nowadays. Fab Five Freddy's dream of graffiti being legitimized by
downtown art galleries is barely a memory. Even break dancing only gets the
occasional nod anymore. With the overwhelming rise of rappers and their
producers, it looked like deejays were as extinct as spray-painters. But a
new generation of deejays got access to improved, more sophisticated
equipment. They soon discovered that spinning and scratching records
delivered a style, a sound and a sensibility that just couldn't be duplicated
by studio machines.

San Francisco's Invisible Scratch Pickles were the first to make modern
deejay techniques part of their act. Here Deejay Shadow explains from the
documentary, "Scratch."

(Soundbite of "Scratch" DVD)

SHADOW: The Pickles were the first to take the secrecy out of deejaying,
because a lot of hip-hop deejaying was based on covering the labels, so that
nobody knew what you had, not revealing your tricks, and I think the Pickles
were the first people to just be, like, `Hey, here's exactly how to do what we
do. We want you to go out and do it better so that we can learn from you.'
That to me was like--that was a giant step forward, and they were so far ahead
of the time that people--a lot of times, crowds would just be like, `Yeah.'

MILES: Doug Pray's first documentary, "Hype," chronicled the downfall of the
Seattle grunge scene, but with "Scratch," he's interested in resurrection. It
seems to be part documentary and part instructional video. The message is
that these guys are just like you. You could do this stuff, too, and we'll
show you how. The young turntableists are very aware they have the home
basement and local neighborhood vibe that rap superstars spend big money to
simulate in movies.

"Wild Style" is an almost improvised movie that hoped to be historical.
"Scratch" is a movie that hopes to preserve the history of improvisation. It
includes a brief segment of "Wild Style" that features ground-breaking deejay
Grandmaster Flash at work on the turntables. The new turntableists are more
studious, almost like a martial arts brotherhood, though they are just as
likely to think of themselves as science-fiction superheroes.

What a switch from the old school. The star of "Wild Style," Lee Quinones,
was not a professional actor, and he always looked like he was wondering if
this project was a good idea. After all, it might mess up his career as a
graffiti artist. The turntableists have no such doubts as they display their
supple wrists and darting fingers on the mixing boards. They may not be at
the top for long, but they will not be forgotten, and by the end of "Scratch,"
you will be convinced that the turntable has become a musical instrument
suitable for the long haul.

(Soundbite of "Scratch")

Unidentified Group: (Rapping) Come on, y'all. Come on. Yo! Now you know
us, but it's not the cold crush. Four MCs, so we ain't the furious. Not the
Force MCs or the three from treacherous. Just a blast from the past from the
moment we bust. For whatever we touch, we hope platinum plus, but if our shit
go rust, still in God we trust. 'Cause it's the second coming, displaying
rhymes so stunning and keep it running and give a shout out to London. To
keep it on, uh, let's still perform till the early morn, sunset till dawn. I
got a word abundance, hold pens by the hundreds. Top speed guaranteed. We
still run it. I be bombastic with my terror tactics. Why you acting plastic,
treating all your fans like fanatics? We be the upper pair coming air tight
like Tupperware. Fuck a fear, press your luck and beware the brigadier. DJ
is spinning the records that make up the music, so people can focus whenever
the mic has been passed to me.

BOGAEV: Milo Miles is a contributing writer to Rolling Stone. He reviewed
the 1982 feature film "Wild Style" and the documentary "Scratch." Both are
now out on DVD.

(Credits)

BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

43:54

Chef David Chang On Depression, Being A Dad And The Burden Of 'Authenticity'

David Chang has won James Beard awards as a chef and restaurateur. His first and best known restaurant Momofuku started as very modest noodle bar in Manhattan’s east village. The food was influenced by the food he grew up with--food that used to embarrass him when he was growing up. His parents are from North Korea. He now has restaurant in NY, LA, Vegas, Toronto and Australia. He’s had bipolar disorder for many years and credits cooking and his restaurants with saving his life. He has a new memoir.

52:30

Vaccine Expert: Once A COVID Vaccine Is Available, 'Don't Overthink It. Don't Wait'

Dr. Peter Hotez is co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital, and says that a vaccine release could begin for selected populations by the middle of December — and that a broader vaccination effort could soon follow.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue