(Fwd) The End of Tall Buildings by Kunstler and Salingaros

Gorojovsky Gorojovsky at arnet.com.ar
Mon Sep 17 17:00:54 MDT 2001

Aunque demasiado idealista y posmoderno, lo que sigue merece lectura cuidadosa.
Though much too idealistic and pomo, what follows deserves careful reading.

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Subject:        	The End of Tall Buildings by Kunstler and Salingaros

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

By James Howard Kunstler and Nikos A. Salingaros

Sep 17, 2001Our 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.

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

Tall buildings generate urban pathologies.

In a paper entitled "Theory of the Urban Web", published in the <A
HREF="http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/carfax/13574809.html">Journal of
Urban Design</A>, (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...

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
in Form 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...

Peter Blake condemned megatowers in Form Follows Fiasco on several

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...

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 that
practical realities and risks. As of September 11, 2001 we cannot afford
to be so complacent -- or so easily entranced by the totems of

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
Christopher Alexander, who in 
Pattern Language</A> (1977) 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.

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
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

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 in Streets 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...

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, 

> "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...

Charles' remarks were only one decade too early.
 <A HREF="mailto:Kunstler at aol.com">James Howard Kunstler</A> is the

author of the two books 


The Geography of Nowhere, and 
from Nowhere</A>. 
His next book, 

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.

<A HREF="mailto:salingar at sphere.math.utsa.edu">Dr. Nikos A.
Salingaros</A> 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.
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Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
gorojovsky at arnet.com.ar
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