World Trade Center Memorial

Henry C K Liu

Part I: The Towering Challenge

Part II: Building on the lessons of history

This article appeared in AToL on February 13, 2003

As New York City prepares to memorialize the September 11 tragedy on the site of the destroyed World Trade Center (WTC), other great - and not so great - architectural projects may serve as lessons.

The US National Park Service describes the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, designed by Maya Lin as "a testament to the sacrifice of American military personnel during one of this nation's least popular wars. The purpose of this memorial is to separate the issue of the sacrifices of the veterans from the US policy in the war, thereby creating a venue for reconciliation." Would the WTC memorial have to separate the loss of innocent victims from US policy toward the Islamic world to create a venue for reconciliation?

The Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial competition produced very unhappy results. The FDR Commission was established in August 1955. In 1960 and again in 1966, memorial-design competitions were held. Both times, the selected designs were disgracefully abandoned as "inappropriate". In March 1978, the FDR Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts approved a final memorial design by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, and in May 1997 the FDR Memorial was finally dedicated, 42 years after the establishment of the commission. Many felt that the original winning design by architect Norman Hoberman was outstanding and should have been built.

Zaha Hadid, a highly talented London-based architect who happen to be female and Iraqi, is not yet involved with the WTC project. Her design of the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, the first museum in the United States designed by a woman, is widely expected to do for Cincinnati what Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum has done for Bilbao, Spain. Her buildings have been described by critics as free from any single fixed viewpoint, and have to be experienced from different angles in continuous movement; and she has been critically acclaimed for breaking new grounds on spatial concepts defined by movement. If the Lower Manhattan Development Corp (LMDC) should find a way to have Hadid centrally involved some aspects in WTC redevelopment, it would be a living testament that the tragedy of September 11, 2001, is not a clash of civilizations. It would be a healing message to the Islamic world and to Arabic civilization, on top of gaining a very talented architect.

Architecture always survives its building program. In the history of human construction, unlike animal or insect construction such as bird nests, beehives, anthills and beaver dams, technological ingenuity in construction is generally the result of dictates of culturally based esthetic preference rather than pure functional requirements. This is what makes architecture an art. And art is uniquely a human creation. No other species creates art besides humans.

The LMDC professes to be concerned with the esthetics of the redevelopment effort. Esthetics, in the philosophical sense of the term, is a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of art and the criteria of artistic judgment. Architecture is concerned with organizing space for the art of life. The classical conception of art as the imitation of an idealized nature was formulated by Plato and developed by Aristotle in Poetics. Immanuel Kant, Friedrich von Schelling, Benedetto Croce and Ernst Cassirer all emphasize the creative and symbolic aspects of art. The major problem in esthetics deals with the nature of beauty, which the Greeks defined as good and just. There are two aspects of judgment: the objective, which is inherent in the object, and subjective, which identifies beauty with that which pleases the observer. In his Critique of Judgement, Kant mediates between the two approaches by showing that esthetics judgment has universal validity despite its objective nature, because subjectivity is constrained by humanity.

The dome, the pride of Roman engineering and potent expression of imperial grandeur, was viewed by early Christians as detestably pagan and a symbol of tyranny. Early Christian preference for basilicas in central Italy of triangular roof trusses was rooted in a popular distaste for established Roman architectural motifs. Roman esthetics was rejected because early Christians considered it theologically heathen and socially oppressive. Early Christian church-goers preferred, as a gathering place for communal worship, the more neutral form of a Roman basilica, which was a hall of justice, with its flat ceiling, to the domical symbolism of Roman oppression. It was only after Constantine (280-337) founded Constantinople in 330 as his capital in the former Greek colony of Byzantium, putting Christianity under imperial control (caesaropapism) in 323, and the adaptation of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius (374-395), that domical churches became acceptable to Christians, first in the east and only gradually in the west. Later, Charlemagne (742-814) and his successors would undertake to promote the Holy Roman Empire, reviving the concrete Roman domical form in masonry as a prototype motif for Romanesque Christian churches, symbolic of a propitious union of religious piety and imperial power.

The implication is that architectural forms have cultural meaning. The esthetics judges of LMDC would do well to understand this and give serious thought to the meaning of concepts such as democracy and freedom, and avoid reducing such noble concepts to cliches of sloganeering and naively equating egotistic quests for height as expressions of freedom and democracy.

