The End Of Tall Buildings

We are convinced that the age of skyscrapers is at an end. It must now be considered an experimental building typology that has failed. We predict that no new megatowers will be built, and existing ones are destined to be dismantled.

Howard James KunstlerNikos A. SalingarosOur world has changed dramatically.

Watching video of the burning twin towers of the World Trade Center in the few minutes before they both collapsed, we were struck by what appeared to be the whole history of the skyscraper captured in vignette. In the blocks east and south of the World Trade Center stood the earlier skyscrapers of the 20th century, including some of the most notable prototypes of that epoch. Virtually all of these pre-1930 ultra-tall buildings thrust skyward with towers, turrets, and needles, each singular in its design, as though reaching up to some great spiritual goal as yet unattained. And there, in contrast stood the two flaming towers of the World Trade Center, with their flat roofs signifying the exhaustion of that century-long aspiration to reach into the heavens, their failure made even more emphatic in the redundancy of their banal twin-ness. Then they and everything inside them imploded into vapor and dust, including several thousand New Yorkers whose bodies will likely never be found.

Lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center before attack.

Lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center before attack. (Select the image for a larger version.) Image provided by

The United States was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001. With the recent tragedies comes a sobering reassessment of America's (and the World's) infatuation with skyscrapers. We feel very strongly that the disaster should not only be blamed on the terrorist action, but that this horrible event exposes an underlying malaise with the built environment.

We are convinced that the age of skyscrapers is at an end. It must now be considered an experimental building typology that has failed. Who will ever again feel safe and comfortable working 110 stories above the ground? Or sixty stories? Or even twenty-seven? We predict that no new megatowers will be built, and existing ones are destined to be dismantled. This will lead to a radical transformation of city centers -- which, however, would be an immensely positive step towards improving the quality of urban life. The only megatowers left standing a century hence may be in those third-world countries who so avidly imported the bric-a-brac of the industrialized world without realizing the damage they were inflicting on their cities. This essay looks at criticisms of tall buildings, while offering some practical solutions.

Tall buildings generate urban pathologies.

In a paper entitled "Theory of the Urban Web", published in the Journal of Urban Design, (Volume 3, 1998), Salingaros outlined structural principles for urban form. The processes that generate the urban web involve nodes, connections, and the principles of hierarchy. Among the theoretical results derived were multiple connectivity -- in which a city needs to have alternative connections in order to stay healthy -- and the avoidance of over concentration of nodes. When the second pathology occurs, such as in segregated use zoning, and in monofunctional megatowers, it kills the city by creating a mathematical singularity (where one or more quantities become extremely large or infinite). Many pathologies of contemporary cities are traced to ideas of early modernist planning that appeared in a totally unrealistic context in the 1920s. We quote from that paper (page 62):

"Without a sufficient density and variety of nodes, functional paths (as opposed to unused ones that are purely decorative) can never form. Here we come up against the segregation and concentration of functions that has destroyed the urban web in our times. There are simply not enough different types of nodes in any homogeneous urban region to form a web. Even where possibilities exist, the connections are usually blocked off by misguided zoning laws. Distinct types of elements, such as residential, commercial and natural, must intertwine to catalyze the connective process. Dysfunctional cities concentrate nodes of the same type, whereas functional cities concentrate coupled pairs of contrasting nodes."

Lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center shortly after the attack.

Lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center shortly after the attack. (Select the image for a larger version.) Image provided by

In all cases and to some degree, high-rise buildings deform the quality, the function, and the long-term health of urbanism in general by overloading the infrastructure and the public realm of the streets that contain them. Krier has referred to this as "urban hypertrophy," making the additional point that overloading any given urban center, tends to prevent the organic development of new healthy, mixed urban fabric anywhere beyond the center. (Leon Krier, Houses, Palaces, Cities, St. Martin?s Press, 1984.) Bear in mind, too, that some of the sturdiest and even aesthetically pleasing tall buildings of the early 20th century are only now approaching the end of their so-called "design life." What is their destiny?

The worst offender in this urban destruction is the monofunctional megatower. Paradoxically, it has become an icon of modernity and progress -- how can images dating from the 1920s be considered modern? Indoctrination at its most subversive has successfully identified the glass and steel boxes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with a phony "efficiency." Voices raised against the skyscraper include that of the architect and urbanist Constantine Doxiades, (documented by Peter Blake inForm Follows Fiasco,1974):

"My greatest crime was the construction of high-rise buildings. The most successful cities of the past were those where people and buildings were in a certain balance with nature. But high-rise buildings work against nature, or, in modern terms, against the environment. High-rise buildings work against man himself, because they isolate him from others, and this isolation is an important factor in the rising crime rate Children suffer even more because they lose their direct contacts with nature, and with other children. High-rise buildings work against society because they prevent the units of social importance -- the family ... the neighborhood, etc. -- from functioning as naturally and as normally as before. High-rise buildings work against networks of transportation, communication, and of utilities, since they lead to higher densities, to overloaded roads, to more extensive water supply systems -- and, more importantly, because they form vertical networks which create many additional problems -- crime being just one of them."

Peter Blake condemned megatowers inForm Follows Fiascoon several points. One was the disastrous wind shear that their surfaces created; the other was fires that had burned out of control in two skyscrapers in Latin America. He warned the world that (page 150):

"The first alternative to Modern Dogma should obviously be a moratorium on high-rise construction. It is outrageous that towers more than a hundred stories high are being built at a time when no honest engineer and no honest architect, anywhere on earth, can say for certain what these structures will do to the environment -- in terms of monumental congestion of services (including roads and mass-transit lines), in terms of wind currents at sidewalk level, in terms of surrounding water tables, in terms of fire hazards, in terms of various sorts of interior traumata, in terms of despoiling the neighborhoods, in terms of visually polluting the skylines of our cities, and in terms of endangering the lives of those within or without, through conceivable structural and related failures."

We just saw two of the tallest buildings in the world burn and implode so that all their construction material (and contents -- furniture plus people) was particulated and the residue compressed into the space of the underground parking garage. All of this happened on the order of minutes. Did no-one read Blake's warnings? Certainly many people did, but the persuasive force of the modernist architectural image of slick, shiny towers going all the way back to Le Corbusier's first drawings in the 1920s was more seductive than practical realities and risks.

As of September 11, 2001 we cannot afford to be so complacent -- or so easily entranced by the totems of "modernity." Every would-be terrorist who is now a child will grow up and be instructed by those surreal, riveting images of the two airplanes crashing into the World Trade Towers.

A new urban life, and alternatives to megatowers.

The New Urbanism has some (though by no means all) solutions that could reintroduce life into formerly dead urban environments. These ideas go back to several authors, including Christopher Alexander. In his book A Pattern Language (1977) Alexander proposed with his co-authors 253 'patterns' that describe how to satisfy human needs in the built environment, from the scale of a city, down to the scale of detailed construction in a room. Two of those patterns are relevant to our discussion:

  • Pattern 21: FOUR-STORY LIMIT. "There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy. Therefore, in any urban area, no matter how dense, keep the majority of buildings four stories high or less. It is possible that certain buildings should exceed this limit, but they should never be buildings for human habitation."
  • Pattern 62: HIGH PLACES. "The instinct to climb up to some high place, from which you can look down and survey your world, seems to be a fundamental human instinct. Therefore, build occasional high places as landmarks throughout the city. They can be a natural part of the topography, or towers, or part of the roofs of the highest local building -- but, in any case, they should include a physical climb."

