There is no doubt that the tragedy of September 11 changed America forever. The entire construction and security process has evolved significantly in the 22 years since that fateful date. This September 11 will mark the 10th anniversary of two memorials built and dedicated to the event: one in Manhattan and the other in Napa. Both memorials are a tribute to the nearly 3,000 people killed at the World Trade Center, the World Trade Center, as well as Shanksville, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C.
The September 11 Memorial in downtown Napa was officially dedicated on the same day as the Manhattan Memorial, and features four 24-foot-tall rusted steel beams as well as several smaller beams recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. The centerpiece includes four glass panels up to 14 feet tall displaying all the names of the victims and the story of September 11. Napa-based artist Gordon Heather was the visionary and designer of the memorial as well as the plaques. I was honored to be asked to make a scale model for the fundraiser, as I have been building architectural models in Los Angeles for 10 years.
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The project was a major achievement. In 2009, the Napa Fire Department was given the opportunity to receive “some shards” of World Trade Center steel recovered from the site. Little did they know that the display included 30 tons of massive steel girders. And after four years of raising nearly a million dollars and assembling the team to harness and build the structures, it was officially dedicated. Every year since then, a memorial has been held at the site in memory of those who died and how our world has changed.
We also learned from 9/11 that buildings don’t last forever, a common misconception of the day. No building can be designed to withstand an aircraft used as a missile of death or climate change that puts every person and building at risk. The collapse of the World Trade Center buildings has given us an idea of more emergency disaster events that even the most ordinary buildings and homes have to take into account.
The general assumption was that blast containment was the most important issue for future construction. The codes then pushed the new buildings towards more fireproof exterior protection against any form of chaos caused by man or nature. Since then, the rules now focus on fast and safe evacuations from any building during a crisis. Structurally, the most significant failure in the World Trade Center towers has been Progressive Floor Failure, or PFC, or “collapse” as the primary hazard for mid-century buildings between 50 and 70 years old. The support systems of commercial buildings and even wooden two- or three-story dwellings of that era should have been reviewed by a structural engineer because even a sudden jolt could cause chaos. The San Francisco Loma Prieta earthquake showed us how vulnerable multi-story complexes are.
Every house and apartment must include additional precautions to ensure the continuity of basic services such as electricity and water. There must be access to emergency services, facility protection and a safe means of egress. Even single-story homes deserve safe egress and travel path maintenance. Access to facilities for buildings is often taken for granted, and protection is often minimal. Stairs and hallways in all buildings, apartments and single-family homes should be safe, well-lit, and preferably equipped with a battery backup.
The design and location of buildings must minimize any vehicle collision with any part of the building, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Safe havens should be considered when designing housing. Perhaps a “safe room” should be considered, but not as a concrete bunker in the basement, but as an intimate part of the home to survive an earthquake or other catastrophic event.
Non-structural elements must be secured. This is a simple requirement in the building code but is often overlooked by building and home owners. Even in a mild earthquake, a falling bookcase can mean death. Mechanical systems, including fire suppression systems, should be inspected regularly.
Perhaps the best protection against potential disasters is continued education, vigilance and monitoring. Providing clear diagrams for exit and how to respond in an emergency is a must in every home and building. Even young children can understand how to get out of the building in case of any disaster.
The takeaway is that there is no way to know how safe it is. While architectural design may be detrimental to visions, aspirations, and economics, when it comes to human safety, we must always take the high road.
Chris D. Kreker AIA, an architect based in Napa, wants readers to attend the ceremony Monday, September 11th at 11 a.m. at the memorial.