During the Renaissance, emerging from centuries of Gothic verticality based on a longitudinal Latin cross plan, the fascination with rediscovered antiquity brought back domical designs, which would best fit over plans of a Greek-cross motif, with equal lengths in all its arms. However, the Greek-cross plan for churches conflicted with the traditional requirement for long processional naves in Roman Catholic ecclesiastical liturgy, to which the Latin-cross plan, with its long vertical stem, was more naturally disposed, as in modified basilica churches. Renaissance architects, in proposing designs for new church buildings, struggled simultaneously to satisfy conflicting aims between their esthetic fixation on the innate beauty of the dome and the functional requirements of Church liturgy. This tortuous endeavor never achieved total success, despite considerable concentration of inventive genius in an artistically rich epoch, fueled by ample opportunities for experiment through abundant church commissions.

The design of the greatest cathedral of Christendom, St Peter's in Rome, was a classic example of this conflict between form and function in Renaissance architecture. The esthetic power of the Pantheon, a well-preserved domical Roman structure first built in 27 BC by Agrippa (63-12 BC) to honor all gods in Roman pantheism, rebuilt around early 2nd century AD by the emperor Hadrian (reigned 117-138), dominated the thinking of Renaissance architects 14 centuries later. St Peter's was commissioned in 1505 by Julius II (pope 1503-13) as a tomb for himself, at the height of the Church's secular power. The construction of St Peter's required so much of the Church's resources that its financing brought about indiscriminate selling of indulgence, the pardon of temporary punishment due for sin, by a friar named Tezel traveling through Germany. This abusive practice provided Martin Luther (1483-1546) with the convenient evidence of the mother church's decadence. Luther exploited the decadence of the Church as a rallying cry for overthrowing an institution the religious dogmas of which he had came to question. Like all revolutionaries, Luther equated the evil of the disease with the sin of the patient.

St Peter's was finally built based on a Greek-cross plan from a design by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1474-1564), derived from an earlier concept by Donato Bramante (1444-1514). Bramante's plan for St Peter's harked back to his diminutive Tempietto in San Pietro in Montorio, Rome, completed in 1510, which was destined to become a giant of an architectural gem inspired by a small circular domical Roman temple. The peerless beauty of Bramante's Tempietto was crowned by a dome of only 4.5 meters in diameter, as compared with Michaelangelo's 41.75-meter-diameter dome for St Peter's Basilica.

After Bramante's death, his design for St Peter's was altered to a Latin-cross plan by the sociable and accommodating Raphael Sanzio (1484-1520), a better painter than an architect. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for architecture, Raphael died in 1520, before much damage could be done to Bramante's original plan, which ironically was protected by the heavy investment already sunk into foundation work prior to Bramante's death.

Michelangelo's bold design consolidated Bramante's original concept of interlocking snowflake-like crosses into a forceful central Greek-cross plan defined by four massive mannerist columns superimposed on sub-motifs of smaller crosses, topped by a magnificent dome 41.75 meters in diameter that, when completed in 1626, one and a quarter centuries after its commencement, would rank as one of the greatest achievement in Renaissance architecture.

But in 1612, Carlo Maderna (1556-1629), known to posterity as the architect who ruined Michelangelo's great design, succumbing to clerical pressure to satisfy liturgical needs, made the mistake of lengthening the nave and adding the gigantic and poorly scaled front facade. This architectural sin obscured the perspective view of Michelangelo's superb dome from the front plaza 14 years before the dome's completion, and in the process made the greatest church in Christendom look like a mundane and oversized three-story building with a dull facade of prosaic design.

The view to Michelangelo's magnificent dome was salvaged only by the grand baroque piazza of Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (1589-1680), enclosed by a famous colonnade of 284 Tuscan columns that would inspire English poet Robert Browning (1812-89) to write two centuries later:

"With arms wide open to embrace
The entry of the human race."

It would also be a worthy goal for the redeveloped WTC site.

In architecture, engineering skills evolve tortuously from the reservoir of technology in order to deliver the preferred shapes idealized by man's abstract vision.

