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  • Writer's pictureCRAIKER

Remembering Napa’s 9/11 Memorial Importance

Chris d Craiker AIA

There is no question that the 9/11 tragedy has changed America forever. Our entire process of construction and security has evolved significantly in 22 years since that fateful date. This September 11 will be the 10 th  anniversary commemoration of two memorials built and dedicated to that event: one in Manhattan and the other in Napa. Both memorials are tributes to the nearly 3000 people killed in the World Trade Center, WTC, as well as Shanksville PA and the Pentagon outside Washington DC.

The 9/11 Memorial in Downtown Napa was officially dedicated the same day as the Manhattan Memorial and features four 24 foot tall rusty steel beams as well as multiple smaller beams recovered from the wreckage of the world trade center.  The centerpiece includes four panels of glass up to 14 feet tall displaying all the victims’ names and the story of 9/11. Napa’s Resident Artist Gordon Huether was the visionary and designer of the Memorial as well as the panels. I was honored to be asked to make the scale model for fundraising, since I built architectural models in LA for 10 years.

The project was quite a feat. In 2009 Napa City Fire Department was given the opportunity to receive “some pieces” of the WTC steel recovered from the site. Little did they know the offer included 30 tons of massive steel beams. After four years of raising close to $1 million and assembling the team to harness and erect the structures, it was solemnly dedicated. Every year since then a commemoration is held on site in remembrance of those that have died and how our world has changed.

We also learned from 9/11 that buildings do not last forever, a general misconception of that day. No building can be designed to resist an airplane used as a missile of death or Climate Change that places every person and building in Harm’s Way.  The collapse of the WTC buildings has given us insight for more disaster emergency events that even our most common buildings and homes must consider.

The general assumption was that blast containment was the most critical issue for future construction. Codes then pushed new buildings towards heavier fire-resistant exterior protection against any form of human or nature-inflicted mayhem.  Since then, the Codes now focus on speedy and safe evacuations out of any building during any crisis. Structurally the most significant failure of the WTC towers was Progressive Floor Collapse, PFC, or “pancaking” as the major danger of Mid-Century buildings 50 to 70 years old.  Commercial buildings and even two- or three-story wood residents of that era should have their support systems reviewed by a structural engineer because even a sudden jolt could wreak havoc.  The San Francisco Loma Prieta earthquake showed us how vulnerable multi-story complexes can be.

Every home and apartment should include extra precautions to ensure continuing essential services such as electricity and water. There should be emergency service access, utility protection and a secure means of exiting.  Even one-story homes deserve maintenance of safe exiting and path of travel. Utility access to buildings is often taken for granted and protection is often minimal. Stairways and hallways in all structures, apartments and single-family homes should be secure, well lit, preferably with battery back-up.

The design and location of buildings should minimize any vehicle ramming any portion of a structure, purposefully or accidentally. Safe havens should be considered in the design of a residence. Perhaps “a safe room” should be considered, but not as a concrete basement bunker, but an intimate part of the house to survive an earthquake or other catastrophic event.

Non-structural elements should be secured. This is a simple requirement in the building code but often ignored by building and homeowners. In even a light earthquake, a falling bookcase can mean death. Mechanical systems, including fire-suppression systems, should be checked on a regular basis.

Perhaps the best protection against potential catastrophes is continuing education, vigilance and observation. Providing clear diagrams for exiting and how to respond in emergencies should be in every home and building.  Even young children can understand how to get out of the building in any disaster.

The takeaway is there’s no way to tell how safe is safe. While an architectural design may compromise visions, aspirations and economics, when it comes to human safety, we must always take the highroad.

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB, please join us Monday September 11 th , 11:00 at the memorial for the commemoration led by City Council Member Srg. Bernie Narvaez.

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