How the World Trade Center Was Rebuilt: A Visual Exploration of a 20-Year Project

The World Trade Cen­ter was not at first a beloved work of archi­tec­ture, but over time it set­tled into its place on the New York sky­line, gain­ing wide accep­tance as an icon of the city. Its destruc­tion on Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001 great­ly inten­si­fied that sym­bol­ic pow­er, espe­cial­ly as expressed by the image of Minoru Yamasak­i’s Twin Tow­ers. But as long­time New York­ers (or at least long­time Low­er Man­hat­tan­ites) remem­ber, the WTC con­sist­ed of more than a pair of sky­scrap­ers. Dat­ing from Amer­i­ca’s era of “urban renew­al,” with its ambi­tions of build­ing cities with­in cities, it also incor­po­rat­ed sev­er­al short­er office build­ings, a hotel, and an under­ground shop­ping mall.

In oth­er words, the WTC was a com­plex — which also hap­pens to be just the adjec­tive to describe the prop­er­ty-rights sit­u­a­tion in the wake of its dev­as­ta­tion. Talk of the imper­a­tive to rebuild began very soon indeed after Sep­tem­ber 11, but orga­niz­ing a rise from the ash­es was, pre­dictably, eas­i­er said than done. As explained in “How the World Trade Cen­ter Was Rebuilt,” the video essay above from Youtube chan­nel Neo, the Port Author­i­ty of New York and New Jer­sey first had to re-acquire the leas­es from all the dif­fer­ent major ten­ants involved. And then there was the task of nego­ti­at­ing with Lar­ry Sil­ver­stein.

Hav­ing devel­oped the orig­i­nal 7 World Trade Cen­ter build­ing in 1980, Sil­ver­stein long had his eye on the whole she­bang. He final­ly man­aged to sign a 99-year lease-pur­chase agree­ment on the com­plex on July 24, 2001 — sure­ly one of this cen­tu­ry’s sig­nal cas­es of bad tim­ing. But he did jump into the task of rebuild­ing as soon as pos­si­ble, com­plet­ing the new 7 World Trade Cen­ter just five years lat­er. Accord­ing to the sto­ry told in the video, it would hard­ly be an exag­ger­a­tion to char­ac­ter­ize the project of rede­vel­op­ing the WTC site as a grudge match between Sil­ver­stein and the Port Author­i­ty, with their duel­ing visions of the prop­er way to fill that high­ly-charged space.

That project con­tin­ues still today, just over two decades after the ter­ror­ist attacks that brought the Twin Tow­ers down. David Childs’ 1776-foot-tall “twist­ing glass mono­lith” One World Trade Cen­ter opened in 2014, but the much-delayed Ronald O. Perel­man Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter at the World Trade Cen­ter is still under con­struc­tion, as is the new 2 World Trade Cen­ter. With its recent com­ple­tion, San­ti­a­go Cala­trava’s St. Nicholas Greek Ortho­dox Church joins his exist­ing World Trade Cen­ter Trans­porta­tion Hub. Topped by a struc­ture called the Ocu­lus, designed (if not flaw­less­ly) to open to the sky once a year on Sep­tem­ber 11, that strik­ing tran­sit com­plex also includes an expan­sive West­field shop­ping mall: a jux­ta­po­si­tion of mem­o­ry and com­merce with pow­er of its own as a sym­bol of twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch the Build­ing of the Empire State Build­ing in Col­or: The Cre­ation of the Icon­ic 1930s Sky­scraper From Start to Fin­ish

New York’s Lost Sky­scraper: The Rise and Fall of the Singer Tow­er

Watch the Com­plete­ly Unsafe, Ver­ti­go-Induc­ing Footage of Work­ers Build­ing New York’s Icon­ic Sky­scrap­ers

Watch a Time­lapse Video Show­ing the Cre­ation of New York City’s Sky­line: 1500 to Present

When The Who Saved New York City After 9/11: Watch Their Cathar­tic Madi­son Square Gar­den Set (Octo­ber 20, 2001)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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  • Jonathan Collins says:

    The old WTC fell like a cohe­sive city with­in a city, the new one feels like 5 sep­a­rate build­ings forced to cohab­i­tate. The superblock con­cept for bet­ter or worse (Worse in almost every regard) actu­al­ly fit the orig­i­nal WTC. Where­as the twins were dis­tinct­ly NY, the new WTC is just anoth­er bland glass box in a world stuffed full of them. NY is worse off archi­tec­tural­ly for the design.

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