How 9/11 changed architecture and urban design forever

Safety has been an integral a part of metropolitan areas for millennia. From the traditional partitions that surrounded Marrakesh and Munich to the boundaries erected throughout “the Troubles” in Northern Eire, the specter of urban violence has at all times been a actuality for cities giant and small. From a design perspective, although, the dangers to metropolis dwellers exterior of wartime had been hardly price contemplating.

“At any time when anyone considered safety, it was an afterthought in design,” says Jon Coaffee, a professor of urban geography on the College of Warwick who focuses on terrorism and urban resilience. Although violence and unrest have lengthy been recognized to happen in urban areas, the relative rarity of those occasions wasn’t sufficient to actually affect the way in which buildings and areas had been designed.

The terrorist assaults on September 11, 2001, changed all that.

Nearly instantly, the design of buildings and urban areas started to replicate the brand new tensions and safety considerations of a world during which anyplace could possibly be a goal. Fences, concrete boundaries, safety cameras, and armed guards turned an unsettlingly frequent sight, particularly in dense urban areas.


“First, you noticed short-term safety shortly go up [in Washington, D.C.],” says Diane Sullivan, director of the urban design and plan evaluate division on the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the federal authorities’s central planning company for the D.C. area. Concrete visitors dividers, or Jersey boundaries, had been lined up in entrance of buildings and round public areas to create buffer zones and direct the movement of vehicles and individuals. “Sadly, there are nonetheless some examples of that round Washington, D.C.,” Sullivan says.

Through the years, a lot of the advert hoc safety parts have been higher built-in into the design and planning course of within the capital. “I feel we acknowledge that everlasting safety is the truth, and we’ve seen a number of tasks remodel what was short-term—the Jersey boundaries, the planters which have gone up—into some actually good designs in safety within the public realm,” Sullivan says.

The ATF headquarters [Photo: Flickr user David]

These safety considerations additionally translated into the design of some federal buildings, each in D.C. and overseas. The headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), designed by Safdie Architects, has a crescent-shaped arcade on the perimeter of the constructing web site that serves as a safety barrier, forming an architectural blockade towards a vehicular assault. Designers confer with one of these factor as clear safety—technically a part of the constructing however constructed particularly to guard individuals and stop injury.

Kenyan residents exterior the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi days after a terrorist bomb blast killed greater than 200 individuals in 1998 [Photo: Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images]

The design of U.S. embassies has additionally undergone a dramatic reconsideration in current a long time, in line with Barbara Nadel, principal of Barbara Nadel Architect in New York and editor of a book on the design of embassies and other high-security buildings. After terror assaults on embassies in Lebanon, Kenya, and Tanzania within the Nineteen Eighties and Nineties, constructing safety turned a excessive precedence in unstable areas. The 2001 assaults within the U.S. solely underscored the necessity.

The rebuilt U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2003 [Photo: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images]

“Relying on the a part of the world, akin to Afghanistan versus London, the location and constructing design displays native situations,” Nadel says. “Typically seen safety is critical and fascinating.”

Even for lower-risk websites, there are issues akin to how far again a constructing must be set from the road and what sort of surveillance methods and constructing supplies are used. “We’re seeing extra integration of expertise with the constructing envelope,” says Michael Sherman, director of the coverage and analysis division on the NCPC. “We’re seeing extra use of blast-resistant materials that may can help you have much less setback necessities.” Extra cautious use of supplies, he says, may also help a few of these tasks keep away from embodying what he calls “a bunker mentality.”

More and more, safety design is shifting past the constructing and out into the panorama. “The risk has changed. It’s always evolving,” Sullivan says. “Submit-9/11, immediately we had been defending buildings. Now as now we have tasks submitted to us, it’s actually defending public areas—individuals in strains at museums, for instance. The place you might have lots of people congregating directly, it’s a much bigger danger.”


Panorama architects are enjoying a extra dominant function in designing security and safety parts for these sorts of areas. Sullivan factors to the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Nationwide Mall, the place protecting parts are seamlessly built-in into the panorama surrounding the museum within the type of planted gardens, fountains, and embankments. “I feel you’d be laborious pressed to even know the place the safety is,” Sullivan says.

[Photo: Massimo Giachetti/iStock]

Coaffee additionally factors to New York’s Occasions Sq., which was closed to vehicular visitors and given a redesign by the architecture firm Snøhetta. Sculpted granite benches emphasize its pedestrian-only standing whereas additionally serving as protecting boundaries. And in Paris, forward of the town’s flip internet hosting the Summer season Olympics in 2024, plans are underway to use landscape design to eliminate the risk of vehicular assaults across the Eiffel Tower.

Defensive installations on the Eiffel Tower, circa 2018 [Photo: Christian Böhmer/picture alliance/Getty Images]

This mixing of safety into the urban surroundings is including layers of security to public areas, however it’s additionally a trigger for some concern, Coaffee says. “It turns into normalized. It turns into mounted within the cityscape and in peoples’ experiences of urban areas to the purpose the place it’s not seen anymore,” he says. In England, for instance, an enormous community of closed-circuit tv (CCTV) cameras have been proven to seize photos of individuals dozens and even hundreds of times a day. Favored by police, these methods have turn into so ubiquitous as to have an effect on the bodily design of cities. “There are examples of complete public squares being redesigned in order that the sight strains of CCTV are very clear and seen,” Coaffee says.

[Photo: Andy Wasley/iStock]

It’s a development that doesn’t appear to be going away, in line with Coaffee’s new guide, The War on Terror and the Normalisation of Urban Security, out later this yr. The ethics of those types of urban safety stay troubling. “It could be acceptable to politicians to place in place fortress-style safety, however whether or not it’s acceptable to most people, I feel that query’s by no means actually been addressed to any nice extent,” he says.

America Embassy in London [Photo: Moussa81/iStock]

Whereas he’s acutely aware of presidency overreach, Coaffee can also be an advocate of bettering the way in which safety is designed into areas, and has been instructing these approaches for greater than 20 years. He argues that design professionals have to be higher skilled in understanding safety dangers and working with safety advisers from the early levels of the design course of to find out what sort of safety is required. “I don’t assume what we need to say to designers is, ‘You must do all this fortressing,’” he says. “It’s about eager about it when it’s acceptable and it being of their palette of instruments and issues.”

In Washington, D.C., these issues have gotten extra frequent, and the design responses extra elegant. In a spot so concentrated with the features and functionaries of the nationwide authorities, sturdy safety measures are sometimes unavoidable. “It’s a stability,” Sullivan says. “It is a metropolis that’s imagined to be for the individuals and open to the individuals, and that is one thing that we battle with on a regular basis.”

Within the post-9/11 metropolis, that stability has turn into a much bigger concern for designers and planners. However even within the face of lethal assaults and terrorist threats, there are limits to how a lot safety design can present—and additionally how a lot safety individuals need.

“You settle for a specific amount of danger within the choices you make,” Sullivan says. “We will’t fortify and put up perimeter safety completely all over the place. Nobody would need to reside in that metropolis.”