Tower proposal by Gaudi for New York City in 1908.
Funny story: So in 1908, Gaudí was retained to design a hotel in New York City, The Hotel Attraction, but it never progressed beyond initial concept drawings. Gaudí’s grand, towering, space-age-before-space-age-was-a-thing, rocket ship looking structure was to have been 360 meters (1,181.1 feet) high, but as this was in 1908, that idea might have ultimately scared developers off (the Empire State Building, at 1250 feet, wasn’t built until 1931). The planned location? A parcel of land upon which the World Trade Center would have been built some 60 odd years in the future. Can you imagine? Read more here (link is en Español)
Also worth noting: In 2003, these drawings were submitted to an international memorial competition for redesigns of New York’s former World Trade Center site [source]. But once again Gaudí’s project was not picked up, and tragically, as we all know, there is still a giant hole in the ground at Ground Zero today. None of the proposals for the area that I have seen scream awesome or anything close to what this city deserves for a memorial. This architect lists some damn good reasons for why Gaudí’s structure should be built there:
(1) Structual Strength. Gaudi’s Grand Hotel is a structural ideal of Memento Mori (a Reminder of Death). Its own history is the death of an architectural ideal in 1908 which resulted in a deadly curse. Generically, an ideal is that which unites artistically in a single form all the excellencies found in nature in different individual forms of the same type or belonging to the same category. “The ideal,” therefore, aims to be more perfect than anything that can be observed in nature and, thereby, proceeds from the artist’s own vision of perfection, which is also a vision of death.
What Gaudi wanted was to utilize the catenary paraboloid (a surface all of whose intersections by planes yield either parabolas and ellipses, or parabolas and hyperbolas). Because the form is catenary in reverse (instead of resisting loads in complete tension) the form causes all its material to resist loads in complete compression.
The catenary, in its ideal form, is a curve assumed by a cord of uniform density and cross-section that is perfectly flexible but not capable of being stretched and that hangs freely from two fixed points. When a catenary surface occurs in nature in living membranes, for instance, it is subject to ever-changing wave fronts of energy which forms its matrix of strain, growth and repair. When the catenary is “frozen” in space, all of its material resists gravity. Being frozen in space also means frozen in time and, therefore, as ideal and changeless as death.
Since the structure of Gaudi’s Grand Hotel is hollow and generally conical, its internal surface stresses are twisting shear stresses. This torsion is composed of a force couple (the applied torque and resisting torque). The hodograph of this stress pattern is the same as that which appears in all ordinary univalve seashells Đ the logarithmic spiral Đ the path of which the biologist Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948) stated: “… is characteristic, not of that of living tissues, but of the dead. And for the same reason it will always or nearly always be accompanied, and adorned, by a pattern formed of “lines of growth,” the lasting record of successive stages of form and magnitude.”
Seashells are composed of aggregates of calcium carbonate, which is also used in making lime and portland cement. Gaudi planned to build the Grand Hotel of reinforced concrete in ringed sections. This process is as close as one can get to producing gigantic seashells. One of the fundamental structural principles of the seashell is to resist lateral thrusts of large creatures with large teeth. Or in the case of skyscrapers, the lateral forces of airplanes or guided missiles. Can we assume that Gaudi anticipated this far into the future?
(2) Permanent Memorial. Gaudi’s Grand Hotel, because of its basic imprinting with the forms of death, would be the most appropriate structure as a memorial for the thousands of people who died at Ground Zero, another type of Memento Mori at the personal, social and emotional levels.
The center catenary paraboloid in Gaudi’s design for the hotel is devoted to celebratory and memorial functions from the Space Tower Observatory to the great exhibition hall, 375 feet high (as high as the towers of Gaudi’s masterpiece, “The Sagrada Familia”) down through the large theater and lecture hall, down, down through the six enormous restaurants which symbolize the five continents of the Earth: Asia, Africa, Oceania, Europe, and America, until finally the lobby space at the footprint of the building, the extent of which fits directly over Ground Zero.
Since the lobby is 400’-0” in diameter and 150’-0” high, it would provide a lavish indoor burial ground for the hotel, complete with circumferential glazing and spectacular imagery of the universe obtained from the Hubble Space Telescope, holographic and virtual reality films of the attack on the World Trade Center; natural daylight could be delivered through the inside of the building by means of tubes that are mirrored on their interiors and curved as cylinders, spheres, and paraboloids. Also light rays are transferred without light loss by means of opti-thermal-imagers.
