The World Trade Center
As someone who was young, old, or not even born yet during the 9/11 attacks, it is valuable to take a look at America’s most iconic towers, who came up with the idea, critics of the center, their construction and destruction, the meaning behind the memorial, plans for reconstruction, and the community’s change of tone regarding the World Trade Center.
The concept of the World trade center was first formulated in 1939 at the New York World’s Fair. The World Trade Center was dedicated to the concept of “world peace through trade”. Seven years later, one of the organizers of the concept, Winthrop W. Aldrich, was leading new state agency whose goal was to have a permanent trade exposition in New York. Researchers found that the city would benefit more from updating ports, leaving the idea of a trade exposition in the dust. David Rockefeller, Aldrich’s nephew, didn’t forget the idea. The grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, David revived the World Trade Center concept and wanted it to revitalize lower Manhattan. In May 1959, Rockefeller founded the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, which planned to build a $250 million complex on the East River, including a single 70-story office tower and several smaller buildings. Rockefeller turned to the Port of New York Authority for the resources and power to make the project work. The Port Authority had been chartered in 1921 by New York and New Jersey to build and operate all transportation terminals and facilities within a 25-mile radius of the Statue of Liberty (History.com Staff). Minoru Yamasaki and Associates of Michigan was hired as the architect for the World Trade Center. Yamasaki decided on two huge towers which would redefine the skyline of the city.
Critics of the World Trade Center insisted that the large buildings would rob New York of character, ruin the skyline, disrupt television reception, and strain city services. However, the project was approved and construction began in 1966 (Johnson). Radio Row, a region bordered by Vesey, Church, Liberty and West Streets contained shops that sold and repaired radios and sold sheet metal and brass would have to be demolished after location of the World Trade Center was finalized (History.com Staff). At it’s peak, Radio Row had over 300 stores and more than 30,000 employees. It was called a “paradise for electronic tinkerers” by The New York Times and was very unorganized. It’s lack of order made it a perfect target for redevelopment. Originally, the World Trade Center was going to be built on along the East River of Manhattan, near the Brooklyn Bridge, but the Fulton Fish Market refused to be eradicated. The Port Authority was able to buy out and evict the tenants of Radio Row, but they refused to go down without a fight. A lawsuit filed in June 1962 went all the way to the Supreme Court who declined to hear the case. After the Supreme Court declined to hear the case and the Port Authority won the right to continue its plan, a protest occurred on Radio Row, with owners carrying a coffin to “symbolize the death of ‘Mr. Small Businessman’.” In addition to those in the radio industry, around 100 other Radio Row retailers, including clothing, jewelry, stationery, gardening, hardware and restaurant owners strongly resisted takeover (Young).
In order to create the World Trade Center site, five streets were closed off and 164 buildings were destroyed. During peak construction periods, approximately 3,500 people worked at the site and total of 10,000 people worked on the towers; 60 died during their construction (Johnson). The north tower was opened in December 1970 and the south tower in January 1972. The two towers were only the world’s tallest buildings for a brief period. The Sears Tower in Chicago was completed in May 1973 and its height surpassed the high of the towers. However, the towers were ranked as the 5th and 6th tallest buildings in the world at the time of their destruction on Sept. 11, 2001 (Johnson). The rest of the World Trade Center consisted of four smaller buildings and a hotel, all built near the central plaza. The mall at the World Trade Center, which was directly below the plaza, was the largest shopping mall in lower Manhattan. The six basements housed 2 subway stations and a stop on the PATH trains to New Jersey (Johnson). Some 50,000 people worked in the buildings, while another 200,000 visited or passed through each day. The complex had its own zip code, 10048 (Johnson).
The first act of terror against the World Trade Center occurred on February 26, 1993. Terrorists detonated 1,500 pounds of explosives in a van parked in the underground public parking lot of the World Trade Center, two levels below the southern wall of the North Tower. The attack killed six people, including a pregnant woman, and injured more than 1,000 people. The bombing left a five-story crater beneath the towers, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars of damage (“World Trade Center”). In 1995, A memorial fountain was dedicated in the World Trade Center plaza to the victims of the 1993 bombing (“World Trade Center”).
The final act of terror on the World Trade Center happened on September 11th, 2001. 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against specific targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The attacks led to extensive death and destruction, triggering major U.S. initiatives to end terrorism. Over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., including over 400 police officers and firefighters (History.com Staff).
