|By Blair Kamin, Chicago
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sept. 09, 2011--People are always asking me to name my favorite Chicago building and I demur, saying it's like being asked to name a favorite child. But here's a question I'll entertain: Which Chicago building best reveals how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks either did or did not change architecture? That's easy. It's Trump International Hotel & Tower, the glistening mega-skyscraper that soars alongside the Chicago River.
Simply by virtue of standing there -- and by being the tallest American building built since the 1974 completion of Sears (now Willis) Tower -- Trump confounds those who predicted after 9/11 that iconic skyscrapers would never be built again. At the same time, Trump's height -- originally pegged at more than 2,000 feet but eventually scaled back to 1,362 feet -- suggests that the fear spawned by the attacks did have some effect.
For a few weeks in 2005, Donald Trump, a man who never met a superlative he didn't like, toyed with the idea of making the spire of his tower a tad taller so it would reach higher than Sears Tower. Then, uncharacteristically, Trump backed off. Why? Because a poll of his condo buyers made clear that some had no desire to live in a skyscraper that could be a terrorist target by virtue of its record-setting height.
Trump's tower is an apt symbol of post-9/11 Chicago: Life and architecture go on, but we've all had to make adjustments. Few like the changes, which range from the hassle of airport security lines to time-consuming high-rise evacuation drills. Yet they are hardly the earth-shattering shifts that doomsayers forecast after the attacks. Nor were the attacks the only shock that forced architects to confront the specter of terrorism.
The entrance to Union Station at 222 S. Riverside Plaza makes that plain. It's clumsily guarded by two yellow concrete barriers along Adams Street. Not only are the barriers ugly, they impede the flow of commuters. A reader contacted me about them recently, assuming they went up after 9/11. Not so, it turns out. An Amtrak official said the barriers were erected after the 2007 bombing of Glasgow International Airport, when a Jeep was driven into the airport's glass doors and set on fire.
"We are going to replace them with something more decorative but effective," Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Thursday, adding that the shift could occur later this year or in 2012. Let's hold Amtrak to it.
In the awful passions of the moment, the twin towers' collapse was so stunning that it led to some wild predictions. On Sept. 12, 2001, Chicago developer J. Paul Beitler, who once tried to build a world's tallest building in the Loop, told me that local governments would cease to approve plans for very tall buildings because the structures "will be viewed as a magnet for future terrorism."
So what happened? After the fear from the attacks ebbed, the world went on the greatest skyscraper building boom in history, with more towers rising to a greater height, in a wider variety of places, and with greater inventiveness than ever before. Chicago indulged in this wild spree -- at least until the 2008 financial crisis doomed plans for Santiago Calatrava's corkscrewing, 2,000-foot-tall Chicago Spire.
Fittingly, though, the city's architects have played an essential role in the reclaiming of the sky (or is it simply old-fashioned hubris?) that has proceeded overseas. On the same day that Beitler made his off-the-mark prediction, architect Adrian Smith calmly forecast that people would still want to live and work in high-rises. Last month, Smith unveiled plans for a Saudi Arabian skyscraper, the Kingdom Tower, which will be at least one kilometer, or 3,280 feet, tall.
Just as the attacks did not destroy the human urge to build taller, so they did not vanquish our desire to gather in vibrant public spaces. For a while after Sept. 11, there was talk about pervasive "cocooning," the phenomenon in which people socialize less and retreat to their homes. The triumphant 2004 opening of Millennium Park, which lured visitors with eye-grabbing, interactive public sculptures like the Crown Fountain and Cloud Gate, put a quick end to that trend.
What also eased were the unwarranted fears that every building was a potential target. The ugly concrete barriers that were hastily erected around the city's tallest skyscrapers after 9/11 have come down, replaced by reasonably attractive planter boxes that double as security barriers.
Still, pedestrians are no longer as free to move about as they were once were. You can now pass easily through the lobby of the Willis Tower, which once bristled with metal detectors, but you can't do the same at the ellipse-shaped Hyatt Center, a post-9/11 office tower nearby where only the outer lobbies are open to the public.
The Hyatt Center's arrangement may have made sense after the twin towers fell, but now it seems like an overreaction -- strong evidence that, as the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks approaches, we still have much to learn about balancing security and openness.
(c)2011 the Chicago Tribune
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