Six months later, twin beams of light shine into the New York sky where the Twin Towers once stood. I think it’s a wonderful memorial (memories of Leni Riefenstahl films notwithstanding): the lights suggest both memorial candles and photographic negatives or ghosts of the buildings that stood there. I confess that I was not a fan of the World Trade Center; I never managed to get around to going up to the observation deck to take advantage of the view, which in my mind was the saving grace of what I found to be disproportionately large International Style buildings that didn’t really mesh with the rest of New York’s skyscraper-heavy skyline. The WTC towers were, for a time, the tallest building in the world; that claim to fame didn’t last long, but it was long enough for the towers to be scaled by a giant ape holding a beautiful woman (and it’s a surprisingly fun film, featuring Jessica Lange and Charles Grodin, although neither ape nor woman nor building will make anyone forget the lovely originals). But even if they weren’t the most aesthetically pleasing buildings in New York, it’s almost dizzying to think about what is required to build two 110-story buildings.
There are bigger — much bigger — projects — but skyscrapers are a triumph of ingenuity. The amount of engineering know-how that goes into building a skyscraper is awe-inspiring. Everything from the Bessemer steel process to the power elevator (the Woolworth Building , built in 1913 and then the world’s tallest building, had a staggering 26 elevators to go along with its gargoyles) to the climbing tower crane was a prerequisite for the buildings that transformed Chicago (link via KIPLOG) and New York. But skyscrapers have faded into the background after a hundred years. How often do I even consider them? They’re environment to me, not objects: buildings that block out the sun, offices where I might go to meet people, elements of a skyline that may or may not appeal to me.
In New York, those ghostly lights are a memorial not just for the hundreds killed, not just for the worst attack on the United States that, God willing, anyone will ever see, but for the buildings that were such a hulking presence. They are a reminder, graceful and delicate where the towers were not, that I don’t think New York needs. I don’t think anyone in New York will take their steel forests for granted ever again.