Boston Marathon Bombings

Boston Marathon Bombings

Boston, MA, United States

April 15, 2013

Scott Girouard and Nolan Metzler

Boston Marathon Bombings Title Image

On April 15th, the U.S. would fall victim to yet another terrorist attack. All that had been learned from previous similar situations would still result in insufficient warning, and  force the nation to rethink its anti-terrorism tactics. Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev masterminded and carried out the Boston Marathon bombings all while having an established history with the intelligence community. Their actions claimed the lives of three individuals, wounded hundreds, and concerned the world.

Reprogramming the Secure Urban Space Sources; <> <> <><v=046MuD1pYJg&bpctr=1379958573&bpctr=1379960924&bpctr=1379960930> <> <>

As the 2013 Boston Marathon began to wind down, events transpired that demanded a refocused look on global security techniques. Two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the marathon, injuring hundreds and claiming the innocent lives of three. The bombs used in the attacks were fairly unsophisticated. Pressure cooker bombs are comprised of easy to buy materials and require little explosives experience to build. However, finding the suspects who carried out the attacks proved to be difficult, resulting in a city-wide manhunt through adjacent urban areas Cambridge and Watertown Massachusetts. In the process of searching for these suspects, one of the three victims was killed along with one of the bombers.

The two bombers were identified through surveillance systems and later fully identified as native Chechen brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Despite the revamping of existing anti-terrorism strategies in the wake of September 11th attacks, these two men managed to remain unsuspecting on the day of the marathon: their existing history in the FBI’s database failed to trigger any warnings. Several times in the years leading to the attacks the brothers were questioned and reviewed by the FBI. One of the reasons they were questioned was because of multiple explosions they set of in the streets of Boston (Patrick). Another run in with the authorities being Tamerlan’s various phone calls and text messages regarding his radicalization and association with Jihad (Bill). By grouping these various pieces of information about terrorists together, it can be said that the Tsarnaev’s had an established media presence among intelligence officials prior to the bombings. If this is the case then security officials would have at least had warning of an attack. Something, the system perhaps, is still flawed then. As a response, architecture must evolve in a manner that virtually bounds an attackers freedom just as a wall would physically bound an attacker entering into the area of concern.

Through analyzing the events of the Boston Marathon bombings architecturally, key components of its happening can be looked at for architectural responses. Viewing architecture in a broad sense a city’s planned urban design renders said urban space a prime target for terrorist attacks while simultaneously making it an attractive living environment. Historically, physical barriers were used to deter attackers form entering a given area. If an attacker(s) is faced with a threshold that seems physically impassable, then they are forced to use more complicated means of attack. Otherwise the physical barrier represents an impasse in their plan. In a more technologically advanced world, a physical barrier is less effective. Attacks can come in various forms, including; mailed poisonous substances, weapons on a contained system (a plane), or a concealed weapon created near the place of attack.

A Walled City: Israel
The walled city of Israel used as a physical security system.

Here is where the importance of a media based security system comes in to place. By utilizing media, a terrorist is no longer in complete control of their ability to carry out an attack. Their best approach for an attack is to remain as undetected media-wise as possible. Fortunately though, many terrorists must contact other known terrorist or associated regions of the world, thus establishing a media presence to build off of. An ideal next step to prevent them from becoming too radical or preparing for an attack would be to track the individual. This is something that could best be done by assigning a group of spies to the individual to track their behavior. According to Ruth Alexander, from the BBC, the idea of monitoring each individual terrorist full time is more economically and logistically impractical than most imagine. It is estimated that in order to track one terrorist there would need to be a team of over 20 persons assigned to that one individual.

“Still, if you narrow your target population to the point that there is one actual terrorist per 100 people wiretapped, and assume a 90% effective test, the chance of a false positive remains high. Even when someone triggers an arrest, Howard Wainer says, the odds are 11 to one that they’re not a terrorist” (Ruth)

Additionally, the traditional use of physical partitions as mental and physical barriers lie mainly ineffective in a world of rapidly changing terror tactics. The marathon bombers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were faced with no physical barriers when infiltrating their target location. Instead, a media appendage was assigned to them. However, to ensure that a media appendage effectively prohibits terrorist attacks to the same degree as a physical barrier, a different architectural approach is required than with a wall. This approach being one that incorporates the physiological and physical benefits of a wall while simultaneously being visually discrete. The need to be visually discrete arises because individual terrorists are now targeted and monitored, whereas historically speaking an individual could be deterred from a given area.

