Skip to main content /US /US

Architects don't foresee skyscraper's demise

Skyscrapers have come to exemplify the American city -- and experts say they'll continue to be built, despite the September 11 attack on New York's World Trade Center.  

By Thurston Hatcher

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- They have been the symbol of wealth, power, know-how, even audacity, and the World Trade Center towers were their embodiment.

But while skyscrapers may be a painful reminder to some of the September 11 destruction, it's unlikely they'll stop sprouting on the urban landscape in the wake of the attacks, architectural experts say.

"I haven't heard a developer or an architect that is saying, 'Well, these things are no longer valid or can't be done anymore,'" said Scott Johnson, an architect with Johnson Fain Partners in Los Angeles, California.

New York architect Wendy Evans Joseph, chairwoman of the American Institute of Architects' National Committee on Design, said the desire to build ever-larger, permanent structures has been inherent throughout history.

"I have a hard time believing that will be over," she said.

Time for reflection

Still, the events have prompted reflection among designers in recent weeks.

"Everyone in very broad ways is going through a lot of soul-searching," Johnson said. "I think people involved in design or development of skyscrapers are not exempt."

Attack on America
 CNN NewsPass Video 
Agencies reportedly got hijack tips in 1998
Intelligence intercept led to Buffalo suspects
Report cites warnings before 9/11
Timeline: Who Knew What and When?
Interactive: Terror Investigation
Terror Warnings System
Most wanted terrorists
What looks suspicious?
In-Depth: America Remembers
In-Depth: Terror on Tape
In-Depth: How prepared is your city?
On the Scene: Barbara Starr: Al Qaeda hunt expands?
On the Scene: Peter Bergen: Getting al Qaeda to talk

Johnson said the disaster will most likely focus more attention on the design of exits and passageways for safe and efficient evacuations. One possible option involves a so-called "refuge floor" at higher levels with extra structural or fire resistance.

"What people are concerned about is the fragility of the skyscraper in an insecure environment, because of the enormous scale of the building and potential for calamity," Evans Joseph said.

Adrian Smith, an architect with Chicago's Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, suggested there may be some concern about building extraordinarily tall structures.

"I think there is a reason to hesitate," said Smith, designer of the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai, China, the world's third-tallest building, and a design partner for a proposed new Donald Trump-developed high-rise in Chicago.

"I think that the terrorist activities of the 11th have put images in everyone's mind regarding tall buildings and their safety, and their presence in the city as targets."

But that concern should abate with time, he said.

"I think if the government and the airline industry are successful in securing the plane against future attacks like that, and it's demonstrated to some degree and it's kind of validated, the issue of height as a relationship to terror will probably go away," he said.

Robert Ivy, editor in chief of Architectural Digest magazine, says it's important to draw a distinction between skyscrapers and mega-skyscrapers rising higher than 50 stories.

"I think in the future, for the near future, let's say, we need skyscrapers. We need more normal-height skyscrapers that I think can continue to be constructed without fear," he said. "They are part and parcel of the American psyche. We invented them."

History of success

Bernard Tschumi, dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University in New York, says there's a good reason why skyscrapers are so abundant, and that Trade Center-related concerns about them are likely to be short-term.

"They have proved extremely successful -- otherwise you wouldn't have so many of them -- both in functional terms, in economic terms, in symbolic terms," Tschumi said.

Experts suggest there's little reason to start drawing conclusions about high-rises based on the attacks, noting that the other target, the Pentagon, isn't a tall building.

"It is just such an unusual evil assault. It wasn't an accident," said Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, dean of the University of Miami School of Architecture.

"It's just completely unthinkable. In light of that, you can imagine that one is vulnerable in any kind of condition," she said.

Tschumi suggests the World Trade Center attack amounted to an attack on the city as a concept, the skyscraper being an obvious element of that.

"Suddenly to retreat because of a major act of war is as if the Japanese had said we will never rebuild Hiroshima or the British had said we will not rebuild the city of London," he said. "That doesn't seem right."


• Debate begins on rebuilding towers
September 17, 2001
• What will replace the World Trade Center?
September 19, 2001
• Attack could alter future skylines
September 21, 2001



Back to the top