Gothic construction, most identifiable in popular culture by the flying buttress, is the technological response to the medieval aspiration toward light and height being transformed into ecclesiastical architecture. It is the most unnatural manner of stone construction, a willful defiance of both the natural characteristic of stone and the immutable law of gravity, in the name of spiritual piety.

French Gothic masons, in their religious zeal, carried stone construction beyond its natural limits. Their superhuman efforts culminated in Beauvais Cathedral, constructed between 1225 and 1568, a period of more than three centuries during which, after repeated collapses, the builders pushed the top of its vault to an extreme height of 48 meters, about three and a half times its span in width, to make it the loftiest Gothic stone church anywhere and one of the wonders of the medieval world.

English art critic and social commentator John Ruskin (1819-1900) would write with awe in The Seven Lamps of Architecture: "There are few rocks, even among the Alps, that have a clear vertical fall as high as the choir of Beauvais."

Artists and architects worldwide have applied themselves to the problem of proportion. Many theories of esthetics and practical rules for pleasing design have been adopted throughout history in art and architecture regarding good proportions. The early 1st-century Roman architectural writer Vitruvius devoted the opening chapter of his 10-volume De Architectura to the matter of proportion, although he did not formulate a coherent theory. The influential work was unearthed in the Monastery of St Gall in Switzerland around the early 15th century and published in 1486. During the Renaissance, architects such as Leone Battista Alberti, Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea Palladio, drawing on Vitruvius' De Architectura and Plato's Timaeus, devoted themselves to formulating theories of proportion based on numerical relationships of musical consonance. Later, a general infatuation was developed with the Golden Section, with the ratio of 1:1.618, a proportion found extensively in living creatures in nature, including botanical forms and the human figure. In the mid-20th century, the French modern master of architecture Le Corbusier (1887-1965) proposed a system of proportion called Le Modulor, described as "a harmonic measure to the human scale", based on the Golden Section according to the human measure. Yet a sense of proportion refers to more than mere physical dimension, to encompass reasonableness, propriety, balance and restraint. It is above all a sense of value and a concern for truth.

Significant movements in architecture are always based on a vision of the ideal society of their times. Greek architecture seeks to express the balanced order of Athenian democracy. Roman architecture glorifies the majesty of imperial power. Romanesque architecture has grown as a focal point of communal agricultural organization based on a spiritual humility commonly cherished by early Christians and a need for fortified compounds against barbarian invasion in a fallen empire. Gothic architecture derives inspiration from the pious vision of a medieval urban society and the collective civic pride of competing towns. The Renaissance produces an architecture of humanism that lends dignity to capitalistic individualism.

The Stuart architecture of the late English Renaissance, particularly during the reign of Charles II (1660-85), patron of Christopher Wren (1631-1723), with its heavy emphasis on church building, echoes the triumph in England of Presbyterianism and Restoration politics. Wren, trained as an astronomer-mathematician at Oxford, with only six months of architectural training acquired while visiting Paris in his late youth in 1665, during the expansion of the Palais du Louvre, kept company with Giovanni Bernini and Jules Hardouin Mansart (or Mansard), celebrated architects of his time. Never having visited Italy, Wren was spellbound by French ideas, in divergence from Indigo Jones (1573-1654), the Italian-influenced English architect of Stuart architecture who would introduce to England the much-copied Palladian motif, a composition consisting of an arch and support columns within a super order of giant columns supporting an entablature. Andrea Palladio (1508-80), drawing on the written work of Vitruvius, published his influential I quattro libri dell'architectura in 1570, translated into English as The Four Books of Architecture in 1716.

After the great fire of 1666, Wren prepared within a few days a great plan for the reconstruction of London that would never be executed. Aside from the celebrated St Paul's cathedral, reflecting the rise of Protestantism, Wren would execute 52 other Protestant churches in London between 1670 and 1711, at the rate of almost one per year, most of which still stand in modern times.

While Stuart architecture heralded the advent of Protestantism in England, the Baroque was the awe-inspiring instrument of the Counter-reformation, sponsored by the Jesuits, defenders of the True Faith. It spread quickly to all Roman Catholic countries. Louis XIV later co-opted the propaganda effectiveness of the Baroque and the stately legitimacy of Classicism to enshrine the stature of absolute monarchy.

Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1735-1806), the leading architect of France immediately prior to the French Revolution, esthetic interest in whose style of rhetorical severity would be revived among Post Modern Rationalist in the 1980s, found himself imprisoned by the revolutionaries after 1789 for his role in designing monuments and instruments of socio-economic-political oppression, such as the monopolistic saltworks at Arc-et-Senans, a prison at Aix, and the ring of 50 barrieres - custom toll houses - around Paris. These barrieres, so admired by academic critics, were so hated by the public as symbols of the oppressive ancient regime that most of them were torn down amid popular uprisings during the Revolution.

In reaction, the ascetic simplicity of Neoclassicism became the embodiment of the purist ideals of revolutionary France. Napoleon Bonaparte, builder of empire rather than buildings, imposed his Roman-inspired imperial style on the decor of the French Renaissance, remodeling the palatial rooms of the Chateau Fontainebleau with motifs of military tents from the battlefield. He selected the bee as the symbol for his imperial insignia, signifying his admiration for bee-like characteristics of hard work, loyalty, fierceness toward enemies, and efficient organization, so evident in its instinctive ecological roles as gatherer of honey and facilitator of botanical fertilization. The Napoleonic age produced the Empire style of richly adorned neoclassic silhouette, created by architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine, which would later be adopted by the German bourgeoisie into a style known as Biedermeier.

Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew, Napoleon III, the bourgeois emperor who achieved power with speeches on the glory of his uncle's military exploits rather than with live battles, who mongered fear of social radicalism where his uncle promised the vision of a new world order, resurrected the baroque style and infested it with the cultural obesity of vulgarity and ostentatious exhibitionism of the Second Empire. Napoleon III's style would be imitated by every subsequent pint-size dictator until the socially conscious, moralist Modern Movement emerged after the collapse of the obsolete European dynastic orders brought about by World War I.

Modern architecture rose from the hopes of social democratic ideals stemming from the collapse, in the aftermath of World War I, of the European monarchies and their attendant social and esthetic values as constituted in the system of court-sponsored academies. While the cultured public welcomed the new artistic philosophy, official suppression of the Modern Movement by both Nazi Germany and the post-Lenin Soviet Union forced its migration to the United States, where it was co-opted into the service of corporate capitalism after being sanitized of most of its social-democratic program.

Post-Modernism, with its naive fascination with traditional motifs devoid of social content, was a resultant stylistic development from boredom with a Modern esthetic stripped of its radical social root. It reflected the distorted values of the self-indulging yuppie generation and the greed-worshipping environment of deregulated market capitalism of the decades since the Vietnam War that brought an end to the age of innocence and the era of hippies and flower children.

These are issues that the LMDC needs to address in greater depth, more than showcase public hearings, before true architecture can emerge from a collection of buildings constructed as commercial transactions. Among the army of consultants advising the LMDC, there do not seem to be any social critics, historians, philosophers or poets. Jacques Barzun, the distinguished historian and social critic, developed the thesis in his From Dawn to Decadence that in the 16th century a culture began to emerge in the West that "offered the world a set of ideas and institutions not found earlier or elsewhere". The following five centuries saw one of the most creative outpourings of art, science, religion, philosophy, and social thought in human history. But this great era of cultural creativity appears to be nearing an end. Western culture, once united toward a common purpose, is now rife with moral and ideological uncertainty, "for and against nationalism, for and against individualism, for and against the high arts, for and against strict morals and religious belief". Is greed now the only functioning value?

Palaces, temples and tombs are the three most important classes of buildings in ancient cultures. This is true for the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Mesopotamians and Greeks. The Romans were probably the first people to build important buildings for public and private pleasure, in the form of baths, arenas, racecourses and villas. Religious and political buildings have occupied center stage for most of human history. Not until the rise of modern capitalism did buildings designed for profit become important architecturally.

The Greeks invented the concept of orders of architecture. An order of architecture is a design assemblage consisting of a pedestal consisting of a base, a die and a cap; an upright column in the form of a shaft sitting on a base and topped by a capital; and a horizontal entablature, divided into architrave, frieze and cornice at the top. The entablature in a traditional Greek building fits horizontally below the triangular pediment that disguises the conventional wood-trussed roof behind.

