For the past 12 years, it sometimes seemed as if New York’s defining feature would be a 16-acre gash that wouldn’t heal. Tangled in political power struggles and red tape, the site cleared by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, long ago lost any luster of post-9/11 unity. Nine governors, two mayors, multiple architects, a headstrong developer, thousands of victims’ families and tens of thousands of neighborhood residents fought over this tiny patch of real estate as if every clod were holy and every windswept acre held the fate of the Western world.
Progress came in fits and starts. A forced marriage between two architects with divergent ideas for the building — the site’s master planner, Daniel Libeskind, and David Childs, 1 WTC’s lead architect — slowed the pace. Three years passed after 9/11 before the symbolic cornerstone signaling the beginning of construction was laid. Two more went by before a design for the memorial was finalized. All the while, 1 WTC, the only building on the site that would reach the heights of the Twin Towers, was little more than a gaping hole in the ground. As the years passed and the delays mounted, it was impossible not to wonder, What’s taking so long? And worse, Have we lost the capacity to rebuild?
The answer, in part, was just beneath the surface: 10,000 workers attempting one of the most complicated construction projects ever in one of the most densely populated places on the planet. The design, almost entirely Childs’, called for a 104-story tower that includes a bomb-resistant 20-story base set on 70-ton shafts of steel and pilings sunk some 200 ft. into the earth. This unseen subterranean structure would support 48,000 tons of steel — the equivalent of 22,500 full-size cars — and almost 13,000 exterior glass panels sheathing a concrete core crowned by a 408-ft. spire whose beacon would glow at the symbolic height of 1,776 ft. (eclipsing Chicago’s Willis Tower as the tallest building in the western hemisphere). The structure includes enough concrete to lay a sidewalk from Manhattan to Chicago. And that was just one part of a 16-acre project that was the equivalent of building five Empire State Buildings on a plot of land the size of a suburban shopping mall — while tens of thousands of commuters traveled under the work zone each day.
But the long wait was also the result of a nearly impossible mandate: One World Trade Center needed to be a public response to 9/11 while providing valuable commercial real estate for its private owners, to be open to its neighbors yet safe for its occupants. It needed to acknowledge the tragedy from which it was born while serving as a triumphant affirmation of the nation’s resilience in the face of it.
As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by
NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis