Rising Anew From the Ashes

People throughout history have shown an impulse to rebuild and memorialize places that were destroyed by war or acts of terror - be it the World Trade Center or Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter.

The city of Hiroshima in southwest Japan, which was an important industrial center for producing synthetic fuels and fighter aircraft, was chosen by the Americans on August 6, 1945 as the target for the first atomic bomb. The bomb was dropped at 8:15 A.M., killing 80,000 people and injuring 70,000 more. It destroyed most of the buildings within a 3.25-kilometer radius from the point where it hit. Thousands of other people died later from their injuries and the effects of nuclear radiation. Three days later, another A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered and World War II was over.

Five years after the bombing, Hiroshima was rebuilt. The city fathers selected one of the city's outstanding architectural landmarks, which was only partially damaged, as the central memorial site for the traumatic event. It was a structure built according to European style in 1915 and was used for industrial exhibitions. The building, designed by a Czech architect, had a large oval-shaped dome. After the bombing, only part of the structure's walls and dome remained.

A worldwide fund-raising campaign helped to partially restore the damaged site, which was named A-Bomb Demo. It was initially a national memorial site, but in 1996, it was registered as an official international site under the auspices of UNESCO. Adjacent to the site, a big park was built, with a museum in its center.

Rebuilding Coventry

On November 14, 1940, the German air force destroyed the center of the city of Coventry in England. The concept "Coventrize" - meaning complete destruction from the air - stems from this event. After the World War ended, the city leaders decided not to rebuild the center of Coventry according to its original, historic layout, but to design a new model. The center of Coventry was planned as a big shopping center, without automobile traffic, along the lines of the pedestrian malls common today.

The renovation of the St. Michael's cathedral was one of the most complex challenges in the renewal of the city center. Large sections of the cathedral were destroyed during the bombings, but it was decided not to rebuild it in the original Gothic style. In 1951, the British architect Basil Spence was selected in a national architectural competition to redesign the cathedral site.

In 1962, a new, modern-style building was dedicated alongside the remains of the original cathedral. The form of the new cathedral was severely criticized. Many found it hard to "digest" the modern style, so different from the original Gothic character. But the criticism eventually died down. The new cathedral and the modern center build next to it is still one of the important examples of a city that successfully combines a memorial with comprehensive urban removal.

The new federal office building in Oklahoma City, constructed after the original building was damaged by a car bomb in April 1995, was designed in quite a routine way. It is without any unique architectural identity or outward reminder of the terror incident that destroyed the earlier structure. Now the central memorial site for the victims, the building features a broad and impressive expanse of grass outside, with 168 empty chairs representing the number of people killed in the attack.

The attack was carried out by a veteran of the Gulf War, Timothy McVeigh, against the "evil federal government." McVeigh was not a foreign enemy, but rather a member of an American group of Christian fundamentalists. These type of fanatic groups try to achieve apocalyptic aims in the "service of God." In February 2001, a museum was dedicated next to the lawns of the new building. The museum documents the lives of the victims of the attack, and includes some belongings and reminders of the children killed in the tragedy.

Israel also has a place on the long list of sites around the world that try to rebuild what has been destroyed and memorialize those killed in wars and acts of terror. During the War of Independence, after a long siege and house-to-house fighting, the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City fell to Jordan's army in May 1948. Most of the homes in the Jewish Quarter were destroyed during the 19 years of Jordanian occupation. Magnificent synagogues and yeshivas were reduced to piles of rubble. The destruction, over an area of 115 dunams [about 29 acres], was intentional: It was aimed at erasing any signs of the bustling Jewish life that had existed here.

Soon after the city was reunified, in June 1967, the government of Israel decided to rebuild the Jewish Quarter - to reconstruct destroyed buildings, establish new structures for public and religious institutions, and settle about 600 families. The planning team appointed by the Jewish Quarter Reconstruction and Development Company encountered many difficulties, and studied and debated alternatives. The planners had to cope with a heavy burden of myths and historic symbols, some of them ancient, as well as with the practical challenge of rebuilding an entire quarter as a dynamic and lively residential neighborhood, and not as a frozen monument.

How do we preserve and breathe life into an historic site without turning it into a detached and foreign museum display? Should traditional architectural elements be integrated in the new building or is a duplication of the past inherently disqualified? Should we dare to use modern building materials and technologies in renovating the Jewish Quarter? Could modern "international" architecture of glass and metal fit into the existing stone texture? These were the questions asked.

Already in the initial planning stages, there were calls for "bold architecture" (as opposed to "fearful architecture" that the Italian architect and critic Bruno Zevi warned against), that would be true to the spirit of the period, expressing it with modern materials and technologies while avoiding an overly romantic approach, so that the quarter would not turn into an urban texture with a pseudo-historic facade and fake Eastern-romantic character.

In the end, the Jewish Quarter was rebuilt in a conservative and solid way. New buildings were constructed along the historic alleyways; certain historical buildings were renovated and rebuilt.

The most important historical building in the Jewish Quarter that was destroyed in the war in 1948 was the Hurvat Yehuda Hehasid synagogue. Built in 1862, it was the central synagogue for the Jews of Jerusalem and was also used for general celebrations and gatherings almost up until its destruction. This dominant structure, with its round dome, towered above the rest of the buildings in the Jewish Quarter and competed - visually and symbolically - with the Muslims' Dome of the Rock to the east, and the Christians' Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the north.

After the reunification of the city in 1967, reknowned architects presented various architectural solutions for the Hurva site. The American architect Louis I. Kahn and the British architect Sir Denys Lasdun proposed building a new and modern structure. The Jerusalem architect Yeshayahu Ilan proposed a building with exterior lines identical to the original structure, with walls composed of glass and stone remnants from the original synagogue. According to his proposal, the building would be capped with a large metal dome, plated with gold.

When it became apparent that a consensus on an architectural solution for the sensitive Hurva site would not be reached quickly, the Jerusalem Foundation and the Jewish Quarter Development Company decided to construct a memorial arch at the site of the synagogue's ruins. The form and height of the arch recall the four arches that supported the dome of the destroyed structure. The arch was designed by a team led by Shalom Gardi, including the architect Nechemia Bikson, Yoel Bar-Dor, Uri Ponger, Claude Rosenkovich and Yoel Shoham. The minimalist solution allows for additional planning options in the future.

The Jewish Quarter Development Company has recently initiated a new plan, designed by architects Nahum Meltzer and Guy Igra. The plan calls for an exact replication of the original Hurva building.

New Twins?

Today, while the debris is still being removed and funerals are being held for the victims of the attack in New York, discussions have already begun on how to memorialize the event and rebuild the devastated area. Questions arise regarding how to plan and design a complete urban complex in an area with some of the most expensive real estate in the world? Should the World Trade Center be rebuilt along its previous lines? Or should the entire area - after the rubble is cleared - be converted into a giant memorial site for the thousands who died here?

There are some who advocate rebuilding the Twin Towers in their original format, with even another dozen or so floors. This would express the message that terrorism will not succeed in disrupting American society and its hegemony in technology and in advancing mankind.

The aspiration to build even higher and to again break the world record is part of a never-ending race to the heavens by earth-bound man. When the first Twin Tower was completed in 1972, it was the tallest building in the world at 417 meters. This record was broken in the United States two years later by the Sears Tower in Chicago (442 meters), and in Kuala Lampur in Malaysia, where two skyscrapers (452 meters) were completed in 1998.

The way this race to the sky has been conducted is reminiscent of the Tower of Babel - perhaps even in its punishment. Others are calling for the World Trade Center to be rebuilt on a lower and more modest scale - among other reasons, out of concern that reconstructing the two towers at their original height would again make them a target for terrorists and that, in any case, commercial companies would be reluctant to lease office space.

Planning the site could be done in various the ways: in an open framework of international competition, as an internal American or New York competition, or as a closed competition among groups selected by renowned architects. An open international competition is, by nature, a long and complicated process, with the risk that the winning design could come from an Afghani designer, for example. (When the city officials in Jerusalem considered holding an international competition for redesigning the Western Wall Plaza in the 1970s, the idea was rejected - among other reasons - due to a concern that the winning entry might come from an architect of German background.)

Photographs from the disaster site in New York show the mounds of steel and concrete that fell as the towers collapsed, creating a surrealistic sculptural form. This could authentically illustrate the terrible event and serve as a design element for a memorial site. One of the possible solutions for a memorial is to create a visual link and dialogue between the nearby Statue of Liberty, the ultimate symbol of the United States, and the new construction at the devastated site.

It can be expected that the planning for the site will also engender a stormy and bitter debate in the United States and abroad. The transparent and open design process customary in the U.S. ensures that the conceptual plan and detailed architectural alternatives will be presented to the public at large and approved only after a proper democratic process.

The conceptual program for designing the memorial and for urban renewal can be expected to combine emotional needs reflecting shock, horror, faith and hope for a better future, and especially the need to remember. The design challenge will require time and should not be rushed. An optimal solution would take into consideration psychology and emotion, comprehensive urban planning, functionality, architecture and design, security and economics.

David Kroyanker, an expert in the history of architecture, has written a number of books documenting and analyzing architectural styles, planning and building processes in Jerusalem.