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The Center of the World: New York, A Documentary Film | Clip

Ada Louise Huxtable, Architecture Critic

A pioneering architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable has written for the New York Timesand the Wall Street Journal. She was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for criticism, in 1970. Her books include The Unreal America: Architecture and Illusion and The Tall Building Artistically Reconsidered: The Search for a Skyscraper Style. Producer Ric Burns interviewed her during the making of New York: The Center of the World.


On Building at Ground Zero
What I'd like to say about this process is, when you ask someone what they'd like to see there, what I'd like to see there, and what I'd like people to understand is something I could not possibly have dreamed of myself. When you take talent, creativity, of the caliber and the strength that we have in the world today, and you give them a challenge like this, you're going to be amazed. It's not going to be anything you thought of. I'd be terribly disappointed if this weren't true. But I know it's true. I know that the answer to that question is, something you and I have not thought of, something that has far more dimension, far more connection with the city, far more beauty and utility, far more originality than we're capable of dreaming of. That is what I think people have not yet understood, that that's what they're looking for. And that's what we should expect to get.

Replacement vs. Rebuilding
I feel very strongly that we should not be looking to replace what we had, because I think the whole point of our lives and our arts and our world is that we move on and we do something different, sometimes better, always more interesting, hopefully more beautiful. And I think my whole life and career have been predicated on that, that we are capable through our technology and through our arts and through our ingenuity to do things that we have not done before; to get out of the box, to do something new and different. I think the whole history of civilization is coming up with something creatively new and wonderful. And in my heart and soul, that's what I'm wishing for. I want to see something that doesn't imitate what was there, that does something entirely different and perhaps makes a new kind of skyline, a new kind of city on the ground. I think that that has happened in the past, will always happen, and it should happen there.

Speaking to the Spirit
For myself, I just, maybe it's because I dislike those buildings, maybe it's because the tragedy was so horrendous, I don't want to see big buildings there. I saw a park in Paris that was so far ahead of anything we know about landscape design in this country, that once again, was something you could not visualize. It's the Parc Citroën. It's built on the side of the old Citroën factory. It's almost like an island of the Seine. The landscaping is uniquely beautiful. And it is for people. And there are pavilions. There are fountains. There are two pavilions that are like greenhouses. There's a series of pavilions that you climb up into. The fountains, the children are constantly playing in. They're, they are, we have none like them, they're orchestrated by computer, it's like music the way they play. And the marvelous, unexpectedness of the way these jets come and go and the children dancing around in them, and then these places to sit. I want to see something like that, because I think you could incorporate the right memorabilia. You'd think you'd be giving a place for closure to this generation, and a place for future generations to come and to understand. I don't say the whole site, that's ridiculous. I'm a realist. I know that in New York, you've got to build. But I would like to see something like this far more than some routine, clichéd conception of something tall. I think it's the political fallback. Politicians all say, oh yes, we've got to have something grand. We've got to have something soaring. We've got to have something that speaks to the spirit and to the hearts of people.

On the Rebuilding Process
It's extremely important. It's important symbolically, because of what we're commemorating. It's important urbanistically, because we have a chance to do something really remarkable, really to do something in that area that has never been done before. It's important in public terms, because it's a public space. It's important in private terms, because private people will use it. And that's why I think, how much you use, you know, a tall building, the people who go there, this would be for everybody.

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