Architecture and 9-11, and the Lack Raw Materials for Green Building

Last week was the 10th anniversary of the terrible day when many things shifted and changed, most of it unknown to most people.

But very quietly we had also passed a major point in the world without any fanfare or alarm. It was roughly the date when we exceeded the use of raw materials as what the earth can supply to us at a time when the planet was growing in population at alarming rate.

As I recalled that bright beautiful day and the moment my sister called from London to say that a plane had hit World Trade center tower, and I just said: Oh, it must be a small plane and no worries.

On the train at 125th street station, a conductor ran through the train and said this train stops here.. as the first tower collapsed. We still didn’t believe that it was serious and so I joined two UN in a cab, and so were off and running as usual.

Until 14th street. I saw this wall of dusty and bloody wall of people heading our way and I said to the cab, I guess I won’t make it for the meeting in Down Town after all.

The floors at World Trade center had pancaked one after the other from the tremendous heat and so the weight of one hitting the other created a cascading collapse.


Conceptually it is very similar to the last century. The 20th century started with tremendous explosion of industry, transportation, science, and everything was turning better, like the blue sky I saw September 11 morning. Until the 60’s when first alarming notes of impending global heating, seas losing their fish, unusable rivers, water shortages, presented by few people who saw this happening and making a very simple equation that if this goes on, there will be a cascading event like the World Trade center Towers collapse.

And here we all thought, oh well, just a small event, nothing to worry about: we can fix things. But things are 100 times more difficult and dangerous geo politically than the 70’s oil embargo nuisance, and we still think that way, but we cannot afford to change the course. The world is suffering from ever increasing prices for raw materials, energy, and commercial competition. Our way of living cannot go down we think, and so we do more each year, consume more.

During WW 2 there was an interesting parallel during and after Normandy landing: the MOST important commodity was oil. Nothing moved without it, so the highest efforts for the central command were to make sure oil and gasoline shipments went to front line. Everything else was secondary, bridges were built for this purpose, police made made sure the supply was not interrupted.

Single tanks consumed 8000 gallons of fuel per week. One Division needed 125000 gallons to move 100 yards.

Today in the USA we are like this army division. We need unreal amounts of energy to do simple things. Small disruption, the doubling and then quadrupling of energy and raw material costs has a dis-proportioned adverse effect on our economy as we have BLOWN it by not protecting ourselves in any way. 150 years ago each farmer knew that if he hadn’t stored grain, grass, firewood etc, he could not survive the winter. They knew that self reliance was the key.

The saddest of all, it was Jimmy Carter who put it bluntly that saving energy and raw materials was moral equivalent of WAR, and since we didn’t take to heart, we surely will have one as we all compete for the same – raw materials. We would have had almost 40 years to change our ways.

Instead we build cheaper, more temporary energy hungry buildings, and cars etc. And architects and engineers fees are made completive in bidding instead of being based on levels of professionalism. Hence there is no real long term training for young architects and engineers to do better, as we have to hire and fire at will to cut down on cost.

For instance, when we do Green, it comes out of our overhead, making us truly even poorer each year. And thus very little in effect is done to green our country. Building a little bit more expensively and making buildings save the nations’ future is a very poor calling card to present to future clients.

In my previous blogs I have pointed out means and methods for the Government to address some issues, as developers cannot change their habits until there is a tax or other incentive to DO so.

Tapani Talo, AIA