Behind on watching “Alias” episodes.

It’s a shame I missed this – the Super Jeopardy Tournament of Champions (a.k.a. the Road to Beating Against Ken Jennings) continues – and last night, NYPD Francis Spangenberg beat out the others. He was on Jeopardy way back when, as “Frank” – the guy with the handlebar mustaches. Way cool. I was waiting to see this happen – I remembered watching when he was first on Jeopardy. Wonder if Frank will beat Ken Jennings. Well, someone has to.

What the heck is with “The Apprentice” – the final two candidates are stuck with the idiot team members to deal with the final task. Eh? Is that wise? So the two women here have to deal with the difficult “employees” to prove their mettle to Donald Trump, but these are really lame employees. Oh well, at least either way, Trump finally gets a woman Apprentice.

So, the business with the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site means that the Freedom Tower is back to the drawing board. Newsday’s Justin Davidson has a great analysis:

What does it mean for a building to be secure? Nobody knows.

The most obvious deterrent to terrorism would be to erect a small, forgettable, insignificant building that would make no symbolic claims. But as countless bombs at Israeli cafes and at Baghdad intersections have made clear, even that is no guarantee.

Faced with the impossibility of preventing an attack, architects are instead learning to plan for the aftermath. They can limit the damage from a blast and try to ward off total collapse – that’s what the gridded cage of steel beams in the Freedom Tower’s now-rejected design was intended to do. They can widen exit pathways and provide more of them. Buildings can be designed to funnel people directly into the street rather than into the potential deathtrap of a jammed lobby. In these safety-first structures, smoke will vent, backup communications systems will automatically come online and rescue workers will have a separate access so that they do not have to push past the hale in order to rescue the wounded.

But it all comes down to a game of chance. Increasing the odds of survival is not quite the same as making a building safe. Architects and planners are limited to anticipating novel techniques of destruction. They know how to keep trucks away and are learning how to design skyscrapers that might – not will – be able to absorb the blow of a plane. But they can’t forestall what they haven’t thought of.

Danger comes in many forms, and warding it off can take counterintuitive forms. During the 1990s, the New York City Housing Authority wrestled with the problem of driving muggers, rapists and drug dealers from the forbidding, fortress-like, low-income housing projects that were fostering the very social problems they had been built to solve. The answer turned out to be glass. Rather than protecting a tower with a moat or a wall, the authority’s architects tried a windowed lounge with a card table – the sort of place where senior citizens equipped with cell phones would want to spend the day, scrutinizing visitors, who now had nowhere to lurk. [….]

The dilemma of keeping a crowded city secure is the conflicting need to make its public spaces open and accessible and simultaneously keep the wrong people out. But no building can determine a stranger’s intentions, and it’s almost impossible to make it friendly and forbidding. Just how starkly opposed these goals are is apparent at Lincoln Center, where the open Italianate piazza huddles behind a phalanx of concrete barriers. Officials there would like to make the campus more inviting to the city beyond its travertine perimeter, but they also want it to be secure. The result is an ugly compromise.

So will those temporary barriers eventually come down, or will they be incorporated into the structure itself? It’s the architectural version of the question Americans are asking about their country as a whole: Must an open society be a vulnerable one? There’s no answer yet, and it’s not likely that architects will provide one.

The question of re-building – do we build big, recapture “normalcy,” admit fear, find a new normal, build a fortress to protect ourselves, keep ourselves imprisoned from what we had? (don’t build big, because it’s dangerous?). I don’t know; these are just questions.

TGIF tomorrow…

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