By Randy Thoms
Recently there have been debates and questions on the meaning of: what is tall? Is it really “all relative?” Within our own surroundings there are big buildings and tall buildings. Which have a local context and value and adhere to the local vernacular?
For one town to say “we have the tallest building” seems meaningless. Does it add economic value and social value to its surroundings? Maybe, but for those whom experience their local building typology on a daily basis, have its own intrinsic value and purpose.
What I am discussing is the announcement of 1WTC in New York, NY being labeled as the tallest building in the United States at 1,776 ft, overtaking the 1,450 ft Willis Tower1 (like Prince, formerly known as Sears Tower) in Chicago, IL. It will be the third tallest in the world behind the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at 2,717 ft and the Makkah Royal Clock Tower in Saudi Arabia at 1,972 ft.2 Now let us take a closer look, 1WTC is reaching that height with a 400 ft tall spire on the top of the building, which is then holding a light beacon affixed to its top. Really? If the purpose of buildings is to house, shelter and support humans, then should not any given portion of a tall building be accessible by said humans? The Willis Tower has higher, occupiable floors unlike 1WTC. So as to be experienced by the general public and workers therein?
Here locally, on Southern Illinois University campus in Carbondale, there are three building the house Freshman and Sophomore students, “The Towers”, as they have become known by the students. These are the tallest buildings in town, and some would say a local landmark, not just in design, but also as a beacon to where campus is upon entering town. These towers hold great significance to the local population, student or otherwise. These buildings are just as important, if not more, that some title of “tallest building” in the US or World.
This is where architecture comes into play, into focus in the aspect of defining space and social usefulness. A building does not have to be the biggest or tallest to hold together a community or family unit. A good design, attention to details and client dreams and aspirations all working in concert bring about a sense of space down to the human scale. As an owner of a Renovation business, I would explain to my clients that my job may only last a few months, or even weeks, but you, the client, have to live with the final product everyday for much, much longer. So with a little direction, manipulation and design, I was there to realize their vision and ideas. That is what Architecture is all about, really.