Lower Manhattan on September 15, 2001.

Lower Manhattan on September 15, 2001. (Select the image for a larger version.) Image provided by

We agree that the first of these 'patterns' might appear utopian and irrelevant to the industrialized world. However, our purpose is to reexamine the most basic aspects of urbanism, and in particular to look at those factors that have been destroyed by the megalomania of architects and the speculative greed of builders.

A city requires high buildings, but not all of them should be high, and they should certainly be of mixed use.

It is not possible to state with any certainty exactly what the optimum height of buildings ought to be, since buildings greater than ten stories are an experimental product of industrial technology -- itself an experiment for which the results are not yet in. We do know that the center cities of Paris, London and Rome achieved excellent density and variety at under ten stories, and have continued to thrive without succumbing to the extreme hypertrophy characteristic in American urbanism.

Within the upper limits of proven traditional type, it might be prudent to confine future constructions to, perhaps, ten-story office buildings, whose four bottom stories are strictly residential. Coexisting with the first type might be five-story residential buildings with a commercial ground floor devoted to retail and restaurants. Both of these are a good compromise between traditional typologies, the ideal solutions proposed by Alexander, and the unfortunate, inhuman, alienating extant urbanisms that have been produced by modernist planning.

One of the most pressing commercial questions after the terrorist devastation of lower Manhattan is: where is the financial world going to find several million square feet of office space? The answer is right in front of our noses. Move into and renovate the numerous depressed areas just a few subway stops away. With the proper mixed zoning legislation needed to protect residents and guarantee a thriving street life, this could mark the rejuvenation of parts of the city that for years have had the same bombed-out appearance as 'ground zero' of the Twin Towers have now (except that the slums are not shown on the evening news).

President Bill Clinton has set a shining example by moving his offices into Harlem.

Should the World Trade Center be rebuilt as a symbol of the defiance of the American people, as some sentimentalists have proposed in the aftermath of their collapse? We think not. If nothing else, it would be a disservice to humanity to rebuild proven deathtraps. Obsessively returning to the models of yesterday?s tomorrow would refute mankind's past architectural achievements -- and, curiously, would be a frightening parallel to the dogmatism that led the terrorists to do their mission.

It's the fault of the architects.

Why are the above solutions, all available for decades now, not implemented to regenerate our cities? Several factors, including zoning, commercial speculation, and the tax structure created a favorable climate for erecting megatowers. That era is now over. We conclude with a broad indictment of the architectural and building professions as responsible for destroying our cities, and for putting people at risk in firetraps from which they can never be evacuated in time. From Bernard Rudofsky inStreets for People(1969):

"Unlike physicians, today's architects are not concerned with the general welfare; they are untroubled by scruples about strangling the cities and the misery that this entails. Architects never felt the urge to establish ethical precepts for the performance of their profession, as did the medical fraternity. No equivalent of the Hippocratic oath exists for them. Hippocrates' promise that 'the regiment I adopt shall be for the benefit of my patients according to my ability and judgement, and not for their hurt or for any wrong' has no counterpart in their book. Criticism within the profession -- the only conceivable way to spread a sense of responsibility among its members -- is tabooed by their own codified standards of practice. To bolster their egos, architects hold their own beauty contests, award each other prizes,decorate each other with gold medals, and make light of the damning fact that they do not amount to any moral force in this country."

Charles, the Prince of Wales, spoke out courageously against megatowers, and was consequently accused by architects and the media as being 'against progress'. The reaction was so severe that for awhile his succession to the throne was in question. It is worth recalling his remarks, which, through his choice of words, now seem eerily prophetic. In criticizing the then-unbuilt Canary Wharf tower in London, Charles said (A Vision of Britain, 1989):

"What hope for London now? Cesar Pelli's tower may become the tomb of modernistic dogma. The tragedy is that it will cast its shadow over generations of Londoners who have suffered enough from towers of architectural arrogance."

Charles' remarks were only one decade too early.

James Howard Kunstler is the author of the two books The Geography of Nowhere, and Home from Nowhere. His next book, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition will be published by Free Press (Simon and Schuster) in January. He lives in Saratoga Springs, New York State.

Dr. Nikos A. Salingaros is professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and is the author of numerous scientific articles. A collaborator of Christopher Alexander, he is recognized as one of the leading theorists of architecture and urbanism today.

French version: La fin des "bâtiments-tours"
Published in Archicool, an electronic architecture magazine based in Paris.



Four Years Later

Almost 4 years later, and ever-taller buildings continue to be announced--most recently the Fordham Spire in Chicago.

Where to begin? This article--and the thinking of folks like these two in general--is simplistic and fundamentally flawed. First of all, only one of the two targets on 9/11 (the WTC and the Pentagon) was a tall building. Secondly, people seem to forget what those buildings represent(ed) or symbolize(d). To some, at least, they were the most concrete manifestations of US economic and military imperialism respectively.

Salingaros, Kunstler, Krier, Alexander, Porphyrios, Prince Charles, et al are one-trick ponies who keep prattling on and on about the same bloody thing. Enough already.

Maybe ask why!

Maybe we should ask ourselves why terrorists are blowing themselves up! Maybe something to do with the USA's aggressive forign policies, imperialist social ideals, greed for personal and economic domination, plus the co-operation of spineless allies (like the UK and Australia), and, yes, our own religious fanaticism? Start to fix those bloody problems and build upwards all you damn well like!

The "End" of tall buildings

It is with a profound sense of humor I can read the prediction of "The End to Tall Buildings" in the spring of 2005 while working and living in downtown Manhattan. The building replacing the WTC is planned to be the tallest in the world at 1,776 ft and in a month, I will move into a new residential tower built nearby on Gold street into an apt. on the 52nd floor. Skyskrapers are what MAKE NYC into NYC instead of an Akron, OH or similar place and New Yorkers wouldn't have it any other way. In addition, several new buildings have recently been announced that will view for world's tallest across the globe. Your predictions were completely wrong as are the assumptions they were founded on.

Tall Structures

I am a licensed structural engineer. My

personal belief is that buildings are

way too high for the best economy. One

shell square, a tall building in New Orleans, has a fairly large property

with a tall skinny building. The building could have been 1/4 the height

if the footprint was enlarged as there is plenty of room to do so.

Tall buildings are inefficient and should only be resorted to if there are no other options.

The public loves tall buildings, chrome on cars, and other affectations. Look at the twin towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. There is no need for any tall building there as land is cheap. However

the buildings were put in as a huge PHALUS symbol of power and prestige. You

can bet your ass that it would be hard to rent office space out if the twin towers in New York were rebuilt. Anyone

real interested in moving into the Sears tower? Not me bro.

