The World Trade Center tragedy should make one fact very clear to architects, builders, and those who pay for them: building very tall buildings is stupid.
Yes, they may be magnificint phallic symbols of success, amazing erections exhibiting rising prosperity, but they are also one more example of the many ways we human beings tempt fate.
We build houses and cities on flood plains, on the edges of cliffs, or on the sides of mountains. We even build high-rise buildings near earthquake faults, and live in mobile homes in tornado country. We insist on defying both the power of nature and the fallibility of human beings. As a result, people die, are injured, or lose their homes needlessly.
No one could have anticipated the nature of the September 11 attack, but the World Trade Center was both an obvious and easy target. The perpetrators of that crime will be despised for the rest of history, and I hope that their kind can be eliminated from a civilized world.
Still, very tall buildings are vulnerable to natural disasters and accidental human blunders, design flaws, and even fires.
Very tall buildings serve only as expressions of ego. The excessive cost and increased risk are out of place in a world in which many live in poverty, and in a society that values the individual lives of its people.
Excessive height is not the only building blunder, of course. Natural and accidental destruction can cost liives anywhere in buildings of any size. History tells us exactly what kinds of natural forces each area is likely to encounter. Science can determine how and where to build to avoid damage. We have no excuse for failing to use our knowledge to protect people's lives. Housing developments and commercial building projects make millions for those who undertake them, yet the building codes they must follow seldom address the risks of tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, earthquakes, or landslides.
Legislators often seem eager to pass laws against individuals endangering themselves. The invasive laws about seat belts, helmets, and tobacco are examples. But when it comes to corporations and real estate developers endangering others, laws are much more lenient, though the hazards are more real and affect many times the number of people. When special interests with money are involved, they are treated differently. This needs to change.
People need to become much more aware whether their home or workplace is built safely to withstand known adverse conditions. This knowledge alone should empower us to demand changes when they are needed.
Some progress is being made in revising building codes, especially in hurricane-prone Florida and earthquake-shaky California. Yet Florida may still be a SITTING DUCK for the next hurricane. Special interests have attempted to WATER DOWN THE CODES.
Much information is available on stronger construction methods and materials:
EXPERIMENTS TO PREVENT DAMAGE
DESIGNING A STRONGER HOUSE
HURRICANE RESISTANT PRODUCTS
BETTER CODES AND METHODS
BUILDING FOR EARTHQUAKES
EARTHQUAKE LIABILITY CONCERNS
Although some attention has been paid to tornado resistance in areas where they occur often, it is probably not enough. Merely because tornado damages are less spectacular does not mean the lives of their potential victims are unimportant. Tornadoes occur over a much wider area than earthquakes and hurricanes.