The other lobby areas surrounding the center area are so extensive that they can accommodate any number of visitors either to Ground Zero or the ten ancillary hotels that cluster around the main shaft.
(3) Celebration of New York City. While Gaudi’s Grand Hotel would act as a permanent memorial for all those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks, it would be paradoxically a celebration of the life for which New York City is famous. In the great exhibition space, Gaudi had planned to have enough space in this hall for gigantic statues of the Presidents, with enough pedestals remaining to take America into the Third Millennium. Much of this space could be devoted also to separate memorials for disaster victims, which would highlight the nature of the lives they led rather than just an indication of their existence.
In terms of the physical details, Gaudi had planned that his Grand Hotel would have the most lavish of surfacing materials used both for the interior and the exterior. On a base of structural reinforced concrete first would be placed heat resistant tiles (the kind used to surface rocketships for reentry into the earth’s atmosphere), something obviously needed in the present, would be placed alabaster tiles, giving the exterior a pearlescent luster, along with different colored marbles and carved granite at the base of the cluster of towers. Beyond that, the structure would be surfaced with bits of debris (in this case from Ground Zero) terra cotta sculptures, minerals and fragments of colored glass.
The interior beyond the heat resistant tiles would have stained glass windows, sculptured surfaces of plaster, terra cotta, various woods, and historically formulaic interiors and elaborately modeled stucco. This slow-setting plaster known from antiquity was made of very fine sand, pulverized white carrara marble, gypsum (hydrated calcium sulfate), alabaster-dust and water, often with other additions, such as coloring provided by mixing in metallic oxides. Stucco was sometimes mixed with gum dissolved in lukewarm water. When the stucco was perfectly dry it was rubbed and polished.
(4) Social and Cultural Concerns. The major cultural issues concerning the design of a memorial for Ground Zero have emerged as:
- First, the general populace across the United States, and New York City in particular, wish to keep Ground Zero just as it is with no modifications for at least the next 100 years. Some prominent architects have underscored this decision;
- Second, the artistic and design communities of New York City are determined to create a physical memorial for Ground Zero. Other designers from the national and international venues echo these sentiments;
- Third, there is a need for a designer with whom everyone across the country can relate, whether or not they are from the professional design community or laymen;
- Fourth, also the selected designer must be of such a nature that he or she will not succumb to the temptation to indulge in the ego-mongering that most successful design professionals are subject to, thanks to the ubiquity of the media. Using the commission of a memorial to such an august historical event as Ground Zero as a chance for self-promotion would be totally counter to the spirit of the seriousness of the situation;
- Fifth, most everyone who has thought about it agrees that any structure used as the Ground Zero Memorial must not be used for any world trade commercial activities. From the start, the World Trade Center failed to fulfill its stated mission as being the business nexus for world trade. As time went on, more and more of its rentable space went to small computer based industries that would have been better served as rural cottage enterprises.
(5) Vision and Collective Involvement. It is my belief, therefore, that the Grand Hotel for New York City by Antonio Gaudi y Cornet, designed 94 years ago but never built at that time, if built today at and above the Ground Zero site will be able to meet the challenges of these and other issues regarding the memorialization of this national tragedy.
Gaudi died 76 years ago. His ego is not at stake, but his reputation is. Gaudi’s reputation has been growing steadily since his death from that of an architectural oddity to one of the masters of architecture in the modern world. Eventually his work will be seen less as the marginalia of “Art Nouveau” and more as the anticipation of the physically alive technology that the inhabitants of earth will need in its quest to penetrate and live successfully on and in other planets and outer space. By then Gaudi will be hailed as the greatest architect of Modernism.
Hotels in the strictest sense are not commercial ventures, they are part of the “theater of life” and, as such, are often revived after they failed as businesses, because of the joy and urban history they have engendered. Consider the history of the Waldorf Astoria. In Gaudi’s case, his New York Hotel has the potential for a double history, first as an unbuilt project, and second as a built work. Also it would not be a pastiche if built, but would be an actual new work.
Gaudi’s Gothic sensibility elicited the very best of the creativity of his colleagues and subordinates. He carried on the medieval guild system of art working. Everyone regardless of their level of talent became involved in some part of a serious art project. This is exactly what would take place in bringing Gaudi’s hotel to fruition. The design and artistic team would be almost self selected with people dropping out when they discover that they cannot perform as they claimed. — by Paul Laffoley, Architect, A.I.A., 2002