Truly Frightening

Halloween is the one time of the year where we actually welcome a good scare, the rush of adrenaline that comes with fright.  The fun comes from the fact that, deep down, we know that there’s no real risk involved… just some good-natured fear in the pursuit of little candy.

Halloween 2012, however, has been met with some genuine horror, thanks to what some wit had cleverly labeled “the Frankenstorm.”  Like much of the eastern seaboard, New York — considered by many to be the greatest of all American cities, a marvel of American architecture and engineering — has been cowed by the power of Mother Nature.  To those of us that have made careers out of the conceit that we have control over our environment, this is a truly frightening sight, indeed.

The statistics are staggering — 6.8 million without power… at least 55 dead… countless others missing — but it’s the images of devastation that have come forth in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that serve as a stark reminder of how powerless we really are.  The subway system has been flooded, with weeks of dewatering required before it could even begin to regain operation.  A fleet of yellow taxis, an iconic image of the city, stands stranded in rising floodwaters.  The construction crane at the heralded One57 Tower, snapped under the gale-force winds on Monday afternoon, its pose suggesting submission of the construction industry to forces of nature.  Somehow the most poignant, those same winds ripped the facade right off of an apartment building on the Upper East Side, turning what were once private residences into a full-scale version of a dollhouse, exposed for all the world to see; the basic function of architecture — the sheltering of human activity — rendered completely useless. 

Like Katrina before it, this massive weather event has, of course, given architects an opportunity to pontificate on how the built environment needs to respond in order to avoid future disasters.  Much will be made of this in the coming weeks, I’m sure, and much of it will be solid, thoughful discourse.  But none of it will do anything to change the fear that must have been felt — and is still being felt — by those that stared directly into the face of a true monster.

To those of you across Pennsylvania (and into New Jersey, West Virginia, and Maryland) that have felt the brunt of this storm, my sincerest condolences to you and yours.  It may sound somewhat hollow, coming from someone whose idea of storm damage is a leaky basement, but I wish you the best for a speedy recovery effort.

Anyone wishing to donate to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts should look into the AIA’s partner organization Architecture for Humanity, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, or the American Red Cross.

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