This article changed my mind

I used to think the towers should be rebuilt as they were until I read your article. I cannot agree more that these buildings are not built for people and in case of a fire or other catastrophe there is a pretty high chance that a lot of people will die because there are no easy escape. I work in a 23 story high building, we have a fire drill every 6 months and we, at the 20th floor, spend 5 to 10 minutes in the stairs not moving, waiting for people below to get out. It would probably be a disaster if fire struck for real. I also like the other point that you make about spreading the office space to a greater area so that more neighbourhoods can benefit. I don't think it will happen anytime soon though. Unfortunately, the development of our cities (like most everything else) is in the hand of people that put money before the greater good of the people...


I love Skyscapers! They are the pyramids of today.

The reason I LIVE in Dallas is to work and play in the shadows of that giant chess set called Downtown. I love to see them change colors in the light. I rise early in the morning to see the sunrise over skyline in all it's beauty.

How can anyone say that these wonders are failures? Compared to what? The flat prairie that was there before? The featureless blanket of suburban sprawl?

It amazes me that people even complain about the great World Trade Center Plaza. Open space in the middle of a crowded and cramped city. How could that be wrong?

The biggest disgrace is not the destruction of the Towers but the so-called Americans who take this opportunity to advance their own agenda of skyscraper hate. I don't remember anyone talking about this subject before the towers fell.

The Towers were complete, so any design argument against them is moot. They were destroyed and MUST be rebuilt to fill the gaping hole that they left.

This page is ridiculous

Why should we not push the envelope or be free to build as we please... The actions of a few should not dedicate our future.

Towers necessary in many cities

The "end of tall buildings" prophesized in this article will not occur. If anything, as the world's population continues to increase and land becomes scarcer in many countries, tall buildings will become more of a necessity. Cities such as Tokyo and Hong Kong must build upwards for the simple fact that there is insufficient room to spread outwards. The incredible amount of office space required for New York City to maintain its status as the world's premier financial center still remains. Even London is finally having to allow more towers in its CBD and Canary Wharf areas. What I think we will see, and have been seeing for several years now, is decreased demand for high-rise office space outside those few cities that remain national and international centers for financial and business concentration. In Canada, where I live, there remains a significant demand for office space in the cores of the nation's two biggest financial and head office centers, Toronto and Calgary, but little anywhere else. The other trend I see continuing is the construction of high-rise residential towers in cities all over the world. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, we have seen projects continue to move forward in Australia that will be among the tallest residential towers in the world. While banks may think twice before financing any buildings 80 or 100 stories tall (except in many Asian cities where the tremendous densities make it a necessity) I don't think the world will be paralyzed by fear at the thoguht of living or working in a 50-storey building. The sinking of the Titanic did not end the era of cruise ships; in fact we have seen a renaissance of this type of travel in recent years. The Sept. 11 attacks have not ended our reliance on airplanes, nor will they end our reliance on skyscrapers. More likely, they will result in improvements to public safety considerations in the design process.

No higher than a firefighter can climb

On Sept. 11 shortly before 9:00am, I was standing on the sidewalk near my house in Brooklyn Heights when the men from the firehouse across the street came running out to see the fire in the first WTC tower. When I asked my friend, FDNY Firefighter Vernon Cherry of Ladder Company 118, how he was going to get up there, he said "Walk." We were looking at a fire 100 stories up. He went off seconds later to do an impossible job and do not return. I suggest that buildings should not be built any higher than a firefighter can reasonably be expected to climb and still be able to do his job -- perhaps 20-25 stories maximum? The rumor has been that the firefighters got as high as about the 40th story, but that they were exhausting themselves just getting there, resting at every 10th story. Shouldn't the height of buildings have something to do with what it takes to defend them from fire? Otherwise, we are building deathtraps and asking firefighters to do things beyond human capability to make them safe for us.

The WTC will rise again!

We should show the terrorists that we will not give in. By having expanded security at airports, we have actually stopped them from ever doing something like this again! It is time to look at the bigger picture! Taking down bigger buildings is what Bin Laden had predicted! I thought that America was strong, but it turned out that they were overated! Israel has had expanded security since 1976, and there was never a hijacking ever since that day! This idea of security will not only give us an oppurtunity to build back the WTC, but also anything that is bigger! If Israel is doing this type of procces, then so should America!


Why not rebuild? How is it helping the city by not rebuilding, there are many companines that currently needs office space and my co. JPMorganChase will rent an at least one floor if the WTC is to be rebuilt. But, what bothers me the most is by not rebuilding, we are sending a signal to the Talibans that they won!! Not only, do we need to rebuild , we need to rebuild taller and better, and to get back the symbol of NY -it is the best city in the world.

Tree-hugging Article

This is the weirdest and most tree-hugging article I have ever seen. For one thing skyscrapers are a testimony to man's ingenuity and technological wit while being a peaceful means to concentrate a lot of people in one space, thus sparing a lot of environment by sheer depopulation. What the author seems to forget is that here in California we endure the tyranny of the 2-story limit on buildings and the results are more than disastrously tangible: endless sprawl and car culture that attacks the lungs and kills so many teenagers in their primes... and of course it is only the tip of the iceberg!

If you want to have that nice city limited in height look no further than LA!!! Wanna leave there?

Missinformed Diatribe

LA is a low rise city. I rest my case.

Dismantle Towers?

Thats an idiotic idea, you are actually suggesting that cities like Chicago dimantle the Sears Tower, placing half of the city's population out of work, leaving a large vacant space in the middle of the city, while completely ruining the city's tourism industry, not to mention taking up large sums of taxpayers money dimantle the tower. Like i said an idiotic idea...

Oh not to mention you would have removed the most recognizable symbol of the city which spurred Chicago's urban renewal making it the great city it is today.

The End of Tall Symbols?

I see so much emotionalism and so little calm reflection in this thread. I have always considered tall building crazy, so there's my bias. Having said that, I don't see where symbols per se are good or valuable. Symbols are valuable when we want to represent something that is too difficult to present in its whole or original state. But architects have gotten carried away with symbolism IMHO, and now, only those in the know know what a building "means" or stands for. We provide interpretative guides for those who do not know or can't figure it out for themselves.

Perhaps the most interesting symbol in the past month has been the flag itself. What does it represent? For many Arabs in America it now represents a way to say "I am an American too, don't attack me." For others it represents our country or freedom or those who were lost on September 11th.

Symbols are often open to multiple interpretations. But buildings should be first and foremost functional and good citizens of the planet. I know you have heard my definition of a healthy building -- one that has adverse effects neither on its occupants nor the environment. Big buildings don?t have to have harmful effects on their occupants, but far too many do. Why? Because what usually produces them is investment opportunity and perceived profitability. But the WTC was not conceived that way. It was conceived as a symbol, like the nearby Statue of Liberty, sort of?. But what did the WTC symbolize? For you? For me? For those who worked there? For those who walked past it daily? For those who viewed it as a part of that skyline of all urban skylines?

