Building in Defiance of Terrorism

Posted: September 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

11 years on.

Since that soul-wrenching day, we thought the new one would have filled the void by now.  While New Yorkers are getting there, the construction took a bit longer.  The memorial’s done, and a few surrounding buildings are up.  Overall, there have been strides in architecture and design in defiance of terrorism after a period where there was honest talk of capitulating to our terrorism worries and the era of the skyscraper coming to an end.   But we pushed on, and although the US is behind the ball in global skyscraper innovation, we still managed to throw a couple gems up in the past few years.

Before getting into some of the better examples of post 9/11 buildings, let’s take a few moments to parse through a few Interesting tidbits about the original Twin Towers:

  • Keeping in the New York tradition, the construction of the twin towers was a matter of huge consternation.  Logistical issues and political hand-wringing about how 110-story supertall boxes would destroy the city’s architectural synergy led to delays.  In a city renowned for the iconic gothic and art-deco jewels of the pre-WWII skyscraper race years, the city finally had to accept a new take on shape and texture over context.  Called New Formulism, it ushered in the post-modern building movement that continues globally to this day.
  • The guy who received the nod to head the design of the Towers was named Minoru Yamasaki, a New Formulist and second-generation Japanese American nisei from Seattle.    He eventually moved to NYC where he and his family were  shielded from Japanese-American internment during WWII by his architecture firm.  He designed a few things for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair (but not the Space Needle) before starting an architecture firm in Detroit.
  • In rattling 9/11 irony, Yamasaki was also afraid of heights. This led to his decision to design 18-inch wide neo-gothic windows for the two corporate architectural masterpieces in lower Manhattan.
  • A 110-story skyscraper was almost green-lit 40 years before the Twin Towers rose.
  • 60 people died during construction of the World Trade Center from groundbreaking in 1966 to completion in 1970.
  • By 1931, only 5 People died during the less than two years it took to throw up the Empire State Building.  Take this with a pinch of salt–the times were fraught with number-fudging of all types.  Despite a few amazing snaps of pre-war American determination, a building like the Empire doesn’t rise like that without a sordid back story.  Look at the world’s tallest in Dubai; it’s a futuristic behemoth built on the toil of SE Asian laborers that would make the slave-builders of the ancient Pyramids look like lazy Union scabs.
  • Time in the Big Apple marches on. (By the way, no one from there actually calls it that, probably like Chicagoans never refer to their city as the Windy City, and San Franciscans hardly ever mutter the audio-revilement from hearing Frisco) . A great photo essay in the New Yorker takes you through Radio Row, a ramshackle street steeped in history where you could find cool cold-war technology swag that was leveled so the Towers could go up.  Protests over the destruction of Radio Row shut down WTC’s ascension for three weeks.  It seems to not matter to history that a public agency such as the Port Authority worked with developer David Rockefeller and his brother Nelson–then Governor of New York and grandson of the John D. Rockefeller–would condemn and evict 16 acres of businesses for public use for what was essentially a private real estate venture.  The supertall age had begun.

On David Rockefeller’s tombstone: “Here lies The Penguin”

  • Like the park that’s being created from the soil and rocks of a decapitated hill near Ungcheon beach in my current city in Yeosu, Korea, Battery Park City was created on reclaimed land from the excavation area for the Towers.
  • You can’t write something like this without wandering into youtube videos about that day.  I still shake at those images.  God bless the dead.
  • 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef was a terrorist MILF in the Philippines.   Now he’s cracking in SuperMax lockdown, something about needing human interaction.
  • I saw the memorial lights of lower Manhattan in September of 2008, always regretted that I never saw the true Twin Towers.
  • Conspiracy theories about the Towers being felled by the Government still abound.  This link is the least bonkers that I located ably.
  • The zany Frenchman that strung a wire between the towers made the best film about the towers–an artistic nail biter that brings honorific humanity to the giants without the morbidity.