Each architectural order is governed by its own rules of proportion and commands its own associated molding and ornamentation. It is a formal vocabulary of architecture as well as a standard for manufacturing of ornamental building parts. Its proper application provides the grammar of good design in the classical style.

The Greek architectural orders were originally expressions of civic pride among the city-states of Greece, with each city-state preferring its own. The application of architectural orders to building in the Greek colonies implied political allegiance to the city of its origin. As time passed, the orders were used for purely esthetic purposes.

To the Greek orders of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, the Romans added Tuscan and Composite. Egyptians and Mesopotamians used columns with capitals, some motifs of which influenced Greeks capital deigns, but they did not develop any formal orders of architecture.

Eugene Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79), the French architect and restorer of historical buildings, asserted that the Greek orders of architecture were not derivations in stone of earlier timber construction, as postulated by some academicians. He claimed instead that they were designs whose sense of stability and permanence rested in the inherent characteristic of stone as a building material.

The Erechtheion (Ionic, c 420-393 BC) on the Acropolis in Athens, with an eastern hexastyle (five bays) portico, a northern tetrastyle (three bays) portico and a southern Caryatid portico, was designed by Mnesicle. Caryatids, columns in the form of a female figure, a motif of questionable taste and despicable political symbolism, were traditionally taken to represent the brave women of Caria, whose citizens sided with the Persians against the Greeks in the Persian Wars (500-449 BC) and were made slaves after their capture by the Greeks. The women of Caria were so highly prized by their Greek captors for their physical beauty and noble character, and they afforded their masters such great social prestige in the slave-owning democracy of Athenian Greece, that statues of them in stone were incorporated into Greek monumental buildings. The Caryatid motif would be widely revived during the Renaissance, and subsequently by the eclectic academic styles of the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly during the Classical Revival period.

Trajan's Column of marble in Rome, built in AD 113, inspired Napoleon's bronze imitation of it in Place Vendome in Paris, built in 1806 of captured cannons from the battle of Austerlitz (1805), replacing the statue of Louis XIV designed by Francois Girardon (1628-1715), a classical French court sculptor who became much in vogue in his time for his Nicolas Poussin-inspired Hellenistic style and stately composition, as expressed in his Apollo attended by the Nymphs, designed for the Grotto of Thetis in the Versailles gardens. Girardon championed the classical school of innate supremacy, as opposed to Pierre Puget (1620-92), a highly original sculptor in the baroque tradition of human struggle, whose Milo of Croton, viewable in the Louvre Museum in modern times, ran counter to the official taste as dictated by Louis XIV. Classicism as a style provided the detached grandeur required by the political absolutism of the Sun King (le Roi Soleil). The loss of royal favor suffered by Puget marked the triumph of French classicism over Italian-inspired baroque in 17th-century sculpture in France.

Place Vendome, a 245-by-233-meter urban open space highlighted by Napoleon's Column in the center of Paris, one of the most celebrated examples of 17th-century French urban design, was planned by architect Jules Hardouin Mansart (1640-1708) to enhance the real-estate value of the property of le duc de Vendome by combining the Royal Library, the academies, the Mint and some embassies into a prestigious grande ensemble. The three-story facades of the buildings surrounding Place Vendome were designed and constructed in 1701 to achieve a uniform appearance of pleasing proportions, with the speculative townhouses behind the finished facades to be built later by different architects for different clients for varying functions. Frederic Chopin would live at No 12 and die there in 1849. In modern times, No 15 would be the world-famous Ritz Hotel; Nos 11 and 13, the Ministry of Justice, formerly the Royal Chancellery, on the facade of which the official measure of the meter would be inlaid in 1848. Modern science would define the meter as the distance traveled by light in 0.000000003335640952 second, as measured by a cesium clock.

Napoleon's Column in Place Vendome was 39.6 meters in height, contrasting the 16.5-meter-high equestrian statue of le Roi Soleil it replaced, and around which the square had been initially planned, thus doing visual violence to the fine proportion of Mansart's brilliant scheme of urban design. The column was topped by a statue of Napoleon, as Caesar, which would be replaced by that of Henry IV after the Restoration in 1814, and reinstalled by Louis-Philippe of the July monarchy, but with Napoleon, as general in military uniform. The Paris Commune of 1871 would tear down the column as part of its violent political protest. It was rebuilt by the Third Republic (1871-1940) and on top of it was placed a replica of the statute of General Bonaparte, the revolutionary soldier, which still stands in modern times.

The model of Napoleon's imitation, the Column of Trajan in Rome, designed by Apolloldorus of Damascus, the emperor Trajan's favorite military engineer-slave, who also designed the Emperor's Basilica adjacent to his column, still stands, 38 meters tall, optically corrected with entasis, in the forum bearing the emperor's name before the Temple of Trajan deified. The shaft of the column, 3.7m in diameter, consists of 17 marble drums, covered with relief sculpture in a 1.1m-wide spiral band, running 243.8m in length, with more than 2,500 human figures in a continuous coil recording major events in Trajan's wars against the Dacians. Inside the shaft is a spiral staircase lit by small openings. It was topped with a bronze statue of Trajan that stayed until 1787 when Pope Sixtus V had it replaced by one of St Peter. Its square pedestal, ornamented with sculptured trophies, serves as the entrance to a mausoleum for Trajan, whose ashes were deposited there in AD 117 AD in a golden urn that would be stolen during the Middle Ages.

The urban designer of Place Vendome was Jules Hardouin Mansart, grandnephew of architect Francois Mansart (1598-1666), who designed the Orleans wing of the Chateau de Blois. The younger Mansart was made chief architect of royal buildings in 1699 after the death of Louis Le Vau. Among his designs for Versailles, beside the legendary Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors), was the widely admired garden facade, a refined continuation of Le Vau's style; the chapel; the orangery; and the Grand Trianon, restored first by Napoleon in 1805 and by Charles de Gaulle in 1962 as a reception site for visiting foreign heads of state to the Fifth Republic.
Mansart's most successful work was the impressive Dome des Invalides (1706), considered by many as the most elegant Renaissance form in the Parisian skyline and indeed, in all of France. Napoleon's body was returned from St Helena by the order of Louis Philippe in 1840 and entombed under the Dome des Invalides.

The 17th-century urban space, enclosed by modest buildings and pedestrian in scale, and accessed by unassuming, narrow streets of the surrounding urban fabric, of which Place Vendome and Place des Vosges are classic prototypes, were considered by 18th-century urban-design theorists esthetically unsatisfactory, lacking in grandeur and theatrical perspectives. Such neighborhood urban spaces, elegant and peaceful, an end in themselves rather than means to something else, not being foci of monumental axes and grand vistas, not fed by broad boulevards intended for carriages and equestrians, were designed for pedestrian gathering rather than grand parades, and intended to be human rather than heroic in scale.

It was a style shunned by the neo-Baroque visions of Louis XIV and later by the vulgar exhibitionism of the Second Empire (1852-70) under Napoleon III (1808-73) and Baron Haussmann, the influential but insensitive city planner under the imperial dictator. George-Eugene Haussmann (1809-91), with his wholesale clearance of historical Paris, indiscriminately wiping out ancient picturesque quartiers of uniquely individual character and colorful past, destroyed much of the city's old charm, not to mention historical landmarks, and replaced them with sterile and brassy monumental white elephants, linked by drab and mediocre avenues devoid of human scale. Armed with the blind zeal of a sanitation engineer, with as much sensitivity for architecture as a circus producer, Haussmann's baroque city planning was also dominated by the political purpose of clearing the rebel-infested urban quartiers in the old city, of the ease of effectively deploying troops on the new, broad boulevards against much-feared popular uprisings, and of preventing the easy erection of revolutionary barricades on narrow streets that had once frustrated government authority in the "Bloody June Days" of the democratic uprisings of 1848.

Unfortunately, Haussmann has since been much imitated by many egomaniac city planners worldwide in modern times, just as his patron, Napoleon III, has been imitated by every pint-size dictator. Victor Hugo (1802-85), the towering figure of French literature, poetry and drama, son of a general under Napoleon Bonaparte, opposed the regime of Napoleon III's Second Empire and lived in exile in protest until after its downfall in 1870. Emile Zola (1840-1902) documented in his series of social-realism novels the abuses suffered by the poor in France during the Second Empire, as Charles Dickens (1812-70) did with the Industrial Revolution in England. The sensational novels of Alexandre Dumas the younger, son of Dumas pere, the best-known of which being Camille, mirrored the pitiless emptiness of Parisian life, while the operettas of Jacques Levy Offenbach, though popularly acclaimed by society during the Second Empire, satirized the mundane values of their naive, applauding audiences.

