Castell, by FOA

After the 9-11 catastrophe in 2001 the office of Alejandro Zaero-Polo, Foreign Office Architects (FOA), participated in an exhibition in the Max Protech Gallery in New York for ideas for the redevelopment of Ground Zero. The design of FOA had the slogan ‘united we stand’ and features a bundle of towers. The iconography that was used was that of the Castell. The region Catalunia in Spain has a tradition to build human towers, that are called ‘castell’, which can be translated as ‘castle.’ It is a beautiful metaphor that suggests that together we are stronger. The teams (colles) of Castellars can reach up to 7 or 10 stories.

Foreign Office Architects - WTC Study for Max Protech Exhibition

Ironically the iconography of the human pyramid is better legible in the design a year later of the United Architects (UA) team that was among the four finalists of the World Trade Center competition. Alejandro Zaero-Polo was one of the main members of the United Architects team, in which for example also Ben van Berkel of UN Studio participated. After Daniel Libeskind had won the competition, Ben van Berkel explained that he thought they didn’t win because they had had focused more on the infrastructure instead of the memorial. As Charles Jencks suggests in his book ‘The Iconic Building’ the iconography of the design of Daniel Libeskind was the most appealing.

United Architects - Design WTC 1
United Architects - Design WTC 2

I think the video ‘Forca’ of Nelly Furtado also loosely refers to this Catalunian tradition.

Forca video by Nelly Furtado @ 

One remark: The Chinese architectural theorist Yung Ho Chang suggests that the iconic building in China originates from a monument with a single column, and has evolved from there to the tower, skyscraper. In that sense the competition entry of Adolf Loos for the Chicago Tribune Tower might be considered as a prefiguration of the iconic building.

Adolf Loos - Competition Entry Chicago Tribune Tower

If we continue that road the design for the Freedom Tower by Libeskind is just as singular as a column. Or, to develop this idea further; the Freedom Tower refers to a single standing man/woman – the Statue of Liberty. Just as I think a single column refers to a single human figure.

The metaphor of the Castell is beautiful. But the question is whether an iconography of a castell is possible or not. In the designs here presented by FOA and UA the iconography results in my opinion too much in a ‘background’, instead of a ‘icon.’ The form of the complexes are so free and multiple that the singularity of the image is lost.


Hi, first of all i wanna tell you that this blog is amazing…With respect with the human piramid the name is \”castells\”…that is a great tradition in catalunya…I think that Miralles had a project based on this icon…

Yes, thanks for your comment.

I have looked into that and the Castell-tradition is quite something different from a simple \’human pyramid.\’

Do you know what project Miralles has done with this iconography?

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