Remembering the World Trade Center

In the last few days, as we have approached its 10th anniversary, we have all been bombarded with opinion pieces about the meaning of 9/11, about the lost opportunities and wasteful wars of the following decade, with human interest stories of the hapless victims and the heroic firefighters, and perhaps too much “never-seen-before” footage of the carnage of that day. I choose to highlight here instead a brilliant and poignant essay that my nephew Asad Raza wrote on the fifth anniversary of the attacks about what the actual World Trade Center towers meant to him:

I may belong to a minority in remembering the World Trade Center as a poetic structure, but the reasons I do have much to do with how it expressed these signature qualities of New York City. Visually, the buildings gave the sense of a vertical grid, elongated just as Manhattan is elongated, with an avenue of sky running in between. Unexpected views of them would often crop up, maybe when turning south from Houston Street onto Sullivan, or standing on the corner of Lafayette and Spring, or while driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike. Emerging from the Brat Pack-era hangout The Odeon, way downtown, their almost ominous presence suddenly loomed over you. A perfect visual metaphor, they towered over neighboring skyscrapers the way New York towers over its neighboring cities. Dark masses illuminated by a bright grid, they signified New York.

I often think about how important it was that there were two of them. One skyscraper, like the Empire State Building or the Woolworth, somehow remains a building, its mass of steel and concrete impossible to forget. The twoness of the Twin Towers brought into being relations with the air, dramatized space. The few places where one tower completely occluded the other (such as the pier leading to the Holland tunnel exhaust, off Spring and West Streets) were uncanny viewing points. The one visible tower despotically oppressed, rather than symbolized, the city. One tower was a fascist; two towers invoked psychology, doubleness, complexity. And because the footprints of the buildings occupied two diagonally opposed squares, they almost always presented themselves to the eye as perspectival, one slightly higher than the other. The aura of their unevenness brilliantly leavened their austere shapes. They hovered.

As you approached the plaza, you always noted with pleasure the little arches near the bottoms of the aluminum facade. These merest bends subtly recalled and paid homage to the Deco architectural landmarks of the city. They conjured the relation of the Chrysler and the Empire State to the grid itself, represented as the endless lines that clad the trade center's sides. The optical illusions those shimmering lines made were almost arrogant: excessive on a building that already inspired vertigo. For a time, the cavernous lobbies contained a satellite airline terminal. The sight of those ticket counters was oddly right in buildings that, like airports, constituted entire worlds unto themselves, with the frisson of rocket ships or space stations. The towers' otherworldliness made them the unlikely site of a Wednesday evening club night at Windows on the World, frequented by Kate Moss and the rest of the New York glitter circuit of the mid-Nineties. You'd wander around with a drink and then suddenly come to the windows, through which the shockingly faraway streets below gave a pleasing shock.

More here.

And you can read other reflections on 9/11 from the fifth anniversary special that 3QD did on the subject here.

And a remembrance of my friend Ehtesham U. Raja, who was in the restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center exactly ten years ago this morning, and who never made it out, is here.