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An unfortunate design

Some say twin towers design for Korean project evokes Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks

On Dec. 8, Netherlands-based architecture firm MVRDV released "The Cloud," a design for a connected, twin-towered, 984-foot-tall residential complex for the ambitious DREAMHUB development in Seoul, South Korea, and the intense reaction was immediate. One look at the design, and you may understand why.

The skyscrapers join at the middle in a bulging "pixelated cloud" that, combined with the towers’ World Trade Center-like straightline height and their proximity to each other, evokes — eerily and unavoidably — the Sept. 11, 2001, Twin Towers tragedy.

The resemblance exploded in a media frenzy on Monday: with coverage by the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Time, and hundreds more. Gizmodo writer Andrew Liszewski recognized it almost immediately with his post on the day of the design release: "What the hell were these architects thinking?"

The "cloud" structure, spreading out of the towers’ centers and joining them together, designed for sunlight and community space, including a conference center, resembles a frozen-in-time explosion, say some.

MVRDV experiments with many raised-city-level designs to counteract skyscrapers’ civic-isolating tendencies, and "The Cloud" is one outcome of that effort that did not sit well with some viewers. (A couple of examples of the firm’s other designs along these lines can be seen here and here.)

Offensive and controversial buildings are not new, but few designs have tapped into a wound as fresh as this design. On Friday, conservative commentator Glenn Beck considered whether, if built, these buildings would be the most offensive ever constructed.

In 2007, the U.S. Navy spent $600,000 to alter a building, built in the 1960s, at one of its Southern California bases, because of public outcry after some noticed, via Google-displayed satellite imagery, the buidling’s remarkable swastika-like appearance from bird’s-eye view.

Then, there have been outcries over matters of art vs. ugly, like the I.M. Pie-designed Louvre pyramid in the 1980s. The modern, elegant, three-story, glassed structure, erected in the courtyard of the Louvre, the former palace and now-famous Paris museum built in the 12th century, drew slights from critics at the time who felt it disrespected the building’s stately, grand heritage. That opposition died, however, long before the pyramid’s star turn in the popular "Da Vinci Code" book and film.

It’s not certain whether the MVRDV design will get the chance to face the fire in concrete form.

Rendering of "The Cloud" in a haze.

Monday, responding to an influx of overwhelming criticism, MVRDV removed a ground view image for "The Cloud" from the company’s website and posted a note: "It was not our intention to create an image resembling the (9/11) attacks nor did we see the resemblance during the design process."

The buildings, which are planned to frame DREAMHUB’s entryway, are slated to be completed by 2015.

Night rendering of "The Cloud."

James Slade, principal of Slade Architecture, an international architectural firm based in New York, said he was surprised by the design but understood how the often-blindered nature of the drafting process can limit perspective and lead to surprise.

"You can be so into a design when you’re working on it, you don’t see these other points of view, and then when someone from the outside sees it, you get a completely different take," said Slade.

Interior rendering of "The Cloud."

Ironically, Studio Daniel Libeskind, which won the commission to develop the master plan for the new World Trade Center at Ground Zero, is the firm in charge of DREAMHUB’s master plan. The studio was not available for comment by press time.

As of now, the Yongsan Development Co., DREAMHUB’s developer, plans to keep the design, a spokesperson for the company told Fox News on Monday. Another spokespersan for the group emphasized that the design process has not been finalized.

Photo credit: All images of "The Cloud" courtesy of MVRDV.

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