Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tear It Down Baby

In today's New York Times, architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff proposed the demolition of the Met Life Building (formerly the Pan Am building) in New York City. These financially difficult times, Ouroussoff argues, are perfect for rethinking human spaces.

Instead of crying over what can't be built, why not refocus our energies on knocking down the structures that not only fail to bring us joy, but actually bring us down?

Nicolai Ouroussoff (2008), journalist

The idea of making the best of difficult times by clearing out the bad is not new. One must make room for beauty by removing clutter. Life becomes difficult, but the recovery is what matters. And the first step towards recovery may be destruction. Moving beyond the helpless stance of indifference, in some cases towards hate, is the first step towards some kind of action. This is what Ouroussoff is proposing: action against urban ugliness as a metaphor for healing from what has brought us down.

Things don't go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be.
Samuel Johnson (1750), English poet

Maybe now is the perfect time to break down. The sooner the better, so recovery can begin. Maybe ugly human spaces are concrete examples of ugly human activity. As a child, I always loved driving on Park Ave. towards the then Pan Am building. I would actually miss it if it disappeared from that landscape. But I appreciate Ouroussoff's idea that to make room for new beauty, sometimes, a wrecking ball must be used to destroy the ugly. Like a fire destroying an old forest to allow for new, if different life to thrive.

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