Critics Say Korean Skyscraper Design Evokes Exploding Twin Towers

A Dutch firm proposed a "cloud" design connecting two buildings in South Korea, which some say looks like the World Trade Center on 9/11.

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Yonhap / Reuters
Yonhap / Reuters

Dutch architecture firm MVRDV said they proposed its “Cloud” design because it challenged the mundane shape of the typical skyscraper. A pair of luxury residential towers in Seoul would be joined in the middle by a cloud-like shape, billowing out like a tutu around two legs.

But when a press release went out about the design on Dec. 7, announcing the residences as part of a plan to extend the city’s business district, a playful cumulonimbus is not the image many saw. Instead, some were taken back to 9/11, and the smoke that filled the sky after the planes hit the World Trade Center.

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Some media outlets stoked this fire. The Los Angeles Times, for example, leads their story by saying that the proposed high-rises categorically “evoke New York’s World Trade Center towers in mid-explosion in the terrifying moments after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.” But, the Dutch firm said in an apology, that was not the case for everyone.

“The Cloud was designed based on parameters such as sunlight, outside spaces, living quality for inhabitants and the city,” they wrote. “It was not our intention to create an image resembling the attacks, nor did we see the resemblance during the design process. We sincerely apologize to anyone whose feelings we have hurt, it was not our intention.”

It seems reasonable that no firm that wanted to stay in business would champion such a plan if that connection were known. The blowback the firm describes on their Facebook page is another testament to that line of logic. “A real media storm has started,” they wrote, “and we [received] threatening emails and calls of angry people calling us Al Qaeda lovers or worse.”

Recognizing that the design is legitimately upsetting for some, and assuming that the firm truly didn’t see the connection, where does the fault lie? Did the firm fail to be sufficiently thoughtful about what the design might dredge up for some people, particularly Americans? Is there also a mistake being made by concentrating so heavily on that symbolism?

In any case, the developer has said that the design for the high-rises is still up in the air, and after this PR debacle, it seems unlikely that MVRDV will be coming away with the bid.

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