The Architecture Of Impregnability
At a time when it seems impossible to escape Hollywood's nauseating 9/11 narcissism - Oliver Stone's film is out this weekend here in England, just after we've got over United 93 - I wanted to write a few thoughts about the relationship of an architect to terrorism.
The towers were designed by Minoru Yamasaki, an American architect born to Japanese parents in Seattle in 1912. His parents were poor, and could not afford to send him to university. Who knows if this is why he seemed to become so impressed by wealth and influence. He came to specialise in buildings symbolising total, impregnable power, and he liked to work with the people in charge of the world.
These buildings proved to be mouth-watering targets for terrorists.
-- There was the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, which injured over a thousand people. A bomb in the basement.
-- In the early 1960s, Yamasaki designed an airport for Dhahran in Saudi Arabia. Dhahran was a secure city that housed the corporate compound of Saudi Aramco, the controllers of Saudi oil, and Yamasaki’s airport became an important Saudi and American military airbase. It played host, in 1996, to a massive truck bomb attack that killed nineteen American airmen.
-- Yamasaki built the tallest building in Madrid, the Torre Pablo Picasso (shown above). This building is still standing only because police intercepted in 1999 the enormous cache of explosives that ETA had intended for it.
-- And then, two years later, his towers fell in New York.
It is common knowledge that the desire to build the tallest building arises from a self-confidence that has parted ways with reality and become transformed into a mania for immortality. Such mania often destroys itself in less time than it takes to complete a tall building. This is why the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, conceived during the exuberant 1920s, were completed only amid the devastation of the Depression; and why the confident world that envisioned the World Trade Center and the Sears Tower was swept away in another crash before they opened. The triumphal Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur were completed amid the desolation of an Asian financial crisis.
As we know from the deep feelings and furious debate surrounding the fate of the site vacated by the World Trade Center, architecture is always political, even before terrorists decide to strike it. I suppose the question is: what kind of politics is embedded in our international style of soaring glass and steel?