  • The team that made the shameless trailer for this movie should be ashamed, however; the blood-money frenzy-whipping shots of planes and helicopters in lower Manhattan juxtaposed by police officers with crackling 2-ways and cloak-and-dagger building blueprints portend disaster.  This is all eerily reminiscent of the attacks when all that happens is a couple of agile frogs sneak into the tower to pull some acrobat shit from 110 stories up.

You decide:

  • The World Trade Center didn’t turn a profit to the developers until 1980 and were sold to a man named Larry Silverstein in the Summer of 2001.  Before they fell a few months later, they were one of the most financially successful and solvent pieces of property on the planet.
  • The first “Human Fly” to climb the towers was a guy named George Willig, a toy maker from Queens.  He made the epic ascent without a belay or ropes, but did construct a genius innovative device called an ascendeur that locked into the building’s channels and used friction to assist him.  In an interesting Sports Illustrated article after the feat, the sportswriter Sam Moses detailed how he used the ascendeur to inch up the South Tower: “Willig would lift one foot, bending his knee, slide the ascendeur up as high as his arm could reach, put the weight back on the foot and create a solid step up; then he would repeat the maneuver with the other foot.”
  • Even though there was talk of Willig being slammed with a $250,000 fine from a city almost bankrupt at the time, Mayor Abe Beame fined him only $1.10 for the stunt–a dollar for each floor.

 (Marie Osmond shows up around 0:50 looking 1970s hot and rocking some sort of bird sweater.  She shows us Willig’s ascendeur device and despite sounding like a goose with a broken neck, I’d get it if Donnie hit it.  Well done, tutz.)


One World Trade Center, aka The Freedom Tower New York

This time around, Daniel Libeskind’s firm was selected among many designs to rebuild and give the ultimate middle finger to the terrorists.  By 2003, David Childs of architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (another finalist for the rebuilding of the site) came on to lead the redesign of the former Freedom Tower.  Childs is something of a visionary, having created the sterling transparency of New 7 World Trade Center.  It was one of the first buildings to be rebuilt after 9/11 and is also one of the safest.

Rebuilding is spelled ‘M-E-H'”

One World Trade Center’s evolution from soaring iconic phoenix–greater than it’s predecessor, inspirational to future superbuildings–has been marred in red tape symbolic of why other countries are zooming past the US into the 21st.

We just can’t get it together.  Getting a new building in was supposed to be a cathartic family trip after a horrific tragedy where Dad and Mom promised a summer road trip to Disneyworld, PSPs, and a shit ton of ice pops for everyone.

Instead we ended up with a Jugghead comic, baby carrots, and a day at the Downtown Jacksonville Walking Fair.

The New World Trade Center came about with the same degree (or more) of logistical consternation as the original WTC, especially regarding the need for capitalism (the reason for existence) to meet the sensitivities of a deeply hallowed site.  Neo-modernism and a lot of trimming, redrafting, and renaming resulted in the design and near completion of what has already been reported to be the tallest building in the United States, the former Freedom Tower and the also-ran monoliths that make up the entire complex of buildings, including the actually very touching memorial.

And its height is not as advertised. The roof of the old 1World Trade Center, also known as the North Tower (the one that had the antenna spire) was slightly taller than the South Tower, and also the exact same height as the roof of the new One World Trade Center, at 1,368 feet.  Its roof is also still lower than the 1,451 foot roof of the Sears Tower (it’ll never be the Willis Tower to me).  Still, even though the tip of the new WTC’s antenna spire will soar to a symbolic 1,776 feet–somewhat arbitrarily counting towards its height–I still feel like it’s a replacement puppy.

Trump International Hotel and Tower, Chicago

Hate giving this guy any due.  Still, in deference to the 9/11 attacks, developer and world-class rotten cocksucker Donald Trump scaled back his plans to make it the world’s tallest building, settling on it’s current humble height of 1,170 feet.

Even though it’s a tad bigger, from this picture, it still looks smaller than the old school formulist chunk sheathed in marble, the Aon Center.  This building came along about the same time at the original WTC and it’s another example of how dudes competing for world’s tallest building can play the height numbers in their favor (re: “avoiding phallic  inadequacy” or, “What Trump builds when people discover his hair is as real as a 3 sided coin”).

