…the age of skyscrapers is at an end. It must now be considered an experimental building typology that has failed. Who will ever again feel safe and comfortable working 110 storeys above the ground? Or sixty storeys? Or even twenty-seven?
James Howard Kunstler

Architecture, like education, is another one of those subjects beyond my expertise, and normally not considered political.
What does normally mean these days? Everything is political. Architecture, in fact, has now become the epitome of politics. There’s talk of building “Why They Hate Us” pavilions at Ground Zero, and such luminaries as James Howard Kunstler and Jeremy Rifkin love to weigh in on politically charged visions of “Eurocities” in America:

The highly urbanized Kerry voters, we were told, represented “the real Americans” who reject “heartland ‘values’ like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia.” The suburbanites and small-town denizens came from places where “people are fatter and dumber and slower.” “Let them have the shitholes, the Oklahomas, Wyomings, and Alabamas,” the Seattle paper raged. “We’ll take Manhattan.”
Urban sophisticates’ longstanding disdain toward the suburbs and sunbelt cities is developing into an aggressive hostility. Author James Howard Kunstler now wows Euro-American audiences with dire predictions of an energy-driven apocalypse that will leave the sprawling aspirational cities and their suburban hinterlands in ruins. Kunstler, for one, is so thrilled with the prospect that he says it’s time “to let the gloating begin.”
Given their contempt for much of the country, it is not surprising that Euro-Americans seek inspiration from abroad. For many, European cities, with three times the density of their American counterparts, are to be hailed as role models. New urbanists like Roberta Brandes Gratz look across the Atlantic and see our urban future. Americans, she concludes, “want what Czechs have,” that is, highly concentrated, expensive cities of apartment-renters like picturesque Prague.
On an arguably more serious note, some Democratic theorists also advocate adopting European-style economic and social policy. Back in the 1980s, Robert Reich, for example, suggested the United States adopt the kind of “industrial policy” then de rigueur in Germany and France. Recently, other leftist writers–from the American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson to environmentalist Jeremy Rifkin and Euro-enthusiast T.R. Reid–have embraced European approaches to Kyoto, land use, immigration, and technology.
To the denizens of Euro-America, John Kerry’s obsession with “global tests” and appealing to the E.U. were not misplaced or ill-conceived. The American dream, Rifkin tells us, is failing, economically, culturally, and politically. “We need Europe,” Meyerson writes in the American Prospect, “to save us from ourselves.”

Justin has written several posts about leading skyscraper critic James Howard Kunstler (who also hates ugly homes with too many cars).
This Eurocentric “smaller is better” anti-skyscraper movement was given a boost with today’s scathing attack on the Freedom Tower by the New York Times’ Nicolai Ouroussoff. In a piece titled “Appraisal: Fear in a soaring tower,” Ouroussoff likens the design to the work of Nazi architect Albert Speer:

But if this is a potentially fascinating work of architecture, it is, sadly, fascinating in the way that Albert Speer’s architectural nightmares were fascinating – as expressions of the values of a particular time and era. The Freedom Tower embodies, in its way, a world shaped by fear.

What the tower evokes, by comparison, are ancient obelisks, blown up to a preposterous scale and clad in heavy sheaths of reinforced glass – an ideal symbol for an empire enthralled with its own power, and unaware that it is fading.

Just like the Nazis, enthralled with the power of their empire, and unaware that it’s fading?
I find it ironic that Ouroussoff complains about the politicization of the Freedom Tower, because as someone who hates bureaucracy and thinking by committee I’d normally be inclined to be sympathetic with that argument.
I too would love to see some classical elements added to the design. But, that would only compound the irony by inviting more Nazi comparisons, for despite New York’s ubiquitous Neoclassicism, it just so happens that Neoclassicism was at the heart of Speer’s work!
Yet, when the “Speer smear” is coupled with the conclusion, I’m left with the feeling that Ouroussoff wants to manipulate us into believing that tall buildings are synonymous with Nazism. That’s a direct slap in Ayn Rand’s face. It’s too much, and loses me completely. Here’s his conclusion:

Absurdly, if the Freedom Tower were reduced by a dozen or so stories and renamed, it would probably no longer be considered such a prime target. Fortifying it, in a sense, is an act of deflection. It announces to terrorists: Don’t attack here – we’re ready for you. Go next door.

Take the word “freedom” out and make the building smaller? Why? Because freedom is dangerous and smaller is safer?
Being a leading architecture critic, Ouroussoff is of course entitled to invoke the Speer smear as justification for his scapegoating of tall buildings. However, much as I hate to resort to cycles of Speer recycling, I feel I have no choice but to close with Speer’s recollections of Hitler’s actual plans for American skyscrapers:

In his prison journals, Albert Speer recalled an astonishing scene towards the end of the World War II: Adolf Hitler, in a kind of delirium, “pictured for himself and for us the destruction of New York in a hurricane of fire.” The Nazi leader described skyscrapers being turned into “gigantic burning torches, collapsing upon one another, the glow of the exploding city illuminating the dark sky.”

Burning torches? Collapsing buildings? How could we have dared tempt Hitler by building such prime targets?
If only we’d built them smaller!