An architectural response to this would be to track the individual by virtual media based means instead. This raises the question of how to view surveillance systems not as an addition to the architectural order of a building, but as an integral parameter in the planning of an urban space. Surveillance systems need to be planned more intelligently as to tap into the planned concept of the social condenser.

NYPD surveillance camera.
NYPD’s surveillance camera in New York that is tied into a network of cameras.

A real life example of this would be Diller + Scofidio’s Blur Building. These architects capitalized on the idea of a loosely defined physical space and a collective based media design. Their Blur Building functions on the premise that every person is being monitored by someone else while within the building. They are also free to enter, move around, and leave the building on their own terms, thus explaining the limited use of exterior walls. What is utilized here is the use of media to influence ones actions within a given space as opposed to flow directed by programmatic means (architecture). While these two systems achieve different end results, they share the exploitation of the same medium.

Left: Diller + Scofidio's Blur Building in use. Right: A plan of the Blur Building that describes the its use of media.
Left: Diller + Scofidio’s Blur Building in use. Right: A plan of the Blur Building that describes the its use of media.
Sources; Left:–scofidio–renfro/blur-building/ Right:


Journalism Ruth Alexander, “Terror watch list: Can you keep tabs on every suspect?” BBC News Magazine.

Protecting a nation from terrorist threats would involve more manpower than is economically feasible. For the thousands of terrorists within a given country, a team of almost twenty spies would need to be assigned to each terrorist. Despite this, a system that prevents 100% of terrorist activity would still be unrealistic, and the interference of the innocent would be more greatly noticed. Today’s threats from opposing nations or groups (terrorist) require evolved preventative measures that go beyond using physical barriers (walls) as terror protection.

REUTERS, “Boston Marathon to Accept Another 9,000 Runners in 2014” The New York Times.


Despite the unfortunate result of the 2013 Boston Marathon, the BAA will be increasing the field size to 36,000 runners.  This is part of the city’s system to reduce the number of runners crossing the finish lines at the time of bombings. Doing so allows for a more focused area to be monitored closely. Because physically preventing a suspected terrorist from entering the premise, there will be an increased use of media bases defensive measures.

Encyclopedia Entries

Provides information about how the events played out. It also explains the importance of the event and why it was a major catastrophe. A Wikipedia entry that provides insight into the bombing, including chronological information. There is also information on the terrorists.

Scholarly Articles

Clarence Page, “BOSTON MARATHON BOMBINGS: No. 1 goal: Find Who Did It” The Chicago Tribune.

An article that poetically describes how the world will find the two marathon bombers. It focuses on the different tactics used to catch various other terrorists.   There is also mention of the social media site twitter and its ability to convey information across the world about the terrorists, making it difficult for them to hide. dc4a1&s.q=why+terrorists+target+cities

Valiyev, Anar. “Urban terrorism: Do terrorists target cities and why” PhD diss./thesis, University of Louisville, 2007

A dissertation that looks into how urban environments attract terrorists and why. Several factors cause this to be the case, including; economic stability, population and density. To study the relation between urban areas and terrorism, Valiyev analyses the relation the factors and how trends can be used as better understand terrorism.  

 Orthographic Documentation


A three dimensional model that gives informs about the locations of the explosions and the role of architecture in the event.

A map that show the city of Boston and where the main events transpired.


A detailed resource and account of the bombing, accompanied with videos and maps of the buildings/streets affected. This will be useful in understanding the scope of the massacre and the people affected.

Video and Audio

This link contains the full raw video footage of the bombing. This could be quite valuable in researching and documenting the Boston bombing. This video provides news coverage of the Boston bombing, which can be useful in understanding the location of the bombings and the people affected.

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