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Local architects express shock over attacks

Daily Journal of Commerce

September 14th 2001

The World Trade Center in New York not only provided a symbol of economic strength and wealth for the United States, it also served as an architectural icon.

When the twin towers collapsed Tuesday after two hijacked commercial airliners crashed into the buildings in a terrorist attack, architects in Portland shared the horror, shock and disbelief with everyone across the nation.

Tuesday's attacks also involved a hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and another hijacked aircraft that plummeted into a rural area in southwestern Pennsylvania.

For Jeff Myhre, principal at Myhre Group Architects, the tragedy hit especially close to home. He group up in New Jersey, just 11 miles from the World Trade Center, and woke up every morning looking at the two buildings stretching to the sky.

"It's just unbelievable, I'm in complete and utter shock. It's unbelievable to me," said Myhre. "Not seeing those buildings on the Manhattan skyline the next I'm home will be very eerie."

Myhre and his sister, who also lives in Portland, had many friends who worked in the towers and the surrounding financial district. With phone lines not working properly, some of those friends were still unaccounted for as of Wednesday.

"One friend of ours, who worked on the ninth floor of the north tower, got out with people all around her jumping off the building," said Myhre. "She was told to run down the street, in her high heels, with the world falling apart around her. I doubt she'll ever be the same."

Steve Lee, principal at LRS Architects, Inc., contemplated his own resolve following the attacks.

"The first question I would ask myself is Would I want to be on the 50th floor of an office building right now?' and Would I like to design that for a client?' and I start to have reservations about that," said Lee. "I'm just kind of shocked by it all. I can't believe even some fanaticals would go to this extreme and some of the things people had to do to stay alive for just a few more minutes" he trailed off.

When the architectural wonders succumbed, allegedly as a result of the heat created by the jet-fuel fires, the crumbling buildings trapped thousands of people, including rescue workers below.

"I was really staggered by the collapsing of the buildings," said Kent Duffy of the American Institute of Architects Portland chapter and associate principal at SRG Partnership. "I really just didn't believe the first one had collapsed, I didn't believe it. I thought they were exaggerating. Then, when the second collapsed, I was stunned to see that just air was there where the building had been."

Implications from Tuesday's disaster reach into all corners of life in the United States and around the world, including thoughts on how the design of tall buildings will change in the future.

Joachim C. Grube, principal at Yost Grube Hall Architecture, believes there may be more aspects taken into consideration as a result of the events.

Right now, it's hard to say exactly what those points may be.

"It wouldn't have been any design feature that could have avoided the impact from an airplane into the side of the building," said Grube. "The buildings were designed for vertical loads or for wind loads up to hurricane speeds, but not for spot impact."

Grube also thinks evacuation procedures will likely be evaluated as a result of the tragedy. He added that his firm has received messages of support from Kazakhstan and other countries overseas where they are doing business.

Lee agrees that evacuations will be one detail that will be analyzed.

"After reading some of the reactions of some of the people having to go down the fire escapes and what happens there when a building gets hit in the middle of a structure," said Lee, "it makes you start to be very concerned about some of the unknowns you don't realize could exist out there."

Myhre, who was stranded in Reno on Tuesday after his flight was cancelled, believes the towers should be rebuilt and has contemplated the design possibilities if that were to happen.

"As I was driving through the desert [Tuesday], I thought about what I would say if I were in a design charrette," recalled Myhre. "And I thought I would say we should rebuild [the towers] bigger, stronger, taller and more technologically advanced in pure defiance and really try to emphasize our strength as a nation and also the technological capabilities of engineers and architects."

The twin towers were tube structures, explained Myhre, which are very structurally sound buildings. Many other national landmark buildings across the country are also tube structures, he added.

Myhre does not believe the events will introduce much change into the architecture industry.

"There will be no direct effect on the architecture and engineering profession," he said. "We did our best."

Duffy believes the collapse of the building may be a focus for architects.

"I'm not sure what could have been done to avoid that kind of collapse, but I think it will be on people's minds from now on," said Duffy. "I can't imagine redesigning every building to withstand the impact of a jet airplane full of fuel, but I can imagine trying to give buildings an inherent resistance to such a catastrophic collapse."

Duffy also commented on the towers as icons, daringly designed to be so tall and withstand the forces of nature.

"These buildings were more than a symbol for architecture, but a symbol for the strength of commerce and the business of community around the world," he said. "Primarily, their stature was being at the edge of what's possible."