The Paris Opera (begun in 1861 and opened in 1875), the crown jewel of the Second Empire, the piece de resistance de la Belle Epoque of the bourgeois emperor, was designed by Charles Garnier (1825-98), star student of the state-sponsored Ecole des Beaux-Arts, winner of the Grand Prix de Rome. The building, which would become the model for architecturally mundane opera houses all over the world, failed to herald any worthwhile movement of architecture. With its unabashed flaunting of banal stylistic ostentation, devoid of originality, mindlessly confusing conspicuous consumption with sophisticated elegance, oozing with the vulgarity of the nouveau riche, it was a bourgeois caricature of the much-admired style of the exquisite east facade of the Louvre designed by Claude Perrault (1613-88). Functionally, the horseshoe plan of the Paris Opera House condemned a disproportionately large portion of the audience to obstructed sight lines and inferior acoustics while affording a few boisterous celebrities in the side parterres to compete with the stage for attention. The New York Metropolitian Opera House adopt a horseshoe plan, modified to accommodate 3,700 seats, more that twice the capacity of the Paris Opera, magnified the faults of the Paris Opera while diluting the intimate spatial quality of the horseshoe plan by its oversize.

Richard Wagner, in 1875, upon visiting the gaudy new Paris Opera House 14 years after the French version of his Tannhauser had received a humiliating rebuff in Paris in 1861, was rumored to have suggested, with typical sarcastic rendition, that the new building was of a design more fitting for a casino than an opera house. Incidentally, Garnier also designed the Casino in Monte Carlo. Wagner went on to build his dream opera house in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth (completed in 1876) in which the requirements for innovative staging of musical drama, perfect sight lines and balanced acoustics were the guiding design considerations. The sunken orchestral pit, a standard in modern opera houses, was first introduced by Wagner at Bayreuth.

Claude Perrault (1613-88), architect, scientist, physician and a leading scholar in his time, collaborated between 1667 and 1670 with Le Vau and Charles Le Brun in the design of the east facade of the Louvre, popularly known as the Colonnade, and established a standard for classical balance and order in French Renaissance architecture. He also designed the Paris Observatory, which is still in use. In 1673, Perrault translated from Latin to French, at the request of prime minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the monumental work of Vitruvius, the Roman writer on architecture. Perrault also wrote a treatise on the five orders of architecture, which would help to disseminate correct information and proper application of standardized conventions of architecture that would elevate the general quality of French academic design.

Louis Le Vau (1612-70), architect of Louis XIV, succeeded Jacques Lemercier as architect for the Louvre, on which he collaborated with Perrault and Le Brun, the painter-decorator. His design for Versailles, with collaboration from Le Brun, created the basic scheme that would later be completed by Jules Hardouin Mansart.

While a symbol of royal absolutism in politics, the design of Versailles was based culturally on the rationalist creed of Rene Descartes (1569-1650): the imposition of the intellect over matter and the mastery of human intelligence over nature, and of order over atrophy. It was the opposite of English romanticism, with its adoration of picturesque nature and infatuation with decadence in the form of simulated ruins.

Among Le Vau's other designs are the Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte; the College des Quatre Nations, now the Institute de France; and the Church of St Sulpice, the facade of which would be designed later in 1733 by Giovanni Servandoni, who would win a competition with his Antique style.

The Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte was built in 1661 by Nicolas Fouguet, the finance minister who invoked the envy of the Sun King during the elaborate house-warming party that turned out to be his own farewell party, followed by jail for crimes of insolent and audacious luxury inappropriate for a finance minister. It has been speculated by historians that the concept of Versailles first occurred to the young Louis XIV during that fateful party at Vaux le Vicomte when his admiration for the architecture of his powerful minister's chateau was eclipsed by his annoyance at the politics of ostentatious consumption as practiced by anyone else except the absolute monarch.

Charles Le Brun (1619-90), strongly influenced by Poussin, the very embodiment of French classicism, with the support of Colbert, was the Sun King's favorite painter in 1662. Le Brun was appointed head of the Gobelins works in 1663, the renowned factory of the famous Gobelins tapestries and other furnishings for Versailles. He later became director of the Academie Royal de Peinture et de Sculpture, responsible for the design of royal objets d'art.

