COLUMN: Architecture for insurgency

Ryan deBiase

Two plumes of smoke rise miles into the sky. Below lies a smoldering debris pit of bent steel and fractured concrete. A dust cloud expands in all directions, as the fleeing multitudes gasp and choke on the reality of destruction.

Four years ago, America was assaulted with images of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The attack left a void on the Manhattan skyline and in the American ideology. The public was disgusted at the terrorists’ tactics, at their unrelenting malice toward such a symbol of this society. In its wake, the destruction of the Twin Towers lead to a competition to rebuild on the devastated site.

This competition did little to open a discussion on the nature of the attacks or on skyscrapers in general.

Skyscrapers remain the embodiment of the American ideal to be the biggest and the best, to reach unrestrained toward the heavens. In an architectural sense, the skyscraper has become the modern cathedral, a structure that will persist through the ages as a reflection of the society that constructed it. Whereas the modern house was regarded as “a machine for living,” the modern skyscraper can just as well be considered “a machine for making money.”

As such, the modern skyscraper reflects the American obsession with materialism. When terrorists targeted the predominant symbol of this society, they did not seek a religious or educational institution. They sought a symbol of wealth, finance and commercialism. The structure that fell was not one of liberty, but one of corporate dominance.

Dominance is paramount in skyscraper design. Dehumanization results with anything of such height and girth. The grandiose scale of a skyscraper removes any personal interaction with the natural environment. No person can relate to such a towering mass, whether inside or outside such a structure.

Apart from the corporate and dehumanization factors, skyscrapers consume such a large percentage of natural resources as to call their necessity into question. According to an article in the Harvard Gazette, “it has been estimated that a third of the world’s energy is consumed by buildings, a third by transportation, and a third by industry.” With the recent skyrocket in energy costs, this unbridled consumption only diminishes the need for these buildings.

This is especially apparent if said structures cause our society to become a target to those with conflicting ideals. In maliciously razing a corporate symbol, the terrorists should have opened a discussion on the image capitalist society presents to the rest of the world.

Yet the new WTC design by Berlin architect Daniel Liebskind does little to acknowledge the materialistic symbolism of the towering skyscraper. His design basically reasserts the concept of the previous structure, only with a more contemporary appearance.

What will result from this perpetuation of dehumanizing ideals? Time will only tell. But humanity can only strive to reach such great heights for so long; eventually it will tumble back down. Whether this collapse results from another group of radicals or from society’s own inability to set reasonable limits remains to be seen. The future of the American city is a hazy one, a future that may not be effectively addressed until the next devastating tragedy.

Ryan deBiase is a senior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].