But it was THE skyline before the WTC, when the features were the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the UN Plaza, etc. There was a Manhattan skyline before and there is once again after. The buildings were intended to serve human purposes. What purposes we perceive they served dictates our affection or dislike for them.

My own view is that they symbolized capitalism and a flawed notion that bigger is better. Just my opinion.

Hal Levin

Building Ecology Research Group

2548 Empire Grade, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

A Glaring Error

I'm not going to comment on whether or not tall buildings are good or bad. First of all, they are just that ... buildings. Inanimate objects cannot be bad, nor can they be good .... they just are.

Secondly the entire piece can pretty much be disregarded by one glaring error. The blame of the towers coming down in the instance of the WTC, is the fault of no one other than those that planned and carried out the plot to fly two planes into those towers. Unless I and the rest of the world are mistaken, it was not a crazy group of architects that flew those planes into the buldings; it was in fact muslim terrorists. To place the blame anywhere else would be silly.

This essay seems to be a product of a society where blame is sought in every corner. Like the immoral woman who sues McDonald's for burning her with hot coffee. Could it be that it was in fact her own fault for driving with hot coffee in her hands?

It's amazing to me that people are so easily willing to ignore the truth that is smacking them in the face. If the towers came down due to negligent architectural design, or even if it is physically impossible for them to stand, then there would be grounds for this article. But the fact remains, that these towers have been standing unharmed on their own for decades. When they came down, it was in fact due directly to the actions of terrorists and not some crazy gang of architects.

The End Of Tall Buildings

Dear me - what a decidedly trivial analysis - you should be rightly embarassed about having to write frivolous articles like this... ever heard of capitalism? Or a commodity based economy? Blaming architects (or planners for that matter) for towers is about as smart as blaming a meteorologist for the weather... and the best you can do is quote Rudofsky from 40 years ago???

tower of babel or bower of eden?

I don't know if skyscrapers are good are not. Maybe they are a vain obsession of modern man and destined to fall, our version of the tower of Babel, or maybe they are an incredibly rich and diverse center of human creativity, an art form. But that's not the fundamental point, nor is it in the placing of the blame.

It is important, I feel, to recognize the response that has happened to the fall of the towers. Something has come over us - an organic and sincere desire to communicate and understand. A willingness to examine our priorities and discern what is "real" in our lives. This is valuable stuff and if we will rebuild, as we must, our sense of identity and our place in the world then that willingness and that communication will be our tools.

Forward! Celebrate this life! Catastrophes happen (and they may get worse). Human beings have an incredible and much neglected ability to appreciate and understand and communicate. That's something very real, however we choose to live our lives and build our cities. That's something that we should treasure and nurture and let no terrorist or terror ever diminish.

Everything will change. It always does. Thank God the planet is tilted or we would never have seasons. Whatever we create and have created is an expression of ourselves. Let's, in the changing, find the best part of ourselves and create something better.

If this appears philosophic and unreasonable forgive me, I'm a poet not an academic.

Ride the wave

It really was only a matter of time before the New urbanist sycophants leapt into the fray. As I recall our esteemed Mr. Kunstler also published a piece after the Columbine shootings, placing blame on suburbs and their design for the violence.

Regarding his lightly researched screed on skyscrapers, one should remind Kunstler that while the center of the afore mentioned cities, London, Rome and Paris are height limited, the same cannot be said for their peripheries, where issues beyond effete NU aesthetics take hold--one can think of the economics and development pressures that are in place in such places as La Defense. And while L. Krier has drawn some very pretty pictures of the inner city, his proposals depend on the re-emergence of an economic system based on artisanship and small porducers that in effect has not existed in Europe since the 1870s.

Non-nuclear family?

In response to Mr. Krom's comments "..., the revival that many cities, including New York, are enjoying is due mostly to a demographic shift away from the nuclear family towards families that seek the urban lifestyle."

The author of this needs to more clearly articulate what the shift from the nuclear family has to do with an urban lifestyle, because that presupposes that you can't have one without the other.

There is overwhelming evidence that the demise of the nuclear family is a strong factor which leads to blight, first in individuals, then families, then neighborhoods...both urban and otherwise.

Please define the term: non-nuclear. Otherwise, those comments make the rest of his response questionable.


The relationship pointed out in the article between the terrorist attacks and high-rise structures in not correct. The attacks were intented as a strike on USA SYMBOLS: attack on the financial, defense and political symbols (although the third attack on the White House was prevented). Once the symbol of the financial heart of the USA had been a low-rise structure that would have been the target (maybe even with an airplane packed with explosives).

The only thing these attacks show us is an enourmous problem with evacuation in high-rise buildings. Three hours to evacuate the two towers is much too long. It is true, that a lot of people will be afraid entering a high-rise structure because of poor evacuation plans. One could also argue, that the collapse of the towers was a result of a primary wrong constructional design (one core, which stabilises the entire building). A decentralised constructional concept would probably prevent collaps by a single impact, although one must not forget the fact, that if terrorist are determined to deploy these kinds of attacks, they will find other means or targets.

The discussion on vertical urban structures is absolutely not connected to the attacks but argues a real problem. The connection of high-rise structures and alienation is however not correct in this discussion. Alienation is connected to monotone and overconditioned environment, which happened to be created in a lot of skyscrapers (in the past).

There are a lot of examples of very livable and well-functioning dynamic vertical urban structures or skyscrapers (i.e. Commerzbank, Frankfurt).

One must not forget that the skyscraper is THE symbol of a free western society and technological advance. This is exactly the reason why the WTC-towers werew attacked (…). Banning the skyscaper based on the attacks would mean that besides the tragic deaths of many people one of the most prominent symbols of the free world would die.

Tom Wauben

Student Architecture; TUe, the Netherlands

The Tall, Taller, the Tallest

A discussion on whether tall is great or one goes in for an horizontal spread,
it depends on the context.
would New york be the world's commercial capital, were it not for the WTC.
thats the question to be raised.

The other is that it was human error that caused the destruction due to the intense use or overuse of technology.
For a plane to land on the tower is not a matter of utter disbelief, history has shown that the it happens. A B-2 bomber did hit the Empire Estate Building.
So the worst case scenorio was clearly visualised.
What was needed was a faster human intervention.
That's something that never happened.

So , than questioning the fact that tall is out,
Lets talk about the role of tech in the human life

Diminishing the Tragedy by Theoretical Fiat

It was only a matter of time until someone tried to take the World Trade Center tragedy and debase it for his own ends. We just didn’t expect the attempt to come so soon -- or, for that matter, to be as patently facile as "The End of Tall Buildings," by James Howard Kunstler and Nikos A. Salingaros (; Sept. 17, 2001).

First, we take tremendous issue with two writers who would seek to wring support for their side in a theoretical architectural debate from what is arguably the worst human tragedy in American history. Kunstler and Salingaros diminish the magnitude of this tragedy several times in their article for no greater end than rhetorical flourish.

The authors write:

"Obsessively returning to the models of yesterday’s tomorrow would refute mankind’s past architectural achievements – and, curiously, would be a frightening parallel to the dogmatism that led the terrorists to do their mission."

