20 Years After 9/11: The 'Age of Skyscrapers' Is Nowhere Near Over

Despite predictions that the events of September 11, 2001 would be the end of skyscrapers, U.S. cities are building more tall buildings than ever.

September 12, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


One World Trade Center

Steve Heap / Shutterstock

In the days following 9/11, "[a] Chicago developer told Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin that American cities shouldn’t allow new skyscrapers that could 'be viewed as a magnet for future terrorism,'" and Americans wondered whether they would ever feel safe in tall towers again. Yet since 2001, "a dozen towers have gone up in Chicago that top 700 feet," writes John King, and other cities are seeing similar rates of construction.

According to Carol Willis, director and curator of the Skyscraper Museum in New York, "there are strong forces that cause towers to grow when there are good economic conditions. They’re weeds." As the rebuilt towers went up in place of the fallen World Trade Center, "[p]eople were reminded that tall buildings can express the spirit and potential of large cities." Today, the area surrounding Ground Zero "is ringed with towers that include the 1,776-foot One World Trade Center, the nation’s tallest building."

"In terms of a city’s daily life, the best towers are the ones that give something to the public. They’re approachable, with shops and cafes and nooks that are open to people who never enter the high-rise lobby." In San Francisco, says King, "when you walk along Folsom Street, or cut through landscaped mid-block plazas that didn’t exist before, the skyline show is secondary to the pedestrian environment slowly starting to emerge." According to Brian Lee, a consulting partner at Skidmore Owings & Merrill in Chicago, "[b]uildings should be meaningful for your time. If it’s just arbitrary shaping, that’s super-disappointing."

Wednesday, September 8, 2021 in San Francisco Chronicle

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