Capitalism’s Mecca

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.


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