How The Mighty Are Fallen- The Twins

HOW THE MIGHTY ARE FALLEN

           

The void created in the collective emotion by the absence of the Twin Towers grants us an opportunity to reflect on the sometimes-forgotten affinity between architecture and human space.

            A few words in-memorium.

The World Trade Center complex consisted of seven buildings dominated by the two 110-floor towers stretching 1350 feet above lower Manhattan. Fans regarded them as the 'monumental gates of New York'. Critics  would have preferred that the so-called 'banal boxes' had not been erected at all. Yet, all becomes meaningless in light of the fate of the symbol of the American dream: Destroyed in the blink of an eye.

            Those whose thoughts turned to the architect whose creation collapsed before the worlds eyes would have learned that Minoru Yamasakis death in 1986 spared him the horrifying sight. An anonymous web site quotes his words from an earlier celebration: 'There are a few very influential architects who sincerely believe that all buildings must be strong. The word strong in this context seems to connote powerful - that is, each building should be a monument to the virility of our society.'

            The quote continues, 'These architects look with derision upon attempts to build a friendly, more gentle kind of building...world trade is a living symbol of mans dedication to peace...the center should, because of its importance, become a representation of mans belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through cooperation, his ability to find greatness.'

            Yamasaki was chosen to design the project in 1963, from among a dozen American architects. The programme was clearly defined: 'Ten million square feet of building on a budget of half a billion dollars'. After examining over a hundred options, Yamasaki settled on a plan to build two towers in collaboration with architectural firm Roth Emery and Sons, expert designers of skyscrapers. The first stage of construction was completed in 1970 and the World Trade Center was officially inaugurated in 1973, with construction being completed over the following four years.

            The minimalist form and lancet arches which decorated the pediment of the towers put them in the not-so-flattering category of Pseudo-Gothic. Yamasaki set out to design a modernist structure based on the most advanced technology. He was extremely proud of his use of innovative construction methods, yet ironically enough, it was contemporary technology that was a point of weakness which resulted in the towers collapse. Built around a sophisticated steel skeleton, the towers were composed of a central shaft created to bear the load with peripheral steel columns for lengthwise bracing. On September 11, the extreme temperatures caused by the explosion rapidly spread to the buildings foundations, negating the shafts ability to resist the pressure. As a result, the towers fell rapidly inwards, and not, for instance, sideways. It should be noted that in the terrorist attack of February 1993 when a powerful explosion rocked the underground parking lot, it was the peripheral columns which stabilized the tower and prevented its collapse.

            Other buildings destroyed in the World Trade Center complex: Building Number Seven (completed in 1987), the tax center, the Marriott Hotel, two Plaza buildings, the open plaza of the complex and the underground train station, which was an integral part of the project.                               Possibly, a concrete shaft would have prevented the devastation that the steel skeleton could not withstand. However, the collapse of the legendary Twin Towers has destroyed not only a cluster of significant buildings, but also our blind faith in technology to solve any architectural challenges.

            As the Jewish proverb goes, 'A hundred wise men cannot rebuild what one fool can destroy'.

 





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