Architecture of the New Capitalist Society

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Architecture of the New Capitalist Society

Daniel Libeskind's winning design for the new World Trade Center takes a sentimental and metaphorical approach. He claims that the completed WTC would become the representation of America's belief in humanity, its need for individual dignity, and its beliefs in the cooperation of human. Libeskind's original design focused on restoring the spiritual peak to the New York City and creating an icon that speaks of America's vitality in the face of danger and her optimism in the aftermath of tragedy. The design considered the city's neighborhood and residents, rather than simply the economic demands of the commissioners. However, Libeskind's revised plan that revealed in September 2003 altered his original humanistic vision of creating buildings that respond to the neighborhood, and an environment that will have richness and openness. Pressured by the leaseholder of the WTC site Mr. Silverstein, Libeskind's new plan added an emphasize on the commercial purpose of the site. The marketability of office and retail spaces has become the major concern of the project. The new World Trade Center project has stirred a significant amount of debates among authorities and the public since Daniel Liberskind first revealed his original mater plan in February 2003. Some have proposed to redesign and decentralize lower Manhattan; others have questioned that if New York really needs another world's tallest building, or maybe something more modest like affordable housing, linear parks, and true public spaces and institutes. However, beyond these issues, there is a far more intricate question cannot be easily answered: How the architecture profession has been influenced by the new capitalist society? And what is the role of the architects in the twenty-first century?

Architecture has been known as the product of aesthetics, structure, and function that serves to address social needs, resolve environmental and humanitarian problems through built form. Architecture not only shelters, but also has the ability to consolidate boundaries within our society. It realizes the role by physically defining space and by imposing its symbolic, representative meaning onto our living environment. As Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, "Architecture immortalizes and glorifies something". Indeed, architecture must be documentary and didactic. It should represent a coherence of qualities of social and political situations in its period, and must teach the audience the values and virtues that embedded in the built form. In the case of twenty-first century society, architecture has successfully documented the compelling forces that drive our society to change: the rapidly changing technologies, the changing political institution, the internal need to improve performance and competitive situation, and the market forces. Nevertheless, the architecture of the new capitalist society has also documented the traces of the impact of capitalism on the architectural design and practice. In the twenty-first century's capitalist society, architecture's once privileged cultural position has been diminished. As part of a consumerist culture, where ideas, objects, and images are commoditized, architecture's role has gradually been converted into a tool for the merchandising of space. Architecture once shapes the society is now shaped by the new capitalist society.


Compared to Daniel Libeskind's original vision of the World Trade Center, the most dramatic change in the revised plan is the more slender office towers. It was done to reduce density and to provide more open space and fewer physical obstacles. More importantly, the slimmer and taller office buildings with smaller cores, will allow for more retail space in adjacent areas. It is obvious that "the quest for profitability" boils down to be the rationale behind this revision.

We are now living in a...
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