REPORTING FROM SEOUL -– Even at first glance, the design renderings for the soon-to-be-built pair of apartment towers here pack a wallop: They evoke New York’s World Trade Center towers in mid-explosion in the terrifying moments after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
But wait. The Dutch designers say the images have nothing to do with debris flying off two towers that have just been rammed by a pair of commercial airliners. It’s more like a dreamy cloud formation inspired by a gaze up at the sky.
Netizens aren’t buying the explanation. In recent days, an international frenzy of criticism against the project, dubbed "The Cloud," has caught fire on the Internet.
" 'AAAAAGH! YOU HAVE ERECTED A TERRIFYING MONUMENT TO THE NIGHTMARES OF 9/11!!!' was probably not the reaction that [the Seoul client] had in mind when they unveiled their plans today for an ambitious new construction project," The Gawker website noted.
Gawker went on to add that the project “calls to mind the kinds of images you don't really want to call to mind when looking at a new set of twin towers.”
The towers are part of a bigger project, called the Yongsan Dream Hub, whose designer is Daniel Libeskind -- the master plan architect for reconstruction at New York's Ground Zero.
The Dutch firm MVRDV, which created The Cloud concept, says the pair of luxury residential towers -– one at 60 floors, the other at 54 – will be connected in the middle by a 10-floor high passage its calls a “pixilated cloud” that houses "a large connecting atrium, a wellness center, conference center, fitness studio, various pools, restaurants and cafes."
Now the designers are dodging a mounting PR attack.
“A real media storm has started and we receive threatening emails and calls of angry people calling us Al Qaeda lovers or worse,” the firm wrote on its Facebook page.
On its website, the company says that it did not “see the resemblance during the design process” for the buildings.
“MVRDV regrets deeply any connotations The Cloud projects evoke regarding 9/11,” read a statement. “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.”
The firm said the South Korean press at first did not report any resemblance to 9/11 and instead “hailed the project as a great innovation.” The negative connotations came from the U.S., according to press reports.
The designers say The Cloud "was designed based on parameters such as sunlight, outside spaces, living quality for inhabitants and the city."
The firm's website also includes hundreds of mostly-negative comments about the project.
The company’s belated apology came after a Dutch newspaper last week published a front-page architectural rendition of the project and the headline: "Inspired by Twin Towers?"
One 911 victim thinks so. The NY Daily News quoted a retired New York City deputy fire chief, a father of four firefighters who lost his eldest son during the attacks, who doesn’t buy the Dutch firm’s apology.
“I think it’s a total lie and they have no respect for the people who died that day. They’re crossing a line,” he said. “It looks just like the towers imploding. I think they’re trying to sensationalize it. It’s a cheap way to get publicity.”
Meanwhile, South Korean Internet chat rooms have included little criticism of the project.
“I think it depends on how you look at it," wrote one blogger. “The designer said that he was inspired by the clouds around the building. I just find weird that some people immediately associate it with fire and smoke."
-- John M. Glionna
Images: A depiction of twin apartment buildings designed by a Dutch architectural firm for a complex in Seoul; a photo of New York's Twin Towers on 9/11. Credits: Yonhap / Reuters; Sean Adair / Reuters