Up from ground zero: New York has a new identity

The grave of the twin towers is a hollowed, sacred place. Ground zero has been consecrated by tragedy. Sept. 11 has given depth and historical transcendence to a vibrant world metropolis.

What doesn't destroy you makes you stronger, as Goethe said, and New Yorkers have matured with the challenge. New York City had never endured anything of such national or international resonance. We had the illusion of being different, and we were criticized for being arrogant. New York is now the symbolic capital of 21st-century America. The event has forged a new identity for the city's people.

Tragedy has always been the substance of greatness. The first impact is to leave you dumbfounded. Tragedy inspires awe, faces you with the ineffable. It demands meditation. There is no easy answer or image to take the place of the destroyed towers. No screens, no music, no consumer products, no gift shop, no performance, no distraction. Tragedy calls for collective creativity.

We must start with what we have, something simple and transparent. Something that will define us, we New Yorkers. Rio de Janeiro is defined by its monumental Christ on a hill. Brussels has the Mannekin-Pis. Paris, its Eiffel Tower; Prague, its Holy Child. Christianity has its cross, Islam its crescent moon. And New York City has the Big Apple. The material apple has gained a transcendent soul through the crucible of Sept. 11, 2001. The Big Apple has been purified of frivolity, its mettle tested.

We believe a true monument to the twin towers should take the simple, the easily recognized, and make it transcendental. The process toward that sublime is something that should happen naturally before the eyes.

To consecrate the event and express its significance, we propose a monumental, transparent apple at ground zero. A glass apple as big as our dreams and our possibilities. An apple reborn from the Big Apple's ashes. An apple that changes hues with the hours of the day and the seasons of the year. That goes from the early morning pink to the midday green to the bloody sunset.

The apple encompasses the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Its indestructible tinted glass will capture the sunlight, and we will see through it to the surrounding buildings and landscape.

We will see through its emptiness and fill it with our memories and hope for the future, and our self-probing. It will be an object of transcendence for meditation, something in which we all can see our better selves.

And at the very top of the apple will be a brown stem and a green leaf, which will stand for severance and rebirth.

• Marshall Blonsky and Edmundo Desnoes teach semiotics at New York University and Parsons School of Design.

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