9/11, Tall Buildings and Feng Shui
The horror of the collapse of the World Trade Center Twin Towers has overshadowed and dominated our lives for 20 years. Never has there been a building structural failure with more architectural, social, and political damage then this event. To this day, there are still multiple theories of why the 1973 Towers collapsed in such a fashion killing 2,735 people.
Without getting into the weeds, the National Institute of Standards & Technology, NIST, concluded the impact of the two planes severed and damaged the support columns, dislodged all the beams, steel trusses and columns fireproof insulation and the jet fuel flowed down multiple floors then ignited like a wick. The significantly weakened floor joists began to sag, pulled inward on the perimeter columns, bowing in the perimeter supports to collapse both towers.
Another theory suggested that the mixture of the water from sprinkler systems with the melting aircraft aluminum hulls created explosions that led to the collapse. There have been over 250 international explosions reported from a combination of molten aluminum with water.
We will continue to build high-rises buildings and even immediately after the towers collapsed, architects phones were ringing asking for new structures but with new innovative approaches. Today, multi- story buildings are designed to redirect the path of gravity and intensify lateral forces. That’s a fancy way to say, “may the forces be confused”.
Today, fire sprinkler systems are located in impact resistant core and designed to withstand serious damage; evacuation of people from high floors via bigger, safer fire exit stairs, the use of elevators, typically a no-no, for evacuation, enhanced and durable emergency lighting, and impact resistance exit lobbies have become common.
High security, both during and after construction, has become paramount to address potential terrorist attack. But we know Terrorism may not come from international extremists in a jet plane but could also be homegrown fanatics with a truck parked in front of a Federal building, as was in Oklahoma.
So now, the two boxy Mid-century WT Towers have been replaced with one clunky semi-pyramid building which lacks grace and charm.
Sometimes, simple and ancient practices become relevant. For centuries Feng Shui has been practiced in architecture and interior design for considering special site arrangements and orientations in relation to the flow of energy in the design of buildings.
My university professor said, Feng Shui evolved from simple avoidance of bandits and bad spirits entering your home. I’m not sure he was right but designing homes facing south for light, heat, wind and harmony, rearranging the bedroom so your feet aren’t facing the door, avoid stairs to the second story opposite the front door to thwart of invaders, and you didn’t want to have your home facing the end of a driveway.
I thought the latter was an old wife’s tale, until my girlfriend told me someone crashed into her house when she lived at the bottom of a long driveway.
What does Feng Shui have to do with building design? Rather than incasing our buildings in heavy duty steel and concrete, we should be thinking of how to promote harmony and contentment through the design of our environment. This means optimizing our internal and external spaces. Think simple and humanly.
Even multi-story high-rises can benefit from Feng Shui. Since all buildings are connected to Earth through the forces of gravity and energy, proper positioning and flow patterns for energy can be abundantly helpful. The shapes of buildings could vary significantly to create forms both interesting and harmonious with the environment. The skin should be alive and interesting, not boring monoliths.
A recently built sharp-edged Chinese tower was heavily criticized as anti-Feng Shui design and was subsequently blamed for all the neighborhood companies that went out of business or had other melodies. The ground floor remains vacant. Tenants can be superstitious too.
Chris d Craiker AIA NCARB Likes the bandit theory behind Feng Shui.