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City of Brass

I really don’t have anything left to say about Park51, barring any new developments (pun intended). But the repeated phrase “mosque at Ground Zero” was ringing familiar to me for some reason, and I just realized why – this old article from December 2001 in Slate, about the architecture of the World Trade Center, and how architect Minoru Yamasaki drew his design inspirations from Islamic sources:

Yamasaki received the World Trade Center commission the year after the Dhahran Airport was completed. Yamasaki described its plaza as “a mecca, a great relief from the narrow streets and sidewalks of the surrounding Wall Street area.” True to his word, Yamasaki replicated the plan of Mecca’s courtyard by creating a vast delineated square, isolated from the city’s bustle by low colonnaded structures and capped by two enormous, perfectly square towers-minarets, really. Yamasaki’s courtyard mimicked Mecca’s assemblage of holy sites-the Qa’ba (a cube) containing the sacred stone, what some believe is the burial site of Hagar and Ishmael, and the holy spring-by including several sculptural features, including a fountain, and he anchored the composition in a radial circular pattern, similar to Mecca’s.

At the base of the towers, Yamasaki used implied pointed arches-derived from the characteristically pointed arches of Islam-as a transition between the wide column spacing below and the dense structural mesh above. (Europe imported pointed arches from Islam during the Middle Ages, and so non-Muslims have come to think of them as innovations of the Gothic period.) Above soared the pure geometry of the towers, swathed in a shimmering skin, which doubled as a structural web-a giant truss. Here Yamasaki was following the Islamic tradition of wrapping a powerful geometric form in a dense filigree, as in the inlaid marble pattern work of the Taj Mahal or the ornate carvings of the courtyard and domes of the Alhambra.

Indeed, the WTC was a monument to the finanial Mecca of Wall Street, two great minarets as an abstract mosque to Commerce. They really were magnificent buildings, weren’t they?

World Trade Center Sculpture

And it’s a travesty that nine years later, Ground Zero is still a construction site.

photo from user berkessel on Flickr

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