Why should these authors concern themselves with such piddling concerns as the economic pressures and benefits of re-building? Or with the geo-political message sent by dusting off and reemerging? Or with the effects to New York City’s tax base of permanently losing so much office space? There is nary an answer to any of these questions in this article. A third remarkably offensive statement by these writers can be found on page 2 when they write:

"We feel very strongly that the disaster should not only be blamed on the terrorist action, but that this horrible event exposes an underlying malaise with the built environment."

To argue that the disaster "should not only be blamed on the terrorist action" is foolishness. Of course this event should be solely blamed on the terrorist action. Any "malaise" that arises from this event has very little to do with the "built environment" per se, and much more to do with the fact that two airplanes were intentionally crashed into the "built environment", thereby producing an "un-built environment." There can be little doubt that Pentagon workers will feel the same apprehension, reluctance and fear in returning to work that anyone in Chicago’s Sears Tower, or Boston’s Prudential Center, or San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid will feel. Yet those Pentagon workers occupy a building that is as close to completely horizontal as modern architecture has produced.

The truly negative result of these acts and precisely what the terrorists had tried to accomplish was extinguishing the American spirit. How sad it would be if we admitted their victory and began planning our cities, monuments and buildings on the premise of extreme events!

History would also disagree with these authors. While the authors proclaim the decentralization of cities and the leveling of skylines as a result of this event, one must note that cities have endured tragic events for millennia, and have only grown stronger from them. Whether it was the Fire of Rome in 64 A.D., the Great London Fire of 1666 or the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; each caused technological advances and improvements, and the cities marched on. We should examine what can be learned from this tragedy and what technology and materials can be improved. We shouldn’t be in the business of dismissing modern urban form in reactionary, breathless and tendentious articles.

Lou Mandarini and Christian Schock are both professional planners for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Boston, MA. Mr. Mandarini, who also works as a freelance journalist, holds a bachelor in Politics and History from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Mr. Schock, a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and an associate member of the American Institute of Architects has worked as a professional planner for local, state and international organizations and holds a bachelor and master in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Cincinnati.

Kunstler and Salingaros

Post originally on H-Urban:

Re: Kunstler and Salingaros

Kunstler and Salingaros throw many important urbanist tidbits into a critical blender and end up with mush. Their selective use of Blake, Doxiadis and Rudofsky to "prove" their already determined thesis about proper forms of building is poor scholarship. Their comments about Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe are simplistic and suffer
from a need to blame individuals without also implicating the worlds in which they operate.

To say that tall buildings generate urban pathologies is socially and historically myopic. Urban culture has been presumed (for better or worse) to generate pathologies of one sort or another since long before the advent of the skyscaper -- have not the authors read any

19th century literature? Perhaps they confuse the social effects of tall buildings with those of mass culture or industrialization; in this, they might have some historical material to support their argument. And what kind of pathologies do they actually mean?

Critiques of monofunctional zoning and exclusive uses are certainly worth looking into. But Kunstler and Salingaros betray a lack of historical understanding here. Zoning and the logic of separating
land use emerged from many sources. Among them, the desire by commercial interests to protect their investments, the need to
protect residential areas from smoke and hazardous chemicals arising from industrial uses, the desire by middle class homeowners, builders and government to ensure some form of community cohesion (and exclusion) etc. All of these have, at best, indirect relations to the skyscraper; they carry the burden of their own social effects but they are certainly not the cause of the monofunctional skyscaper. And if mixed-use skyscrapers had been more prevalent, would the tragedy have been different?

To quote Leon Krier on the need for "organic development" is to endorse the most regressive tendencies to be found in urban or architectural theory. Krier's idea of urban life is akin to a medieval town but with better sewage, nicer shops and no beggars. And so far, this is more or less what New Urbanism has delivered:
simulations of seemingly safe and comfortable little worlds. This is
not to say that New Urbanism has not appropriately criticized
sub-division patterns, sprawl or automotively-centered development
nor does this fault the re-evaluation of the environmental, infrastructural and community affects of typical forms of urban and suburban development. But for all this to add up to a building height
limit and a pre-programming of building use, as the authors suggest, is to engage in the same social engineering of which they accuse their straw man "modernists."

If the authors use the Hippocratic oath as a means to condemn the architects role in creating the urban pathology of the skyscraper, I look forward to their indictment of doctors for their role in the increasingly infamous Health Maintenance Organization (HMO).

Moreover, a critique of the star system that has long dominated architecture is too easy -- those architects who benefit from it will take any publicity anyway. But what this critique elides is the vast
social network of architects, engineers, surveyors, planners, contractors and building inspectors, not to mention the bankers, lenders, lawyers, real estate agents, photographers, writers and
editors, who are part of the social system that has deemed the skyscraper a reasonable enterprise. Are the architects so powerful? Once again, the authors betray an immature view of architecture and its relation to society. (In the end, Kunstler and Salingaros sound like Jerry Falwell when he blamed the ACLU for the terrorist attacks, just substitute the AIA.)

Perhaps we will decide that tall buildings are no longer needed or
reasonable to build; perhaps those who participate in the social and economic system that makes skyscrapers logical will decide that the human and capital cost is too great. But the authors do not
contribute to a consideration of the issue because their reasoning is so laden with preset baggage. The authors seem to fancy themselves as latter day Vance Packards, lifting the veil that hides some essential truth that will change our lives. If only it were that easy.

David Smiley

Columbia University


A most interesting set of responses to the Kunstler/Salingaros essay. There could have been more fatalities, had the kamikazi attack happened later in the day. It can't be denied that skyscrapers are more vulnerable. The authors may have been insensitive, exploiting the situation to add terrible vulnerability to their arguments against skyscrapers, but their arguments are still valid.

One of the main goals of New Urbanism is reducing problems related to traffic congestion, the underlying problem the authors are trying to address. What is global trade, but transport of the farthest distances?

New York has a nightlife, not because it is "high density", but because it is "mixed-use", high density. Still, New York and most metropolis have an imbalance of mixed-uses because too many suburbanites, businesspeople & visitors travel to Manhattan daily, commuters without a choice. Despite excellent subways, New York cannot handle the traffic generated by the demand and at some point must admit the impossibility of handling greater loads on its transportation systems.

Mass transit systems are typically designed to serve rush hour commuters, a direct result the land-use principle of living in the suburbs and commuting to the urban core. Nevermind that suburbs have also developed workplaces, the suburbs have a worse imbalance of mixed-uses - too much housing. The only mode of travel which can efficiently connect uses in the suburb is the auto. Other modes of travel, (mass transit, walking and bicycling), are impractical and dangerous.

How then to reduce traffic problems? Build commercial development in the suburbs in select districts which can accomodate higher densities, multi-purposes and be served by efficient mass transit. Infrastructure for pedestrian safety in the suburbs is also necessary to build a complete transportation system. Office development in suburbs need never reach heights above 20 stories.

