MASSENA, N.Y. — It has been nearly eight years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but the fears and anxieties they gave rise to continue to take a toll on the design of public buildings. Even the words “United States,” it seems — when spelled out in the wrong size and color — can be an unacceptable security risk.
Four years ago, when the federal General Services Administration unveiled its plans for a new border-crossing station here in northeastern New York State, the design was presented as part of the agency’s campaign to raise the dismal standards of government architecture. Even many in the famously fractious architectural community celebrated the complex — particularly its main building, emblazoned with glossy yellow, 21-foot-high letters spelling “United States” — as a rare project the government could point to with pride. The Customs
and Border Protection agency of the Department of Homeland Security seemed to like it too. After years of working closely with the architects, the New York firm of Smith-Miller & Hawkinson, the agency signed off on the final version of the project in 2007.
Yet three weeks ago, less than a month after the station opened, workers began rying the big yellow letters off the building’s facade on orders from Customs and order Protection. The plan is to dismantle the rest of the sign this week. “At the end of the day, I think they were somewhat surprised at how bold and how bright it was,” said Les Shepherd, the chief architect of the General Services Administration, referring to the customs agency’s sudden turnaround. “There were security concerns,” said Kelly Ivahnenko, a spokeswoman for the customs agency. “The sign could be a huge target and attract undue attention. Anything that would place our officers at risk we need to avoid.”