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9/11, From 2001 to 2011

Image courtesy CNN.


It’s strange how disasters force design into the forefront of our awareness, pulling on that fundamental want for shelter as it is threatened or destroyed. Ten years ago in the 9/11 attacks, a form of architecture that was beyond shelter was destroyed. The twin towers, in their staggering display of capital accumulation, took on that role that capital-a Architecture assumes in signifying a collective identity and a culture. When the towers fell, we were not afraid because we thought we might lose our homes. We were afraid because, in some strange way, we saw ourselves being destroyed.

We can all vividly remember the moment it happened, where we were and what we were doing, because at that moment, our lives came into focus. I remember being in a packed high school classroom where we silently watched the television and, eventually, filtered out and went home. The school bells didn’t have any meaning on that day. They rang and we stayed put or they didn’t ring and we felt it was time to go home. What meaning could those bells have in comparison to what was happening to our identity?

There was a brief surge in a feeling of community. I have friends who were in New York and they recall volunteering to help, strangers feeling like family, an island of grief and hope, mixed. One friend saw a T.S. Eliot poem pasted up in her elevator a couple days after the poem:

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.

Eventually, the national sentiment shifted toward revenge. Debt driven wars, a tumultuous redevelopment for Ground Zero, business as usual, and, now, the Great Recession have all had their place in our world. One can’t help but thing that this terrible, watershed moment in our history was also a moment where the possibility for great change slipped through our fingers. We at 58-12, however, think that this moment of possibility has always been with us and still is with us if we’re willing to take it. We can each take this moment in our own lives and use our skills to affect positive change in the world—at 58-12, through design. While one signifier for our identity may be no longer, we always hold on to the prerogative to define and to create new systems of meaning in our society. Whether it be another building, a truly impressive Ground Zero memorial, or, even, an ethnographic research project, it’s never too late.

Our thoughts here at 58-12 go out to those who lost loved ones, are in remembrance of those whose lives were lost, and are in deep gratitude to those who, in that moment, created positive change ten years ago on 9/11/2001.


Posted on 09/11/2011 by Jonathan Crisman

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