Overseeing a large corps of painters, sculptors, engravers and weavers, Le Brun controlled artistic production in France for more than two decades. Though not a designer of originality, Le Brun's skill in administration enabled him to provide an atmosphere of high-quality richness and splendor consonant with the age of le Roi Soleil. Under the direction of Mansart's genius, Le Brun decorated several rooms in Versailles, the most famous of which was the Galerie des Glaces.

The record of socialist art has been mixed. The relationship between revolution and art has never been fully resolved. Part of the problem may be that while creativity is art is perpetually revolutionary, political revolutions tend to ebb and flow in phases. From counter-reformation Baroque promoted by the Jesuits, to the revolutionary art of the French (neoclassicism) and Soviet (social realism) revolutions, the basic conflict between fixed ideology and continuous creativity has led to very dissatisfying results. In life, one can be quite comfortable with the notion of politics in command, yet in art, the issue is not as clear.

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1845) was a member of the Academie and court painter to Louis XVI, yet he was a fervent revolutionary, elected to the Convention and voted for the regicide and the repression of the Royal Academie and the Academie de France. He painted the Assassination Murat, a portrait of Mme Recamier, and Napoleon's coronation. During the Reign of Terror, he routinely repainted group portraits with purged politicians removed. In reaction to French Baroque, the rational ascetic simplicity of Neoclassicism became the embodiment of the purist ideals of revolutionary France. One can see a continuity of neoclassical idealism in socialist social realism.

This is part of a larger issue of the relationship art to political philosophy. The entire Renaissance was supported by a political ideology that is of dubious acceptability by modern standards. Despotism was a boon to Italian Renaissance art and architecture. A case can be made to condemn the Italian Renaissance as a movement of courtly pretension and elitist taste prescribed by theme, content and form to the questionable needs of secular potentates and ecclesiastical mania. The noblest social art, one can argue, is that which the contribution of multitudes create for themselves a common gift of glory, such as the Gothic cathedrals and the temples of ancient Greece.

Critics almost universally denounce the low esthetic value of the Milan cathedral, begun by Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351-1402), a warlord with a vision of a united Italy, on a scale befitting that vision. After Gian's death due to the plague, Lodovic Sforza (1451-1508) summoned Bramante and Leonardo to design a cupola that the people of Milan, in their love for Gothic fidelity, rejected. Building of the cathedral went on for three centuries, halting whenever funds were exhausted. The final facade was finally completed only by the imperial command of Napoleon in 1809.

Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), the model Renaissance man, was discovered by Cosimo de'Medici (1380-1464), merchant prince of Florence, betrayer of the Republic, head of Europe's first banking dynasty, champion of the moneyed middle class, who helped the Sforza clan to seize Milan. Cosimo also employed Brunnelleschi, Donatello, Gilberti, Lucca della Rubbia, Massaccio, Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi and, most important, the Humanists. Alberti also worked for the Malatestas - Evil Heads of Rimini, whose despotic rule was laced with incest and murder. The Baroque was the propaganda vehicle for the Jesuits in their counter-reformation campaign and the architecture of the Inquisition.

By contrast, Tatlin's monument for the Third International was an attempt to unite artistic expression with the new socialist ideal as the Eiffel Tower did for industrialization. The Productivist Group maintained in their polemic that material and intellectual production were of the same order. Leftist artists devoted their energy to making propaganda for the new Soviet government by painting the surfaces of all means of transport with revolutionary images to be viewed in remote corners of the collapsing czarist empire. Constructivism declared all out war on bourgeois art. Alas, the movement met its demise not from bourgeois resistance, but from internal doctrinal inquisition. Much of Constructivist esthetic creativity was subsequently co-opted by bourgeois society.

Thus it is clear that the complexity and difficulty of achieving architectural triumph for the WTC site redevelopment and for creating a fitting memorial are not as simple as issuing a politically correct mission statement, or running a routine design competition. To succeed, it needs above all soul-searching introspection, of which the tragic events of September 11, 2001, do not seem to have engendered enough. It is a legitimate question whether rebuilding the same, except bigger and better, is an appropriate response for enhancing American value.