Photo: Joe Greco 01Essay by Alan Balfour, published in Newsday, Sept. 13:
An image keeps forcing itself into my consciousness.
It is a birds-eye view of Manhattan on a brilliant autumn morning. My imagination is hovering above the Battery, and the island stretches into the mists in all its majestic grandeur. Dominating the foreground and anchoring the city are the towers of the World Trade Center, transcendently beautiful in the clear light. Never loved as architecture, yet in the hours following these most dreadful events the towers increasingly embody all the energy and ambition of the city in the last half-century.
I sense we are entering a strange and profound collective trauma, millions of people trying to reconcile themselves to two kinds of lossthe loss of so many lives and the loss of a symbol, an idea. The death of so many, no matter how tragic, is somehow accepted within the frailty of the human condition; these are losses we eventually come to terms with. The loss of a symbol of permanence, so central to the idea of a place, is in many ways just as difficult. Our imagination demands, insists that it still exist: its essence in the imagination fundamental to the idea of Manhattan. And, though it has been destroyed physically, every element of its idea still exists and can be made whole again.
In the days ahead, I feel we will all suffer an increasingly poignant desire to will the towers back into existence. Reconstructing them over and over again in our imagination, and each time they become more powerful and more essential than they ever were in life. The pain of this is much deeper than I ever could have anticipated.
As we pass this place in the days, months and perhaps years ahead, we will pause time and again, attempting to grasp the magnitude of the event. Re-creating in our minds eye the once complex life of this place and the horror of the final moments.
The power of these two simple inanimate objects, which had become, unwittingly perhaps, fundamental components in the metaphysical power of the city, has now been magnified millions of times by the epic images of their destruction. Their fate has entered the consciousness of the whole world.
Step-by-step, these most dreadful events have transformed these twin towers into figures of epic tragedy. So potent are the memories that the total sense of loss to our collective consciousness will remain until they are actually rebuilt. Rebuilt exactly as they were.
Although the towers are gone physically, their idea not only remains but has become the embodiment of the infamy done to the city and the nation. Rebuilding would not only ease the pain but re-create the towers as symbols of the resilience and strength of this people.
Alan Balfour is dean of Rensselaers School of Architecture and an author; his most recent book, World Cities: New York, was published by Academy/Wiley this summer.
Prayer service remarks by President Shirley Ann Jackson, Sept. 11
Class note submitted by Karl Kusche 89, Sept. 19
Essay by Alan Balfour, published in Newsday, Sept. 13
Student Senate resolution, Sept. 11
Polytechnic column, Sept. 19
Alumni discussion board posting, Sept. 20:
In memoriam: Nicholas Humber 63
E-mail message to Rensselaer Magazine, Sept. 23
Polytechnic column, Sept. 19
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