The only way I've been able to visualize this scenario is to assume that the future of travel by personal auto and transport of global trade will of necessity be more restricted than it is today. Fortunately, this restriction presents to my mind a much better future.

Let's Just Build Them Better

Thanks to Planetizen for hosting another lively discussion. I would like to add a few thoughts:

In most cases, I think that Mr. Kunstler and Mr. Stalingaros are correct in asserting that skyscrapers are unnecessary, and perhaps even undesirable. I have been to many downtowns with mammoth buildings surrounded by voids of parking and grassy berms. At traditional urban lot coverages, the same amount of space could usually be accomodated in buildings ten stories or less, just as the authors suggest.

However, I don't think the skyscraper should die, nor do I think it will. Some places are simply too important and too valuable not to build them out to the max. Manhattan, the loop in Chicago, and downtown San Francisco are good examples. People want to be there and there are many positive effects that can come from the synergy generated in these rare and special places.

Besides, skyscrapers are just plain cool! How could they not excite you?

But they have been overdone, they have been built in some silly places, and their design has veered off into a hostile course.

Skyscrapers of an earlier age were much friendlier to the urban environment. Before WWII they were almost always located on pretty small parcels, allowing urban diversity of land uses to exist. For example, the World Trade Center was located on a 16 acre complex, whereas the Empire State Building is located on a 1.9 acre parcel. It doesn't even take up its whole block! This allows for a walkable street pattern with small blocks and mixed uses, even with huge buildings.

Also, older skyscrapers usually had retail storefronts occupying most of their street frontage. This added to streetlife and made many of them "invisible" to pedestrians that didn't look upward. They didn't disrupt the streetlife nearly as much as the gigantic complexes of today, with their blank walls facing the sidewalks and vacuous open spaces all around. Didn't we learn our lesson from Cabrini-Green? The concept doesn't work for offices, either.

Finally, older skycrapers had architecture that felt a little more human that the modernist glass boxes of the post-war years. Rather than vertical or horizontal bands of glass, they actually had separate, well proportioned windows for each office, which made it feel like there were actually people inside. Something about that offers comfort. Thankfully, many new skyscrapers are returning to this simple concept.

One final note: Although I happen to disagree with Mr. Kunstler that the skyscraper should die, I enjoyed his arguement and am a huge fan of his. I have read his books, and while I don't know him personally, I think it is safe to say that he did not mean this essay to be a call for the decentralization of our population as some have suggested. Fantastically high densities can be achieved with low buildings, as is evidenced in places like North Beach in San Francisco, Greenwich Village in New York, or the North End in Boston. His books hammer in the point, very eloquently, that mass suburbanization was a mistake and that we should return to our urban roots. This was not an anti-urban arguement.

Back to the Future

It is interesting to read this opinion piece. In the 1950?s Atomic Scientists issued a call for 'Defense through Decentralization,' arguing that depopulating urban cores and building low-density suburbs would help to avoid the destruction of America in a nuclear war. Their call was heeded. When the Interstate Highway Act was passed in 1956, national defense was offered as a key rationale for signing the measure into law.

Today, the majority of the nation's population and employment is in the suburbs, carried there in large measure by the interstate expressway system. The resultant effect on the cities is still being felt. In the 1990's HUD offered $60 million in loan guarantees to Detroit to demolish abandoned housing in that city?s core. It would be a shame if the exceptional and terrible act of violence at the World Trade Center became the rationale for further urban abandonment across America.

The Tall Building Made Me Do It

The Pattern Language quote from The End of Tall Buildings just floored me: "There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy." Yeah, and riding in a horseless carriage at 25 miles per hour probably made people crazy too, but we went ahead and did in anyway.

Manhattan works because of the tension between the various buildings and spaces. The World Trade Center had it's place, but it was never great architecture. It was always a developer's building - enclosing the most space for the least amount of money. Well designed tall buildings that are integrated with the nearby space and the transportation system can create the communities people want. Bad design is a problem, not tall buildings.

The tragedy in Manhattan is still too fresh a wound. Maybe all tall buildings look like targets today, but so does the 50 foot high stadium in Salt Lake City that will hold 100,000 people when the Winter Olympics begin in February. Should we get rid of short buildings too? What about other symbols such as the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty? We need to protect our symbols not eliminate them.

Maybe there are some good reasons for getting rid of tall buildings but I don't see them here.

Pathological Architecture/Pathological Society

The points raised by the "non-professional" James Kunstler may be too obvious and human for professional eyes to see. Lord save us from professional planners who never walk around in the desolate wastelands they create. In his books Kunstler makes the reasonable argument that pathological architecture/city planning fosters social pathology. It may be that the World Trade Center provides the best proof yet: Inhuman physical environments promote empty lives. This leads to materialism, which requires empire. Insatiable empire eventually violates other nations. Other nations come blow up our inhuman architecture.

Some here criticize Kunstler/Salingaros for the timing of their comments on skyscapers. But maybe they are speaking directly to the tragedy.

Curtis Mickunas

Escape From Car-Hell

People gather around the vanished skyscrapers, accidentally nourished by the human scale of their gathering; an accidental pedestrian experience that allows for a feeling of community. Will they make the connection? I hope so. Most comments seem out of touch with how the inhuman environments that architects create make citizens feel; how these environments damage society itself. Kunstler is an American sage. I say we let Kunstler, and others like him, lead us all the way out from Car-Hell.

Density and greed

In many cities, perhaps most. the design envelope that is ultimately approved seems to be a result of a developer's desire for greater return and the political structure's desire for financial support. How many 300-foot buildings approved for low-rise historic districts come out of public planning processes versus backroom deals in the mayor's office?

Death and Highrises

I am shocked at the scorn heaped on the authors of this intelligent and coherent argument against highrise culture. Consider your own impulses. What is it about New York City that is of value. Before this tragic event, you would be hard-pressed to find an architect anywhere who admired Yamasaki's follies. Tourists may have visited the towers in a nod toward kitch, but the New York we love is more than a picturesque backdrop of spires and man-made canyons. It's the winding low-density streets of the village, the on-street life and theatres of broadway, the pedestrian impulse to walk from 83d st. on the East side down to Battery park "because the day is so beautiful."

Kunstler and Salingaros are correct in their analysis of the harm tall buildings do to street life. Their quotes from Krier and Alexander are perfectly on target. It is significant that they have chosen Prince Charles to quote, not only because he was right in many of his observations on urbanism, but because he is a "hot-button" for so many truth-fearing architects and planners among us.

No shame

At first unbelievable but, having read his works and heard him speak, the sad reality is that Kunstler's anti-tall building tirade is all-too-typical in it's poor taste.

In a world of crude discourse and terrible tragedy, Kunstler and partner couldn't even wait for the smoke to clear and dust to settle to launch his own attack on tall buildings.

Are the impacts of tall buildings worth thought and debate? Sure, but not now. This is the time to try to rein in the ego, exercise some restraint, and exhibit respect for the victims. Events such as last week's attack tend to bring out the best of Americans in response. Sadly, even with a disaster of this magnitude, Kunstler and Salingaros could not help themselves in exhibiting the "I told you so" smugness and the unfortunate worst of America.

