Capitalism’s Mecca

by on August 20, 2010 at 3:00 pm in Current Affairs, Religion | Permalink

Wow, just wow.  Brad DeLong sends us to this 2001 article in Slate on the architecture of the World Trade Center.

View of the World Trade Center PlazaYamasaki received the World Trade Center commission the year
after the Dhahran Airport was completed. Yamasaki described its plaza as "a
mecca, a great relief from the narrow streets and sidewalks of the surrounding
Wall Street area." True to his word, Yamasaki replicated the plan of Mecca's
courtyard by creating a vast delineated square, isolated from the city's bustle
by low colonnaded structures and capped by two enormous, perfectly square
towers–minarets, really. Yamasaki's courtyard mimicked Mecca's assemblage of
holy sites–the Qa'ba (a cube) containing the sacred stone, what some believe is
the burial site of Hagar and Ishmael, and the holy spring–by including several
sculptural features, including a fountain, and he anchored the composition in a
radial circular pattern, similar to Mecca's.

At the base of
the towers, Yamasaki used implied pointed arches–derived from the
characteristically pointed arches of Islam–as a transition between the wide
column spacing below and the dense structural mesh above. (Europe imported
pointView of a World Trade Center Towered arches from Islam during the Middle Ages, and so non-Muslims have come
to think of them as innovations of the Gothic period.) Above soared the pure
geometry of the towers, swathed in a shimmering skin, which doubled as a
structural web–a giant truss. Here Yamasaki was following the Islamic tradition
of wrapping a powerful geometric form in a dense filigree, as in the inlaid
marble pattern work of the Taj Mahal or the ornate carvings of the courtyard and
domes of the Alhambra.

The shimmering filigree is the mark of the holy. According to Oleg Grabar,
the great American scholar of Islamic art and architecture, the dense filigree
of complex geometries alludes to a higher spiritual reality in Islam, and the
shimmering quality of Islamic patterning relates to the veil that wraps the
Qa'ba at Mecca. After the attack, Grabar spoke of how these towers related to
the architecture of Islam, where "the entire surface is meaningful" and "every
part is both construction and ornament." A number of designers from the Middle
East agreed, describing the entire façade as a giant "mashrabiya," the tracery
that fills the windows of mosques.

Tyler Cowen August 20, 2010 at 3:03 pm

I was going to put this in Assorted Links, I am glad to see Alex give it a full post.

JohnF August 20, 2010 at 3:23 pm

The Slate article suggests that the Trade Center was targeted in part in reaction to the architect’s use of some traditional Islamic architectural features in the design of a building devoted to the hated capitalism of the West.

I don’t know what is so “wow” worthy about all this.

dearieme August 20, 2010 at 3:53 pm

If Islam had pointed arches, where did it get them from? The original Muslims were just desert hooligans – so was their adopted architecture from the Byzantines, the Persians, or whom?

Peter August 20, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Dudes, this posted is listed under current affairs and religion. Does that help?

BKarn August 20, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I assume it has something to do with the debate over the mosque, but I’m not sure it’s actually relevant to that debate.

EricW August 20, 2010 at 4:21 pm

The thrust of the post is Bin Laden was/is fighting against the mainstreaming of Islam. Bin Laden is against moderate muslims and all the rest of us pluralists.

Captain Obvious August 20, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Makes the whole mosque-at-ground-zero debate moot.

DesiAvenger August 20, 2010 at 4:49 pm

The Kaba’a was originally a Hindu temple. Someday, the Hindus will retake it.

Bob Knaus August 20, 2010 at 5:12 pm

The Slate article is pure post-9/11 speculation on the motives of Bin Laden. It quotes no beef from him with the architect or the design.

Now, if someone could come with a pre-9/11 source pointing out the similarities of the WTC and Mecca, and how this enrages some radicals… then I’d be impressed.

Andrew August 20, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Yeah, the comments here really suck all the time.

BKarn August 20, 2010 at 6:16 pm

“Dear Alex and Tyler,

Why do you have a comments section?

Sincerely,”

I agree with what it is you’re saying.

Bernard Yomtov August 20, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Europe imported pointed arches from Islam during the Middle Ages, and so non-Muslims have come to think of them as innovations of the Gothic period.

Is this true? I thought the gothic arch was invented (discovered?) independently in Europe (Italy?) and spread because it is structurally stronger than the Roman (semi-circular) arch.

I could be wrong.

Andrew August 20, 2010 at 9:02 pm

The comments here aren’t boring as hell.

On any other blog they’d be discussing Arabic architecture or some bullshit.

Andrew August 21, 2010 at 5:01 am

So…back to the meta comment meta discussion, what are we exactly supposed to say about an architecture article claiming Osama Bin Laden isn’t a Frank Lloyd Wright fan? Something like “Hey guys, that Ground Zero Mosque didn’t work out so well the first time around! Why don’t you just send Osama an airplane with the community center pre-programmed into the GPS?”

“…capped by two enormous, perfectly square towers—minarets, really”

Yeah, when I think minarets, I think perfectly square. So, why don’t we send the plans to Osama for prior approval. Maybe the towers weren’t minaret enough! But, when we send him the plans, let’s use exploding paper.

Roland August 21, 2010 at 10:56 am

Arggh — An obviously puckish post has precipitated a decline in the signal to noise ratio in the comments. Reversion to the mean? (sigh)…

DesiAvenger August 21, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Or Hindu numbers. Algebra too is a Hindu invention, transmitted to the Europeans through the lowly Arabs.

anonymous August 21, 2010 at 9:36 pm

This is a very old article, almost contemporaneous in fact, from our time-compressed perspective of many years later.

I distinctly recall reading it at the time (Slate was very influential in the early days of the web and was a daily must-read since there were no blogs back then and little competition other than Salon. It had been launched as an experiment in web content by none other than Microsoft, who still owned it at the time).

I recall being unpersuaded. That the theory found very little resonance over the years (maybe it just wasn’t conspiracy-theoryish enough) is obvious enough, for otherwise it would have been discussed over the years and it wouldn’t have been necessary for you to rediscover it only now. Granted, blogs and Twitter hadn’t been invented yet back then, and propagation of viral Internet memes hadn’t progressed much beyond “All Your Base”, but still. This is a theory that went absolutely nowhere. So your sudden surge of latter-day enthusiasm is a bit puzzling.

Other commenters have already pointed out a lack of corroboration in any of al Qaeda’s voluminous communiqués (subsequent to the publication of the Slate article, or before for that matter) that they were motivated by architecture.

PS, if rage against architecture drives men to terrorism, then we had better keep a very close eye on another scion of inherited wealth. Rumor has it he goes by the codename Chuck Windsor of Albion.

Nik Shah August 22, 2010 at 3:07 am

@SixOunces “The debate is between rights and respect”

Not really. Both rights and respect fall on the same side in this case. The proprietor of the building has every right to build a community centre (or indeed a mosque, not that this is one) there, and those who are denying this have no respect for the beloved constitution of their own country. America is not a Christian country, it is a secular country, based on respect for all religions. And an Islamic organisation that includes Christians and Jews on its board is one of the most obvious exemplars of the mutual respect between religions that seems to be completely absent from the hearts of those who oppose the ‘mosque’.

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WTC because of any Islamic influences to its architecture.

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“Jews were in in that land well before white folks came to take over Indian lands in the United States”

Very true… Jews of Middle Eastern ethnic origin. Sure, they were there thousands of years ago, and they were also there before and during WWII living happily alongside Muslims.

How does that give strangers (people of European ethnic origin) the right to take over a country? Oh yes, silly me. Because they’re white.

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