One World Trade Center — does it tell a story?

After the city recovered from the most traumatic experience in its history — the attacks of September 11th, it became imperative that a new World Trade Center Complex would rise in place of the one destroyed by terrorists. It would revitalize the devastated neighborhood and create a memorial dedicated to the memory of the fallen Twin Towers.

The public got to vote on the complex’s initial proposals, but they all were rejected. While the practical side of the site’s redevelopment required the recovery of the destroyed office space, its symbolic importance demanded a delicate artistic approach. To get the public excited about the project, the site’s developer Larry Silverstein, Governor George Pataki, and the Port Authority announced an international design competition. The winner was perhaps the most suited architect for the task —  Daniel Liebskind whose approach to architecture went far beyond just designing buildings — it was about shaping an experience. His creations told a story and projected emotion; he analyzed the historical context and transformed it into a physical structure. He said that: “…my work is about everything before the building, all the history of the site.”  Architecture “is a cultural discipline. It’s not just technical issues. It’s a humanistic discipline grounded in history and in tradition, and these histories and traditions have to be vital parts of design.”

Daniel Liebskind’s winning proposal for the plaza came with the design of its main building: a sharp-angled skyscraper dubbed Freedom Tower featuring a spire rising to the symbolic height of 1776 feet. Sadly, it never got to see the light of day. The project for the main building of the complex went to Silverstein’s favorite architect David Childs of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill.

An imposing glass-n-steel structure is sober and practical. It reflects the sky beautifully and is easy on the eye but not too imaginative. It offers few symbolic connections with the much-missed towers: its footprint is nearly identical to the footprints of the original Twin Towers. The top floor of One World Trade Center is 1,368 feet (417 m), equal to the roof height of the original One World Trade Center. There is simplicity in its lines, and its geometry is clever: it starts as a square on the bottom, becomes an octagon in the middle, and finishes as a square on the top. The tower is built upon a 185-foot tall windowless concrete base, designed to protect it from truck bombs and other ground-level attacks.

The only feature retained from the original design is its symbolic height of 1776 — the year the United States Declaration of Independence was signed. 

The new One World Trade Center Tower blends with the plaza and looks light and streamlined, but for all its symbolism, it hardly evokes any emotion. If it tells a story, it’s not a story of pain, loss, rebirth, and hope but a much more practical tale of commerce and tourism coming back to the area. While it is entirely a positive thing, it could have told so much more if there stood a twisted, angled, and emotionally charged Freedom Tower.  

  • Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (David M. Childs)
  • Completed 2014
  • At a cost of $4 billion, it’s one of the most expensive buildings in the world
  • The elevator ride takes 47 seconds traveling 23 miles (37 kilometers) per hour
  • One WTC is the tallest in NYC and the tallest building in North America.
  • In 2021 #6 tallest in the world
  • The base is concrete, clad in over 2,000 pieces of prismatic glass.
  • The tower’s structure allows for interior spans which are column-free.
  • Freedom Tower’s cornerstone was placed during a ceremonial groundbreaking on July 4, 2004.
  • The building has an emergency stairway dedicated to firefighters.
  • The tower’s footprint is equal to that of the original Twin Towers.

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