The community’s reaction to 9/11 was one filled with mourning. Around the country Americans commemorated the victims and demonstrated their patriotism. American flags were seen everywhere. Sports teams postponed games and celebrities arranged benefit concerts and performances. People attended spontaneous candlelight vigils and participated in moments of silence. Many people gathered in common places, like Chicago’s Daley Plaza, Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach, and notably in New York City’s Union Square Park, to post tributes to the dead and to mourn with others. “I don’t know why I’ve been coming here, except that I’m confused” one young man in Union Square told a reporter from the New York Times. “Also a sense of unity. We all feel differently about what to do in response, but everybody seems to agree that we’ve got to be together no matter what happens. So you get a little bit of hope in togetherness” (History.com Staff). While most Americans came together during these tough times, some Americans’ grief manifested as anger and frustration, leading them to search for someone to blame. Reverend Jerry Falwell made news by saying on his television program “The 700 Club” that “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way–all of them who have tried to secularize America–I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’” (History.com Staff). Unfortunately, some of that anger erupted into attacks on people of Arab and Muslim descent, with nearly 600 incidents in the first 10 days after the attacks. 500 enraged people mobbed a Chicago-area mosque and refused to leave until police forced them out. A Pakistani grocer was murdered in Texas. A man on an anti-Arab rampage in Arizona fatally shot a gas station owner who was an Indian-born Sikh (This type of confusion was common since many Sikhs wear turbans, have beards and are seen as looking, as one told The New York Times, “more like bin Laden than Muslims do.”). The Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, said that “vigilante attacks and threats against Arab-Americans will not be tolerated,” but harassment and violence at mosques and in Arab-American neighborhoods continued for months and discrimination against Arabic-American people is still present today (History.com Staff).
After the turmoil of the attacks and the mourning that came along with them, it was necessary to honor the victims of 9/11 while thinking about reconstructing the World Trade Center. In February 2003, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, established by Governor Pataki to coordinate committees involved in the rebuilding efforts, chose architect Daniel Libeskind’s design for rebuilding the site of the former World Trade Center. Daniel Libeskind is a Polish-American architect, artist, professor, and set designer (Libeskind). The World Trade Center design that he proposed included a hanging garden, a memorial, a cultural center, and “Freedom Tower”, later renamed One World Trade Center, which is a symbolic 1,776 feet tall (Johnson).
Regarding the memorial, in January 2004 architects Michael won a competition for his memorial design, Reflecting Absence, to honor those who died at the World Trade Center in terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993 (Johnson). Arad created a design for an open, street-level public plaza “punctured by two square voids” (Gonzalez). His original design included an underground gallery in the footprints of the towers, where walls of water would descend over the engraved names of those who lost heir lives in the attack (Gonzalez). Unfortunately, due to security reasons, Arad was not able to make the design come to life. When he lost the underground memorial, he felt as though he was losing the whole memorial. His original design was aimed at evoking the impassible separation between the living and the dead, “a threshold that one cannot cross”- before memorial visitors ascend to the street level and “back to life” (Gonzalez). The Memorial’s reflecting pools that Arad got to keep are each about an acre in size and feature the largest manmade waterfalls in North America. The pools sit within the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood. (“About the Memorial”). The names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed into bronze panels around the Memorial pools; a powerful reminder of the largest loss of life resulting from a foreign attack on American soil and the greatest single loss of rescue personnel in American history (“About the Memorial”). The Memorial arranged the names of victims in part by “meaningful adjacencies” – where they were at the time of their death and what personal relationships they shared with other victims (Friedman). Arad’s take on the memorial that they ended up with is “you can see each strand of water as it goes over the edge of the weir, appearing as separate, individual streams as it falls. By the time it reaches the end, the clarity dissipates, and it becomes a woven tapestry of water. I think it speaks to individual and collective loss – bringing together many lives into one” (Gonzalez).
The New World Trade Center will consist of five new skyscrapers, 9/11 memorial and museum, a transportation hub, 550,000 square feet of retail space, and a preforming arts center (Silverstein). The five World Trade Center office towers will be a large part of the redevelopment of downtown Manhattan and transform New York City’s skyline. They will provide over 10 million square feet of office space (Johnson).
In July 2003, David Childs was brought in as the new lead architect of One World Trade Center, and Libeskind remained in charge of designing the site in general. The two had different visions for the tower and a design combining the viewpoints of both architects was revealed in December 2003. It was originally designed to include wind turbines in its spire that would generate as much as 20% of the building’s power, but the idea was left behind (Johnson). The design resembles that of the old buildings, but adds its own twist: from the square base, the tower’s design moves to triangular forms, creating an octagon in the middle, and culminates in a square at the top, rotated 45 degrees from the base. (Johnson). The surface of the base of the tower is clad in more than 2,000 pieces of shimmering prismatic glass. The “One World Observatory” — which opened in 2015 — is an enclosed observation deck that is 1,250 ft. above street level. The crown of One WTC is a 408-foot spire — which consists of a mast and a communication platform ring instead of wind turbines. At night, a beacon at the top of the spire sends out a horizontal light beam, which can be seen from miles away (“Office Buildings”).
While the World Trade Center is being rebuilt, it is important to remember the origins of the original and the implications that it had on American citizens before and after the 9/11 attacks. Although the World Trade Center was meant to represent “world peace through trade”, it has represented far more. The twin towers now represent America’s war on terror. Another notable thing that they represent is the power that certain people have over the government. If it wasn’t for the Rockefeller’s power over the government, the World Trade Center may have never been built. The World Trade Center was able to give many people jobs and business, but at the expense of others, and specifically at the expense of the peoples’ voice.
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