"We're Not Going to Live in Bunkers'

But airports and office buildings face big changes

The World Trade Center carnage almost certainly will mark the end of America's decades-long infatuation with 80- and 100-story trophy buildings. Other design and construction implications are harder to sort out. Architects expect, of course, that security issues will become a higher priority in designing buildings and other facilities. But they also warn that a rush to install blast shields, eliminate windows, and truncate entrances may not only breed a false sense of security but also undermine the very institutions people seek to protect. You can expect a "hell of a debate" on that issue, predicts Stuart L. Knoop of Oudens & Knoop Architects in Chevy Chase, Md.

For one thing, architecture and engineering are not up to the challenge of neutralizing the horrific impact of a fuel-laden wide-body jet. "There's no way short of burying the structure to protect against this sort of attack," says Robert Prieto, chairman of engineering giant Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc. Until the twin crashes, the World Trade Center had been considered one of the most secure complexes in the world.

MARKETING PROBLEM. The disaster could make it much harder to market commercial or residential towers taller than 30 or 40 stories. Those now under construction will likely be completed, but there may be no further groundbreakings as potential clients reevaluate the risks of occupying them and coverage dries up following insurers' massive outlays for the Sept. 11 destruction.

Meanwhile, security and evacuation systems are sure to become a more critical part of planning. Lobbies will be enlarged to accommodate enhanced security functions, adjacent or underground parking areas will be avoided, and more attention will be paid to engineering upgrades such as fireproofing structural steel. Unless panic over these issues becomes extreme, though, designers are unlikely to cancel windows, drastically narrow entryways, and otherwise transform urban buildings into fortresses. Indeed, the evolution of more "transparent" buildings that encourage people to congregate is a key reason cities have become more livable in recent years, says A. Eugene Kohn, president of architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.

Newer techniques and materials are likely to play a larger role in building design. Architects are already moving toward greater use of shatter-resistant glass coverings, foam rather than water-based sprinkler systems, and synthetic textiles to reinforce concrete columns. The military has begun to share security ideas with civilian builders as well. Sandia National Laboratories, for example, has developed entryways that detect explosives and biochemical weapons.

When it comes to high-rises, U.S. developers may look to Asia, where building codes are often more stringent--even though it may mean sacrificing some leasable space. The 95-story Shanghai World Financial Center has a fireproofed "refuge" floor every 15 stories to buy time for evacuees in an emergency, says Kohn, whose firm designed the center. Special elevators in the core allow firefighters to haul equipment up without interfering with the exodus of evacuees.

NEW SCRUTINY. Transportation facilities, particularly airports, are certain to undergo intense scrutiny. Air terminals that were designed with downsized check-in areas as fliers gravitated to curbside check-in will be reconfigured. Major airports that have become full-fledged shopping malls will more sharply demarcate secure zones. These new security demands may prompt cash-strapped airlines to rethink the push of recent years to construct their own terminals.

Given how the World Trade Center collapse immediately took out adjacent transportation, power, and communications systems, builder Prieto expects pressure on planners to pay more attention to how new buildings will mesh with the surrounding infrastructure.

Still, engineering-driven solutions can only take us so far. "We're not going to live in bunkers," says Ben Heimsath, an Austin (Tex.) architect. "When what's superimposed is beyond what's natural for the culture, then the people factor kicks in. You install security shields--and guys prop open the back door." The challenge will be to avoid building vaults without compromising safety.

By Gerry Khermouch, with Robert McNatt, in New York

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE