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American Society of Landscape Architects


March 2004 Issue

Less Is Less
Was minimalism the proper design response to commemorate September 11?
By Witold Rybczynski

Less Is Less Image CourtesyLower Manhattan Development Corporation

Last November, when the eight finalists of the World Trade Center memorial competition were announced, the response of the public and of most critics was generally negative. Too cold, said some; too uninspired, too generic, said others. "The designs are horribly, horribly bland," wrote Eric Gibson in The Wall Street Journal. Michael Kimmelman, the art critic of The New York Times, did not mince words. "Throw them all out," he wrote. "The disappointment with these Ground Zero plans is that instead of invention they offer novelty: theatricality, gadgets, spectacle, the stuff of entertainment and shallow pleasure, tricked up by treacly titles, the antithesis of what a memorial should provide."

The dissatisfaction had to do with the memorials' lack of specificity. They could have been anywhere. Here was the site itself, the actual place where more than 2,700 people had been murdered by terrorists in a horrendous act of war. And the best we could do was pools of water, technical gimcracks, and lists of victims' names?

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