Let’s see a birth certificate for that rug, pal.

Comcast Building, Philadelphia

Kind of a nostalgia call for me.  Back when I was the white guy teaching Spanish to black kids in West Philly (Ayo…Senor Lilly, what kinda Mexican you claimin’ to be, son?)  I drove to school along City Ave off of I-76 in the mornings, always looking left at the Philly skyline as the elevator shafts, and the steel and glass rose on the new monster.

Philly is an immense city, the second biggest on the East Coast.  I loved the buildings there, ever rooting for more to compete with it’s bigger and better cousin about 90 minutes up the turnpike.  Still, the Philly/South Jersey accent is abhorrent, a mashup of New York and Jersey and the countryside and maybe even the UK ?  New Yorkers routinely shit on Philly’s skyline, sports teams, and people.

Maybe not altogether uncalled for:

Local Philly Union grunt with tribal tats on tree stump-wide calves: “Yee-ah, uh, yo git me a hayogie, a soh-ooda, som fuckin’ tasty cakes an’ som wooder before I beat the hell outta youze guys, aright!?  What’s that?  E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!  Wooo!!! Fuggun’ Andy Reid’s the worst, bro!”

 Mayor Michael Nutter: “Right?!  Dat whale needsta lee’ town!”

Grandmother with forearm tats: “I wunn-ed Cheez Whiz on dat hayogie!”

But until the 1980s, there was a “Gentleman’s Agreement” that no building would surpass William Penn’s statue standing atop the 548-foot city hall.  Although it’s one of the world’s largest municipal buildings (over 700 rooms and the world’s tallest statue on top of a building), it’s dwarfed by the nearly 1,000 foot Comcast skyscraper.  Unfortunately for this building, it resulted in looking like something else–a problem with many skyscrapers from Shanghai to Atlanta.

This one looks like a USB stick.

How many Gigs that thing hold?

8 Spruce Street, New York

A great example of mixed-use Frank Gehry architecture with the predictable shitload of amenities like movie theaters, fitness centers, and corporate space for a designer mostly renowned for the Guggenheim in Spain.  Up close its façade displays a flapping ribbon look or maybe that of crumpled paper.  As Manhattan’s greatest and biggest residential tower, Russian doll columns build toward the stratosphere near city hall off of the Brooklyn Bridge, giving those of the 718 and 347 area code another reason to look west from their fixed-speed bicycles.

Cowboy Stadium, Dallas

Jerry Jones went HAM on this the first billion-dollar stadium in the world.  I know.  Not a tower.  But if it’s not an achievement in big-dickery then Mitt Romney is the goddamn coke-sniffing life of the party.

Largest domed stadium in the world.

3 Million square feet.

Cheerleader sideboob on the world’s biggest JumboTron.

When they told him, “Not gon’ happ’n, Jer,” he said, “Hwell shee-yit, I’mownthink it is gon’ happ’n or I’m not an O-I-L oalman and riverboat gambler!”

Now Tony Romo can see his tears and interceptions even easier than the defense can.

The biggest stadium in the NFL for the team with the most financial clout seats as many as 100,000 rednecks and fairweather fans.  I’m not a Cowboys fan or crusty old natural-gas drilling tycoon masquerading-as-coach fan but he dreamt big.  The terrorists did NOT win on this one.  Except the fact that Cowboy fans may get their own version of tainted tap water and Erin Brockovich-boots since they’ve decided to begin fracking for hydrocarbons and natural gas pretty much next to the new stadium.

Still, sick digs, cowpoke.

But for somebody to erect such a histrionic stadium, you think he could have spent a little more time choosing the right cosmetic surgeon…

“Here lies Two Face.”

  1. Amy says:

    Wouldn’t this be the least bonkers theory on how all 3 towers fell.

    PBS – Colorado broadcasts 9/11: Explosive Evidence – Experts Speak Out (2012 documentary)


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