Architect Aaron Betsky is not a fan of the Freedom Tower.
The 1776-foot-tall building, officially called 1 World Trade Center, is a contemporary behemoth in the New York City skyline, and the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere. David Childs, the chief architect, designed the building to be “iconic and solemn,” and memorialize the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when the two World Trade Center towers crumbled just steps away.
But Betsky, dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, sees something else in the tower. He said the building doesn’t make you feel safe or empowered. Instead, in a space meant for reflection, it evokes violence. “In my mind, the exclusionary zone, the bollards, the guard booths, and the walls of concrete hiding under reflective glass at Ground Zero do that,” he said.
Our culture of fear has changed the role of architecture in the United States. In just 2016 alone, the country has seen 221 mass shootings, and we struggle to keep up with the stream of international terrorism attacks by groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. If you listen to the news for too long, every building we enter seems compromised, from malls and movie theaters to schools. So while legislators falter over gun control laws, architects and building designers are working to rethink the concept of a safe space.
After a lone 20-year-old gunman killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, the town decided to build a new elementary school, unveiled this week. Alana Konefal, an architect with Svigals+Partners, the firm tapped to design the school, said that meant involving the community at every step. “They shared their memories of the former school with us, their experiences and memorable aspects of the building,” she said.
The new school design includes an open area in the front to allow for natural surveillance so people inside can see who is approaching. A rain garden acts as a natural buffer between the building and bus drive. Footbridges help create more specific, designated entry points to control people entering the building. “We want the students and teachers to feel welcome and comfortable, to create a place for them to call home,” Konefal said. […]