Magazine article The New Yorker

The Talk of the Town: Lights Out

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Talk of the Town: Lights Out

Article excerpt

When the idea of evoking the towers of the World Trade Center by projecting two powerful beams of light into the sky was first proposed, right after September 11th, John Bennett, one of the architects who came up with the notion, said, "It will definitely not be a tourist attraction." He was wrong. The lights went on for the first time on the night of March 11th, six months after the towers fell, and every night since then crowds have been swarming to the corner of West and Murray Streets, in Battery Park City, just a block or so from Ground Zero, where eighty-eight enormous searchlights point upward. Bennett thought that people would want to see the lights from afar, but they seem to be drawn to the source. It isn't that they flock to light like moths. It's more that the lights have given people the first chance since September 11th to feel that going to the neighborhood of the World Trade Center can be uplifting, not disquieting.

The other night, just before sundown, Bennett, who is thirty-four, and his partner, Gustavo Bonevardi, who is forty-two, were having a drink at Roc, a restaurant at the corner of Duane and Greenwich Streets that has a great view of the lights. They had gone there to toast the project the night the lights were first turned on, and now they were contemplating the project's obsolescence.

The lights were always intended to be temporary, and no one expected that they would become an instant landmark, the best abstract monument in this country since Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Washington D.C. Now that the lights are in the final week of their monthlong run, Bennett and Bonevardi are beginning to have second thoughts about whether it makes sense to cart them away so quickly. "We conceived of it as a momentary thing, as a rush of energy, to help get the city going again," Bonevardi said. "But I think we have to recognize the effect it has had on people."

By then it had got dark, and you could see the lights through the front window of the restaurant: two huge bluish-white beams, shooting straight into the sky. Bennett and Bonevardi got up and walked outside onto Greenwich Street. The sidewalk was crowded with people, many of them carrying cameras, headed down toward the lights. Bonevardi looked up and saw a star. "It's a good night," he said.

"On a cloudy night, you can't see it from far away, but up close it looks almost solid, more like a building," Bennett said. …

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