From the Twin Towers to One World Trade Center, 20 years on
When New York City lost the two most prominent parts of its skyline on 9/11, a memorial and even bigger replacement filled the void.
The original World Trade Center was more than just the Twin Towers that fell in tragedy on September 11, 2001. The entire complex, completed in 1973, actually featured seven buildings.
In addition to the Twin Towers (officially called 1 World Trade Center and 2 World Trade Center), which were the tallest buildings in the world upon their completion, there was a Marriott hotel in 3 World Trade Center, one of the world’s largest trading floors in 4 World Trade Center, New York City’s largest Borders bookstore in 5 World Trade Center, a U.S. Customs Office for New York in 6 World Trade Center, and a major Salomon Brothers hub in 7 World Trade Center.
These were just the highlights of an entire complex that offered more than 13.3 million square feet of office space two decades before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed American workers away from such environments in favor of their home setups.
In terms of messaging, the goal was clear in the name. In the mid-20th century, New York City was positioning itself as the financial center of not just the U.S., but the entire world.
Policy-makers, business leaders and other officials agreed that such prosperity needed a hub to call home, and so the world’s first trade center was proposed.
After a lengthy battle in the throes of bureaucracy starting in 1961, initial property acquisition began in 1965. Demolition started in 1966 and construction finally got underway on the North Tower (1 World Trade Center) in August 1968. Construction on the South Tower (2 World Trade Center) started in January 1969.
Upon completion of the Twin Towers, New York City’s skyline was forever changed with the world’s two tallest buildings — a distinction surpassed by Chicago’s Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) in 1974. Still, Chicago’s supercomplex could only match the floor count at the World Trade Center, which was only surpassed posthumously by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building.
The Windy City’s skyline also never reached the great fanfare that New York City’s would have with the Twin Towers as the poster children.
Movies, TV shows, video games, magazines and books would use the city in numerous capacities with the towers as the defining landmarks and centerpieces.
In the process, both transcended the initial financial purposes of their construction and became embedded in American pop culture, which spread worldwide in the decades leading up to their destruction.
It’s why narratives like the end of the ‘American Empire’ are often associated with their destruction.
After the devastation that was 9/11, it was said owner Larry Silverstein declared his intention to rebuild almost immediately. Unfortunately for him, an insurance dispute over whether the attacks on both buildings constituted one or two events for coverage.
In the end, it took six years for Silverstein to settle with insurers for $4.55 billion.
While still owning the land that constituted the complex, he did not retain the rights to the tower that would become the new crown jewel of the New York City skyline in the One World Trade Center. That would pass over to the Port Authority.
Developed by architect David Childs, One World Trade Center surpassed Willis Tower as the U.S.’s tallest building and sat at sixth in the entire world upon its completion.
Despite being approximately 400 feet taller than both original Twin Towers, it still only contains 104 floors compared to the original complex’s 110.
The whole complex itself, when all complete, will include five high-rise office buildings.
But the most important part of the new complex, showing a new day in the city, is the part that immortalizes the events of September 11, 2001.
The National September 11 Memorial and Museum officially opened on the complex nine and 13 years after the tragedy. The memorial came first on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 and the museum opened on May 15, 2014.
Not only does the new memorial and museum honor 2,983 victims with 152 bronze parapets, but it also features a memorial glade, where the names of first responders that died inhaling toxins from the wreckage are recognized.
The new memorial also contains both a capillary pear tree and bronze sculpture recovered from the wreckage that act as symbols of hope from such a dark day.
Those symbols carry more weight as the country enters its 20th year since the tragedy of 9/11.