Those twin towers of the World Trade Center wrote two epic stories into the skyline of Manhattan: rise and fall. Most of us saw the hellscape of fire and smoke in the fall of the towers, live on television, 20 years ago. But the rising up 30 years earlier, in a star-crossed real-estate power play, is where the artist and writer Justin Beal finds roots of the story: tangled, tragic, maybe cursed. David Rockefeller was selling the scale of his Trade Center as “catalytic bigness.” The critic Jane Jacobs called it “cataclysmic money.” It’s a story of the unluckiest architect you never heard of, the near bankruptcy in the 1970s of our #1 port town and finance capital, when the New York Daily News headline ran, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”
Justin Beal. Credit: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.
We’re marking a 20-year memory this hour with a 50-year backstory of the World Trade Center and its fateful towers. Justin Beal is our guide—he’s an artist writing his first book, touched by an event that could have killed him. It sparked instead a peculiarly digressive and introspective history of New York City, of modernism and money power, the making of culture and the unmaking of habitable cities in our time.
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