The Architect of 9/11

As an urban planning graduate student at the Hamburg University of Technology, Egyptian architect Mohamed Atta researched what he saw as the intrusions of Western modernist architecture and Western tourists into traditional Arab cities. Atta's thesis criticized the damage done to the traditional character of the historic city of Aleppo, Syria by Western architecture and urban planning and proposed how to undo that damage. In a graduate fellowship project, he similarly criticized an Egyptian government-sponsored historic preservation proposal for the Islamic quarter of Cairo which called for emptying the neighborhood of its residents and replacing them with actors in period dress as part of a tourism development scheme.

Far more than a record Atta's architectural taste, his thesis provides a window into how he saw the history of the Middle East from the time of Mohamed's conquests right up to the present tensions with the West. Understanding Atta's academic research and writing—both its legitimate insights and its egregious mistakes—is crucial to understanding the worldview that led him to knock down the West's best-known modernist skyscrapers on the morning of September 11, 2001.

The Architect of 9/11

Daniel Brook's Pulitzer Center project on Mohamed Atta, "The Architect of 9/11," was featured in a segment on WBUR's "Here and Now" on Nov. 9.

The Architect of 9/11

The photographs above correspond to Brook's three pieces published by Slate. The items labeled "Dispatch 1" are associated to his 9/08 piece, "Dispatch 2" to 9/09, and "Dispatch 3" to 9/10.

In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build the Ideal Islamic City

In 1994, Mohamed Atta traveled to Istanbul with a student group and continued onward to visit Dittmar Machule in northern Syria, where the professor was doing fieldwork on a Bronze Age village under excavation. But Atta found himself more interested in the traditional urbanism of the nearest major city, Aleppo. Atta was hardly the first student of Middle Eastern architecture drawn to Aleppo. Along with Fez in Morocco and Sana'a in Yemen, Aleppo is considered among the best-preserved cities in the Arab world.