No more towers?

I believe that much of this article is full of it. Radical people do radical things that can not be an excuse for fear of building types. Community is somewhat lost in skyscrapers, but it still can be attained if the feeling of community is projected through the design and attitudes of inhabitants. I love living in my skyscraper in Atlanta, and I know the people around me. The fact is, that many neighborhoods in the traditional sense, do not have anymore sense of community than most skysrapers. Towers can be beautiful cultural icons as well as technology exhibits. And with proper design criteria they can be kind to nature and communicate with the environment.

Kunstler's Folly

America IS skyscrapers and unique downtowns. We started them in our central cities and have even taken them out into our suburbs. They are crowning achievements to our unique shaping of what the urban form should be.

Also, one must remember that these buildings are a function of real estate, finance, and demand. The land in New York is too expensive to build 4-story buildings. THAT is absurd to even suggest it.

Skyscrapers are an expression of what we dream for our cities. True, I agree that the monolithic, single-use structures of the 50s-80s are passe'. Indeed, I feel that the towers should be constructed to allow multiple uses and a sense of true community in lower Manhattan.

Of course, true community was expressed on September 11 in that wonderful city as millions watched in horror and then set out the task to help their fellow man in what will be the greatest recovery in modern time for the greatest city on the planet.

My thoughts and prayers to those who lost loved ones in those horrible tragedies.

Blame the Servant?

The architects are at fault? Hmmmm...I wonder who would have been at fault if they had dropped a bomb instead. Oh, that's right, those in the lowest paid profession: architects. Don't blame the money hungry capitalists IN the buildings. I am not claiming anti-capitalism, of course, as architecture is inherently an entreprenueral field, just asking that you do your research on why this tradegy happened, and asking why you blame public servants over independently wealthy businessmen who make money for the sake of making money.

The failure of Academic Theory

To say the least, this author seems dated at best. As an architect and a war veteran, I recognize both the flaws in this article and its intent. Cities are not "created" by planning theories, they are created by processes, which are driven by people. The negative products of these processes are then what city planners then work to deal with. Planning strategies that create too much interference with these processes eventually create an environment that is favorable to the culture of said people thereby destroying the urban environment they aimed to aid. Hence extreme congestion in cities like New York and San Francisco lead to their mass transit system, extreme density has lead to high rises, and extreme population growth in cities like Los Angeles have lead to urban sprawl (the proposition of this author). The problem can them be quantified as "people". If these people would just stop living like they do and live more like the English, the French or the Italians, then we could build cities like London, Paris, and Rome!

As for the militants, they have resorted to extreme means to execute their goals, the destruction of their foe’s population (to include their built environment). Historically, militants would subjugate a population by “demoralizing” it or “terrorizing” their leadership into submission. This is still true in modern times only done in different terms. The attacks raped most of this of nation of their innocence and have wreaked havoc on our economy trade (our fields). This is nothing new, the U.S. and all other nations have at one time or another employed this strategy. To theorize that high rises are more susceptible to terrorist attack over other building types is quite juvenile. The attack on the Pentagon clearly pointed that out. From a military point of view, an aggressor will always target the most visible and pristine architectural icons of a society if they ever aim to defeat that people.

Academics will continue to theorize on the most beneficial aspects of "their" idea of the "healthiest" built environments but they continually fail to ground themselves to reality the of the culture that actually builds that environment they theorize about. Architecture in its most simple form is the manifestation of a culture’s norms and values. In our case, the term "World Trade Center" directly implied that this was not your "Mom and Pop" shop. The world is a very large place and if a node were to be created to even remotely begin to encompass this term, it would have to be no smaller than what was the WTC. In this age of global trade and communications, it is nearly impossible to fathom a facility that could support the level of trade that was conducted in those towers. “Trade” is one of the most important aspects of American culture. The culture of the U.S. is based in capitalism and thus it architecture will espouses the values of capitalism. We build bigger, better, faster, because it will either be bought, sold or will process the buying or selling of something. Think about the products you use at home, at work, or at school, these are all item that have come into you possession because of the American way of life (its culture). High rise buildings are the fastest way to bring the money to buyers and the sellers. The majority of trade takes place in a hand full of high rise building, because it is most efficient that way. The process here is to make money, and it powerful process indeed. The majority of the U.S. was built this way. Architects have a desire to make for a healthy balance between nature and the built environment, but they are not the juggernauts that his article makes them out to be. They are subject to the enormous power of the processes that drive their society. This is why the architecture of Rome, Moscow, New York and Bangkok are so different. Different processes drive these cities and thus their architecture manifests that. A good architect is one who can translate a client’s needs and wants into a symbol of that person or organization. We are what we wear and the U.S. is a rich and powerful country very strongly based in capitalism, not humility. Unless, academia can change the mindset of the people of this country to the breakdown the major values and norms of capitalism, "The American Dream", skyscrapers will continue to be built by those that desire their efficiency.

As for the “lack of ethics”, a physician can afford an arrogant code of ethics, for they are in a profession that leaves little to no room for negotiations between physician and patient. No one ever died because they fired their architect or postponed construction. The ancient architect Vitruvious stated that good architecture was composed of three element, Commodity, Firmness, and Delight.

End of Era of Skyscrapers

It is indeed the end of era of skyscrapers. What we need is a more humane urban environment to live in. The 21st century should be marked by new urbanity that gives citizens a new sense of purpose in building a peaceful and harmonious new world, where human values have the top priority rather than mere economics, and terrorism has no reason or place to exist. If the world had not wasted more than 50 years in following the path of weaponry or meaningless politics, and followed the path of livingry and human concerns, we would not have to see these dark days of destruction of edifices of work, and therefore of worship, in the heart of New York. No religion approves such an act of violence against innocent citizens. It is our prime duty to restore the faith in humanity through constructive, creative and co-operative act of transforming our settlements into humane habitat and evolve humanity as a united world community, free of hatred, crime, violence, terrorism and war and full of love, care, understanding, interactions and co-operation. Let us begin with a silent prayer.

Prof. Akhtar Chauhan, FIIA

Architect Planner,

Founder, International Association for Humane Habitat (IAHH),

Vice President, World Society of Ekistics (WSE),

Director, Rizvi College of Architecture,

Mumbai, 400050 India

Ivory Tower

Dismantle skyscrapers? Yeah, right.

The article makes some very nice points about what a nice world would be like. Nice quotes from people both dead and alive to lend impartiality and sincerety. I find the vision presented very Norman Rockwellesque and certainly pretty.

However, we do not live in that Norman Rockwell world. It was the belief that the United States was invulnerable to attack rather than the structure's height that lead to the unprecendented and unwarranted attack.

I don't blame the damn buildings, I blame whoever masterminded the attack. It was political, not architectural. We do not really need this type of authorship. We need practicle leadship.


