Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering the Twin Towers.

Of course, the greatest loss of 9/11 were the lives of the people that were cruelly cut short by the actions of madmen.

But for just a moment I'd like to talk about the Twin Towers.

The towers were conceived in the early 60's and it shows: they blasted the street grid of lower Manhattan, swept away an entire neighborhood in the name of progress and (and at the risk of being flamed) ended up as a cool, detached failure at the tip of the island. It was a triumph of modern architecture, but not an inviting design.

Originally conceived as 88 stories, they added the extra 22 to get the required square footage they felt they needed. Another feature of the building was that unlike other skyscrapers, the outer skin was structural: it bore 40% of the buildings weight load, made the building almost impervious to cross-winds and allowed vast completely open floorplans with no columns between the elevator core and the skin. It was said that Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the WTC was actually afraid of heights; it was his idea to have the outside columns spaced at about 20 inches to have reassuringly thick metal between between the glass for workers who might balk at the vertiginous heights. The mullions narrowed from 3 to 1 at the top and bottom of the towers to allow ingress to the lobbies and views from the observations platform and Windows on the World.

Another innovation were the elevators. Part of the problem with super-tall buildings is that so many elevators need to be in service to get to the high floors. Skyscrapers like the Empire State Building didn't have this problem since they were subject to New York City's setback laws which required that the building became slimmer as it became taller. Fewer elevators were needed to get to the smaller higher floors. A project as mammoth as the WTC would need a solution or too much expensive floor space would be devoted to elevator shafts that produce no income.

The solution was the "skylobby". First used at the John Hancock Center in Chicago, for WTC express elevators went to the top, the 78th, the 44th and the lobby while local elevators went to the floors in between. The local elevators could be stacked making the elevator core much smaller.

The towers were set in a rather sterile plaza that before Battery Park City was erected (on landfill from the WTC site) was right on the East River. Much like Yamasaki's twin Century Plaza Towers in Century City that still stand today, it was beautiful as sculpture, but in real life barren and so windswept on some days getting to the lobby was a challenge.

I went there several times when I was a New Yorker, if only to take the PATH train and hit a couple of the shops in the promenade. Sadly, I never went to the observation deck or had a drink at Windows on the World, thinking that there would always be time to do so.

Maybe that's the ultimate takeaway from this. There might not be time tomorrow. Whether it's to visit something in the town in which you live or even to tell someone that you love how much your life has been enriched by knowing them, don't wait. Things can be gone in an instant. Don't wait to love life.

Photo: Village Voice

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

It's September, and it's hot.

This is the time of year that I like to remind myself that the thing that really made the Southwest livable was the advent of really good AC.

Oh, Los Angeles is usually pretty temperate if you're on the Westside, but if you're in the Valley (where it will be 107 tomorrow) you need you're AC. Places like Palm Springs and Scottsdale in my opinion would be uninhabitable for months out of the year without it in the same way that great swaths of this country would be in Winter if we didn't have heat.

I'll refer you to the excellent article at Wikipedia about the history of this marvelous invention. I'm often questioned why I still insist upon taking the MTA even though it's not the most reliable system on earth. Well, part of is that is they understand that when it's hot out and you have a 50 foot long metal tube filled with meat-puppets pumping out 98 degrees, it's best to have AC that could keep ice cream turgid. I've boarded buses in shorts and a polo where by the time I get to my destination, I'm uncomfortably cold.

I love it.

Sadly, the AC in my Honda is not quite up to snuff. My car has many things going for it. It gets stellar gas mileage. Since it's a color that Honda calls "Red Camellia Pearl" that's more like the lipstick in a Nagel print and is a stick, so nobody will ever steal it. It's a Honda, so it will last a while. The AC however is wholly inadequate.

In this sort of weather you really need the sort of automotive overkill AC that was (and I assume is still) offered by the Americans.

The advantage that American companies have is that they are in Detroit. In addition to having brutal winters, the Midwest have brutal summers. Trust me, I've lived there. It's not unusual to have the high 90's and 90% humidity. At midnight. General Motors responded by having a system called "Automatic Climate Control" (standard on Cadillac) and "Comfortron" (optional on lesser marques). With this system, you would set a temperature and the car would do it's level best to get you there as soon as possible. In winter it was a blessing: at the point in January when you actually thought you might expire a blast of furnace heat would come in and scarves, gloves and hats could be safely shedded. In summer the car would do everything it could after being parked outside in the sun to drop the temp to the 68 degrees you've chosen.

I can say having briefly driven a friends 80's Cadillac in the 90's that it's almost uncomfortable. Having parked the Coupe deVille in a parking lot in the Valley while I shopped I think it was about 237 degrees when I opened the door. Flipping the (gold) ignition key it took about four seconds for the system to be pumping out air so frigid that I was after a few minutes feeling like I was like in a Midwestern snowstorm.

I loved it.

But I think it's better now that we have remote-start.