The Freedom Tower

Václav Havel, translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson

Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced yesterday that he supported going ahead with construction of the Freedom Tower at ground zero, making official his change of mind about a project that he once called a white elephant.
The New York Times, February 21, 2007

May 19, 2005

I have to admit to something I don’t know whether I can actually say here: I absolutely hated those two skyscrapers at the World Trade Center. They were a typical kind of architecture that has no ideas behind it. Moreover, they disrupted the skyline of the city; they towered absurdly over the beautiful crystalline topography of Manhattan. They were two monuments to the cult of profit at any cost: regardless of what they looked like, they had to have the greatest imaginable number of square meters of office space. I was once on the top floor of one of those buildings for dinner, and I discovered that the entire edifice was constantly swaying slightly. I took it as a sign that something was not right and that something was going on here that was, in a sense, against nature. A boat may sway, but a building should not. The view down was dull; it was no longer the view from a skyscraper and it wasn’t yet the view from an aircraft.

And here’s what I fear: that for reasons of prestige they will build something even higher on the same spot, something that will spoil New York even more, that they will enter into some kind of absurd competition with the terrorists; and who will win in the end, the suicidal fanatics or an even higher Tower of Babel? You have to fight against terrorists with armies, the police, the intelligence services; their sympathizers have to be dealt with by politicians, political scientists, sociologists, and psychologists. Buildings, however, should be erected to enrich human settlements, not to make them duller. Why couldn’t new buildings be put up on that spot proportional to the buildings already there, and that would simply blend into the existing skyline? Likewise, I don’t think that some bombastic monument should be erected at Ground Zero. What happened there must be commemorated, but tastefully, as the fallen from the Vietnam or the Korean wars are commemorated in Washington, or simply with a single large space or room that would evoke the catastrophe and its context.

Translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson, from To the Castle and Back,Václav Havel’s book of diaries, memoranda, and observations during the last eighteen years, to be published by Knopf in May.

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