WORLD TRADE CENTER
It was some time back in the winter of 1965 that I was teaching a course in the work and thought of Buckminster Fuller, with a group of college students fascinated by icosahebrons and dodecahedrons and the way little triangulated elements could be put together to forms vast enclosures with maximum strength and minimum materials. Those were the days that two great commercial towers, later known as the World Trade Center, were being planned for a site in lower Manhattan, and one of my students raised the question about the strength of a 472 m. tall building which was based on square and linear design throughout. We discussed it a while and then went back to our calculations for a geodesic dome glued up out of wooden matchsticks, which we loaded up with small plastic bags of sand until the whole thing collapsed under test. I forget the total weight involved, but it was more than any one of us could lift with both hands, and we were duly impressed. That summer a few students stayed on and we built a forty foot geodesic dome which a reporter snapped with me and a helper leaning against a hexagonic wall section, probably the first time our small college got a picture in the Times. I lived in that structure for some years until my wife ran out of pails for the drips and we went back to conventional housing; but with a new rubber coat the Dome still stands as a reminder of those imaginative days at the tail end of the Hip Generation. But the question of strength and stability nagged at me, and in the summer of 1970 I started construction of a tall welded steel sculpture which had a four inch square footprint with a thirteen foot overall height. It was when I reached the middle of the column that I got the idea of leaving one part as a see-through section and decided to use half inch rods eight inches long on three of the corners, just to see if that could support the weight as I went up. It looked perilous but it did support the rest of the weight, and when I was done and stood back to look at it, I was surprised to see how well it stood with such a precarious design. When friends saw it, their eye went right to that missing center section and they remarked how dangerous the piece looked, but I never told them why it was that way or how I had come to be so interested in that vanishing middle story. The WTC had been planned as early as l962, but the towers started to rise off the ground in March 1969 and were dedicated on April 4th 1973. I continued to wonder how strong these tallest buildings in the world actually were, and in the coming years made several new welded sculptural "towers" of my own, cautiously arranging and rearranging the structural elements but always concentrating on the transcendental "window" through which you could see the landscape on the other side. I tried some in green paint which vanished the piece back into nature, once did a yellow tower and immediately changed it to aluminum while really thinking of stainless steel, which was exactly what the WTC engineers did when they shifted from costly stainless to aluminum exterior walls. I did my last piece in this series in the summer of 2000, admitting as a signal to myself that the architects Minoru Yamasaki & Assoc. along with Emery Roth and Sons were probably right. There was no weak spot in the Twin Towers. I felt I could at last accept that. But along with the whole world, I was in no way psychologically prepared for the events of September 11th in 2001. Could things have been done differently? Buckminster Fuller had offered a plan for a giant dome structure which would cover the whole midtown center of New York, a structure strong enough to stand and stress of storm or quake, yet light enough to be supported only by the rising air it encapsulated, while providing clean air for 50,000 working people in a biologically self-renewing atmosphere . No flying object could have done more than poke a small hole in this poly-triangulated skin, it would have perfectly exemplified the Fullerian principles of the most done with the least. But that plan was not for our century or possibly for the next, and we went along as always with what we had been building since the start of the 20th century: Skyscrapers. We thought of our civilization as built in a skyscraper world, and building in a skyscraper frame of mine, we went up ..... and up ....and up .... until by some curious ignorance of a most unlikely danger, it all came down. Could overcautious engineers have foreseen some architectural weakness, or politicians a new kind of terrorist attack? Or could the sculpture standing aloof in my lawn have told someone, perhaps just me and my small circles of scholars, that a projected linear height demands exponential increases of strength throughout? Or was it all fate, all completely inevitable, with a final result of some 2,860,000 notices on the Internet today as memorial of a catastrophe? My thirteen foot sculpture still standing on the lawn against a backdrop of better engineered cedars and hundred foot oaks, might be seen as sad reminder of overweening human faith, tumbled down by sheer chance in a waiting disaster.