To respond to Mr. Prince's comment about the WTC collapse being a coup de grace of urban decline: I think there is much hope for American cities. After all, many, many cities were rebuilt after total destruction in war or natural disaster: think Chicago, San Francisco, Berlin, Dresden, and so on --so disaster is not really the force that seals a city's fate. Of course, unprecendented societal and technological forces caused massive dispersion and migration after WWII, a period when American cities had not sustained any damage. This has been well documented. However, the revival that many cities, including New York, are enjoying is due mostly to a demographic shift away from the nuclear family towards families that seek the urban lifestyle. Immigration also provides an urban population base for some cities.

If the WTC is more has more effect than previous disasters, perhaps it will be due to its complete coverage on world television, something unprecendented in human history, and something which those responsible could not have failed to anticipate. A generation that was returning to the the urban life has been handed images of our mightiest city in agony. The images are doubly haunting because two of our greatest civilian technological achievements, skyscrapers and airplanes, were the instruments of the carnage.

But I think we will heal and go on, and the demographic shift towards non-nuclear families will continue to offer the possibility of urban revitalization. Television is terribly powerful, but probably not powerful enough to scare an entire generation into exurban exile.

I agree that megastructures cause unnatural point loads on the urban grid, but I would point out that they only showed up when technology became available to mitigate this problem to some degree (telephones, AC, elevators, subways, steel?). Paris and London didn't originally have those inventions and that accounts for their urban form as much as anything else. And they would hardly be livable today without our greatest urban invention: the sewer! Humans can adapt to most anything--and traditional cities are not without their vices. But I also agree that the trend is away from megastructures and towards people-places, and probably rightly so. The biggest towers seem to be things that we built to show that we could build them--to impress, even more than the market forces other writers describe-- sort of a space-race for the world's tallest building. That chapter of history, I fear, is rapidly drawing to a close, at least in the U.S.

I don't mean to suggest that market forces aren't responsible, just that they are only part of the picture. And architects have more influence than they realize, because I don't think modernism happened because bankers thought it was preferrable to tradition.

I think this conversation is a healthy one, and it has to start sometime. We are speculating on our collective future and reading tea leaves to find the reasons for this tragedy. In Denver, for example, the great fires of the past led to a fire-proof codes such as a permanent ban on wooden buildings in the city that was not lifted for a hundred years. It is probably only natural to talk about the future of skyscrapers and cities now.

I have not run out of things to say, only space to say them!

The Market Will Decide

First of all, I am always amused by posting like "Mike's" (listed below). He suggests that articles such as this have no place being published. That has got to be the ultimate hypocrisy. You're suggesting that everyone who disagrees with you should remain silent. That's truly anti-American.

Kunstler makes an interesting point early in his article -- would YOU locate your business in a rebuilt WTC? It's easy for us to call for rebuilding to send a signal to terrorists -- but how easy will it be for the leasing agent to fill the building? Or any high-profile tower? Businesses make smart economic decisions -- and locating your entire firm across 60 floors of a high-profile tower in the urban core may now make less sense. Ultimately, the market will decide if towers have a future -- and Kunstler makes a good argument for several possible alternatives. If government offered incentives for revitalization of underused urban spaces, this might be a reasonable alternative for many firms.

Tall Buildings

And I suppose you believe that if we were meant to fly, we would have wings.

Great things only come from striving to do great things.

Prince Charles

I wanted to add to my previous comment: If Prince Charles had to work a real day in his life, he might come to understand that most of the architecture built in the world are not products of dogma. They are the product of market reality. The architecture he admires required the labor of generations to built. Is he willing to pay for that?

tony tan

End of Tall Buildings

It is always easy to be the critic. Kunstler on occasion advances the debate about the post WWII built environment. However, this time Mr. Kunstler has used at a minimum a very poor choice of words. I quote "We feel very strongly that the disaster should not only be blamed on the terrorist action, but that this horrible event exposes an underlying malaise with the built environment." So according to Mr. Kunstler the equal blame for the loss of 5,000 lives is the malaise of the built environment? This is the wrong time and place to debate what is responsible for the loss of life so great. While I may not be a fan of skyscrapers to advance this argument at this time is at the least insensitive. The age of the skyscraper is largely dead and has been for many of the reasons provided by other scholars and now reported by Mr. Kunstler. But to combine the terrorist act and the malaise of the built environment in one sentence does not do justice to the spirit of the people that existed in the built environment of lower Manhattan.

James Howard Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler is to planning what Rod McKuen is to poetry. I am not being fair to Mr. McKuen in this comparison, to the extent that he may actually have had some formal training in his craft. Mr. Kunstler has none. There are many voices in a rich and diverse country such as ours. In our democratic melting pot with side salad, we hold and offer our opinions as a birthright. It is, however, instructive to remember that in a country where a substantial minority believe that the sun circles the earth, an informed opinion offers more value in informing public policy and avoiding the consequences of unintended consequences.

Little influence

Architects have little influence on the social and political forces causing high-rise construction. Our society will rebuild the World Trade Centers - even in the face of adversity.

What I really dread

I was amused by Mr. Kunstler's suggestion that the thousands of displaced financial services professionals from the WTC, and indeed from the other nearly extinct tall office buildings - all of which are so near to the end of their "design life" that they will crumble any minute - find new places of business intermixed into the fabric of the rest of New York City. The picture of real neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, Fort Greene, Harlem, and Chelsea overrun by homogenizing hordes of stock brokers, bond traders, and real estate managers is at once absurdly funny and seriously myopic.

How tall was Murrah Federal Building?

This Op-Ed is reactionary, simplistic and absurd. It is just the hysteria that terrorists want to create. It is not the fault of the architect or the building itself that WTC was attacked. Terrorists fear America and the power it creates, that power being democracy. In the future, please try to limit your web space to constructive Op-Ed pieces, not this run-to-the-hills flame piece.

The newest version of Job's "Comforters"

Yow. This is an interesting version of blaming the victim. Unlike Jerry Falwell's attribution of the terrorist attack to the sins of this country's population, these writers blame the destruction of a building on the building....

If height is the sin, then the writers would apparently have us rebuild the Pentagon as a subterranean structure. And there is some indication that the Pentagon was not the original target of that hijacked plane -- that it was the White House. Should that attack have succeeded, would the writers have our national capital underground?

If height represents blight, then the Cathedral of Learning at my alma mater, University of Pittsburgh, must be a terrible place. Complete with classrooms, multi-cultural rooms that draw international tourists, and a green area that attracts local residents for picnics and weddings -- what terrible urban decay is a tall building. Another interesting point made by the writers: tall buildings cause pathology. This is fascinating, because the alleged mastermind of this attack lives in caves.

The attack was launched against symbols of western power. Had there been no skyscrapers, some other target representing capitalism would have been substituted -- perhaps a sprawly mall (and is a huge mall more of a "healthy" urban form to you?)

Here is a simple point, professors and apologists for terrorists: a murderer is not a cleansing agent sent by an enraged deity to restore order to a universe. A murderer is a murderer.


Argue with Kunsler? Not me, he makes so much sense it scares me! If you have never heard this man speak or, never read any of his books you need to. The man is enlightened...


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