Which Icon Will Win?

On March 6, an explosive device damaged the U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Station, designed by Architecture Research Office (ARO). When completed in 1999, the modest building contradicted the oversized glitz of Times Square. The fluorescent American flag façade seemed ironic as the surrounding flashing advertising swallowed the small pavilion. After 9/11, the recruiting station took on new meaning, standing defiantly in nationalistic pride. It seemed optimistic –standing for an America that is not burdened by the capitalism constantly encouraging people to shop. Now, its damaged entrance has taken on a new aura. It represents imperfection and frailty despite the military’s promise of safety and protection.

With all of the new development in NYC, it seems as if new buildings are competing for iconic domination, not just for air space. But while symbolism is thrown around prior to much of the construction — from Libeskind’s naming of the Freedom Tower to Tishman-Speyer’s New York Steps or Ratner’s Miss Brooklyn Tower — I wonder if anyone is concerned about how those symbols will develop post-construction.

The life of the recruiting station is not yet over, and I am not one to predict how the symbolism will change in the future. The March 6 event, however, makes me concerned for the future of the city as a whole, as designers, developers, the city, and people in positions of power continue to make bold guarantees with their latest, greatest icons.