One Monday this past July I went on a tour of the World Trade Center construction site. It was one of those moments when knowing someone comes in handy. My aunt works for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the short version is that a tour was happening, do I want to go?
Of course I did. I am fascinated by the construction of buildings, like 432 Park Avenue, and couldn’t wait to explore one of most famous construction sites in the world. Even before 9/11 the World Trade Center towers were internationally recognized. Their creation added the neighborhood of Battery Park City to lower Manhattan. New methods were used thanks to innovators like Arturo Lamberto Ressi di Cervia who supervised the slurry wall construction of the original trade centers which still survive today and are now visible to the public (pictures below).
The importance of One World Trade Center is not lost on me. I had lived in New York for a little over 1 year on 9/11. When I got to work around 9 am the doorman of the building said something had happened downtown but wasn’t sure what. We opened at 9:30 so most of my colleagues were there too. Our gallery is located in Midtown Manhattan which is approximately 4 miles north of the World Trade Center. We found a radio and tried to figure out what was happening. My cell phone wasn’t working but fortunately I got in touch with my parents who live outside of New York and told me the news.
My first thought was my aunt. The Port Authority had offices in the North Tower. 8 months pregnant she walked down 60 some flights of stairs after the truck bombing in 1993. Please let her be okay was all I could think. Luckily she was. She invited me over to her apartment in the East 30s since walking to my place in Astoria, Queens was unappealing, plus I just wanted to be with family. My boyfriend at the time, a public school teacher, was safe with his class in Queens. Once I arrived at my aunt’s we watched the news to make sense of things. There was no sense. I was confused and numb.
Clearly that day changed the world forever and my regard for it hasn’t changed but I was indirectly affected. On the anniversaries I see the grieving faces of widows, children and parents and my heart goes out to them. I do not and cannot claim the pain they feel.
I thought of all these things as we stepped behind the chained link fence that surrounds the One World Trade Center construction site with our hard hats and orange mesh vests. Although the rising tower is visible from most everywhere in New York I had never been this close. The 9/11 Memorial is right next to One WTC but I hadn’t visited.
We started in the 9/11 Memorial Museum. It lies under the reflecting pools of the Memorial. They have remnants of the former towers and other debris which they call historic artifacts placed here and there: twisted steel beams, stairs, first responding fire trucks and ambulances. They have worked closely with the families of the victims making a room specifically for them to reflect and gather. There will be a narrative element as they will describe what the former buildings were, who worked there, who and what was lost. Overall it is thoughtful and impressive. The solemnity is evident even in the half-finished Museum.
After the Museum we went up to the 104th floor of One World Trade Center. We took one of the actual elevators that will be used when the building is open and then a construction elevator. Just like before it will be an observation area with concessions and amazing views of Manhattan, the other boroughs, New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester. It was strange to go from the seriousness of the Museum to the awe of the 104th floor. There was a concrete wall where the workers and visitors had left their autographs. I wished for a black marker. Voila! Our tour guide had one and invited us to write on the wall.
We made our way down into the basement so we could see the transportation hub. It will be possible to take the PATH and several MTA subway lines once its complete. This is not different from before but the design is. Santiago Calatrava dreamed up a bird like structure for the outside. The white ribs of the ceiling underground though made me think of a giant animal like a whale or dinosaur.
As much controversy and bureaucratic fighting that has been tied up in One World Trade Center you wouldn’t know it. The developer Larry Silverstein should be happy as should the families because it’s something to be proud of.