Does Art Imitate Life? – New Building Design Raises Questions

Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

Submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

Does art imitate life? When it does, is that imitation in the eye of the beholder or the mind of the artist? Does it make a difference? A new building design raises those very questions.

Two luxury rental towers designed by Daniel Libeskind of Dutch architectural firm MVRDV raised ire this week when the designs were revealed to the public. Scheduled to be completed in 2015 as part of the Yongsan Dream Hub in the South Korean capital of Seoul, the two rectangular towers feature a “cloud” that would connect both buildings on the 27th floor. Some people think the design is evocative not of a cloud, but of the events of 9/11.  The fuss started Friday after Dutch newspaper the Algemeen Dagblad published a front-page architectural rendition of the project under the headline: “Inspired by Twin Towers?”

Here are some artists renderings of the building design in question.

All images are copyright MVRDV and used without permission.

Some people have had negative reactions to the design.  MVRDV immediately posted an apology on their Facebook page that reads, “It was not our intention to create an image resembling the attacks nor did we see the resemblance during the design process.  We sincerely apologize to anyone whose feelings we have hurt, the design was not meant to provoke this.”  However, MVRDV’s Jan Knicker added in the original article ran by Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (in Dutch) “I admit that we also thought about 9/11 for a second, but it was not our intention to create an association with the attacks.”  Some have not accepted said apology.  Among those were Jim Riches, a retired New York Fire Department deputy chief whose son was killed on 9/11 who said he didn’t believe the architects.  “I think it’s a total lie and they have no respect for the people who died that day.”  “They’re crossing a line.”  “I think they’re trying to sensationalize it. It’s a cheap way to get publicity.” ED. NOTE: My apologies for the chopped up nature of the previous quotes, but it was unclear from the source if Mr. Riches’ statement was contiguous or edited for their post of the story.

Is this art imitating life?  Is it art imitating the natural world as the architects say or art imitating tragedy as the detractors say?  What do you think?

Source(s):,, Algemeen Dagblad, Huffington Post

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~Submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

29 thoughts on “Does Art Imitate Life? – New Building Design Raises Questions”

  1. As an architect, I’d love to go on and on with design context and history, but I’ll try to keep it under a few thousand words:

    1) For a nice apartment building, you can only make the floor plate so big and the building so tall – the ratio of interior floor space to window walls is limited. When the developer wants some huge number of units, you end up with more than one building – thus two (or more) towers. Simple, practical solution in many cases.

    2) The mid-height “bridge” between two towers has a bunch of logic behind it, and is not uncommon. The 1920 Wrigley Building in Chicago is the earliest example I can think of, and more recently the globally prominent Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur used such a bridge, along with plenty of other buildings.

    3) Creating a mid-height amenities zone for the building (the stuff in the cloud/bridge) is also nothing new. French architect Le Corbusier had a whole scheme for apartment buildings that would be linked together and enclosing all sorts of amenities called the Unité d’Habitation in post war Europe. Only a few were built, and never more than one in one location, so they were never linked together by elevated pedestrian bridges. But any reasonably well educated architect anywhere in the world will be familiar with the concept (and hopefully learned lessons to not repeat some of the problems of that scheme.)

    4) We have a lot more freedom today to create buildings that have “blob” shapes, like clouds, for instance, rather than only boxes. The starting point of a pair of spires or towers having a cloud passing around them seems like a perfectly reasonable starting point for such a design. Most of the building is a simple pair of square towers, with some “wow” thrown in to create that cloud blob. (I certainly don’t love the end result, but again, it’s all perfectly reasonable in terms of “inspiration” and design development.)

    My bet is that these guys did not set out to design something that resembled the World Trade Center on fire. They took a set of well-established design strategies, applied them to this project, took inspiration from the idea of pinnacles/towers in clouds, and inadvertently created this design.

    On one hand, no, the world does not revolve around the US in general, or New York in particular. On the other hand, its a bit of a stretch that no one at a Dutch firm noticed the visual reference. The fact that there are all those different renderings tells me that this project/design was somewhat far along in development. Probably a ways from producing construction drawings (let alone starting construction), but well into planning. If anything it’s odd that the developer, who is writing checks to the architects to develop this design, didn’t comment about the imagery.

    The developer now has a globally tainted project, and will probably have to fire the architects, so the architects have now probably lost a big project. The developer may want to try to “recover” what (s)he/they have spent on developing the design up to this point, so lawsuits will be flying. Everybody looses.

    If those quotes from Jim Riches are accurate, then, while I have a great deal of sympathy for the loss that he and his family suffered, he’s way off base to fantasize that an architecture firm and a real estate developer would somehow have something to gain by intentionally doing this. Umberto Eco would use the term “overinterpretation” to describe this sort of reaction to the building’s design. Lots of Americans are taking a design that has its own precedents and internal logic, entirely apart from any attempt to evoke the imagery of “9/11”, and overlaying their own feelings and interpretations.

    For anyone else who wants to go postal on architects for designs that evoke the attack on the WTC, they should pack up their pitchforks and torches and head to Vienna. The avant-garde firm Coop Himmelblau created a design for an apartment tower that had a huge metal shard exploding out of the side of the building, which, in turn, was to emit gas flames! OMG! Lynch ’em! (Never mind that that design was created in the 80s…) Perhaps not surprisingly, it was never built, and I can’t find an image of the design sketches on the web. But here’s a link with a photo of a related installation piece they did during that phase:

  2. Interesting take on it, angryman, but I wonder if “the finger effect” would outweigh the “salt in the wound effect”.

  3. Ok, you guys are gonna’ love me this morning.

    I went to fark and ai viewed the best picture of the design.

    I like it. I think it should be used as the design for the new World Trade center. Not only is it a very inventive and creative design; but I can’t think of a more fitting way to memorialize a horrible event like this than by building a representation of the occurance and taking ownership of it.

    Anytime anyone looks at this building; they will be reminded of the attack and the buildings just before they fell. It seems a shame to build it in Korea who has no connection with the attack. I say front and center. For the world to see. This is what they did. This is why we had to build this new one. But our new one has a second purpose. To remind the world of the horror. And I guess to sort of say, “This is what you wanted to do to our building, so this is what you will get. Look at it and remember. Remember that this building may have fallen the first time it looked like this. But now it will stand just like you wanted it for all to remember.

    I like it. I truly do and I make no joke when I say we should purchase this design and use it. I am not at all offended. As a matter of fact; this guy deserves an award.

    Oh yeh. It is totally designed to puposely look like the Twin Towers. No accident here. And very well done. The fact that the cloud make a straight line rather than being staggered at the correct levels gives it just enough of a sence of design and art to keep it from being like a true picture of the attack and damn the more I look at it the more I like it.

    I urge you to take another look at it and consider my argument before you form the lynch mob.

    What i don’t get is why he was so quick to appologize and didn’t defend the design using the same argument I just made.

    I think America should be proud to embrace this design and make it our own.

  4. Blouise,

    That was . . . interesting. I may not be the best person to judge a horse statue in general though. I think horses look odd to start with and I also had a bad early formative experience. Horses are one of the few animals I don’t naturally get along with.

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