He was condemned in the 1970s for ruining Manhattan's skyline. Now, destruction of his towers has ruined it againby Rowan Moore / November 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
The twin towers of the World Trade Centre, designed and built from 1962 to 1973, were engineered to withstand the impact of a Boeing 707. Their foundations descended 70 feet below ground to the point where they hit rock. Round the perimeter of each tower, 84 18-inch steel columns clad in unrusting aluminium acted in concert to form something called vierendeel truss. This made each tower a rigid wand, which would move no more than eight inches in ten seconds in a 100-mile per hour wind. For a 110-storey building this is no movement at all. Their architect’s proud boast was that the pressure-equalised walls admitted not a single drop of water. As everyone knows, the towers proved unequal to the larger airliners of the 21st century.
The palaces and temples of Kyoto are made of timber, paper, straw and lacquer. Their roofs are in cypress bark and they are set among intricate gardens, whose ferns and flowers must be perpetually tended and whose gravel patterns must be regularly raked. The wind blows through their open-sided rooms. Many are 17th century, some have traces from the 8th century and, despite the onslaught launched on Japan by the US in the second world war, they are still there. An American air force general, who had once visited the city, declared that Kyoto was too beautiful to be bombed.
The ex-architectural student and hijacker Mohammed Atta (who had gained top marks for his dissertation on town planning in Aleppo), had a shrewd sense of the symbolic charge of the buildings he and his associates destroyed. We do not know what other buildings were on the target list, but the ones they hit-the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon-represented the reasons why America is hated in some places. With their geometric rigidity, their silvery imperviousness, their immense size, their logo-like shapes, the prodigious twinning of the towers like a double order of fries, they signalled: we are rich, we are strong and we will not let you share our wealth and strength. Your role is to stand and gawp. The Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Capitol, which represent reasons for loving America, were left unscathed.
Set alongside the survival of Kyoto, the fate of the twin towers raises the question of what makes buildings and cities strong. The comparison suggests that the emotional power of a building, its ability…