Of all the stories that ran this week remembering Sept. 11, 2001, and its impact on our country, one of the best I saw was written by the Chicago Tribune's architecture critic, Blair Kamin.
It started like this:
"They are ruining Washington, ruining it in the name of saving it."
Kamin was lamenting how the terrorist attacks of 9/11 have resulted in dismembering Washington, D.C.'s architectural beauty, turning this "once-lovely city of broad diagonal avenues and open vistas conceived in 1791 by French engineer Pierre L'Enfant" into a militarized zone.
"Capitol Hill is a zone of fear, welcoming the tourists with fences, slanted concrete barriers, steel walls that pop out of the pavement and steel posts called bollards that are designed to hold a vehicle-delivered bomb at bay," he wrote. "To visit here now is to realize that America has entered a new phase, in which various arms of the federal government have started replacing the temporary security measures installed in the aftermath of Oklahoma City and Sept. 11 with permanent ones."
Kamin pointed out that the General Services Administration, the agency that manages federal buildings in Washington and throughout the country, has spent $1.2 billion to protect against a vehicle-delivered bomb.
"Then there are the intangible costs, which go beyond ugliness to the locked doors and closed streets that restrict movement or hinder citizens' ability to have direct contact with those who govern them," he wrote. "When the overriding purpose of government buildings becomes warding off danger, these structures invariably lose the chance to become centers of community or to communicate traditional American values of openness and optimism.
"America the Beautiful becomes America the Besieged," he added.
If you've ever visited the federal building right here in downtown Madison, you can see what Kamin describes. A building that was designed to embody openness now is fenced in and more entrances are closed than open.
Kamin emphasizes that he understands the need for security in this age of terror, but he insists that it is often overdone and almost always shows no regard for the architecture and what it means to the people.
Further, he sees what he describes as a "me, too" mentality.
"When one building has concrete barriers in front of it, those in charge of another building may feel they have no choice but to have concrete barriers, too," he wrote.
"It leads to the big questions: Is all this necessary?" he asked.
He contrasted what has been done to Washington and other federal properties with Wall Street in New York, where security has been integrated with design. The stock exchange and others contracted with Rogers Marvel Architects of New York to devise a more holistic approach to security, Kamin said.
"What Rogers Marvel is doing on Wall Street is a sparkling example of humanistic, multidimensional security planning. In fact, it's not really security planning at all. It's city planning.
"That's what's so sorely missing from Washington today," he concluded.
Dave Zweifel is editor of The Capital Times.
Copyright © 2006 The Capital Times