I didn’t live in New York City on September 11th 2001 and even after being a resident here for over 3 years, I still feel no connection to that day. The first time I saw the NYC Skyline with my eyes I had no point of reference of what stood in lower Manhattan before. The World Trade Center of New York I knew I saw in movies like Superman, Ghostbusters, Big, Quick Change and The Secret of My Success (Still my favorite New York film of all time). New York City was John Williams’ NBC Nightly News closing theme played after every telecast on a crappy kitchen mini TV. Upon first arrival, I was a foreigner who while walking through the canyons of Tribeca had no idea where lower Manhattan was and the first time I came across the giant hole in the ground that used to be the Twin Towers, it was almost completely by accident. And even though I saw this enormous empty gap, almost as if two molars had had been pulled right from the mouth of city, It felt distant. It was hard to reference where I was walking to YouTube videos of those towers coming down in a feeble attempt to give some perspective of part of the city I now called home. My first apartment would be six blocks from ground zero.
Despite a city that lived with this gaping hole in its heart every day, it was and still is completely alien to me. Growing up at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and using that as the marker for West, I can only imagine losing the Twin Towers was as devastating as if those mountains vanished within minutes.
I moved to Brooklyn in 2010. My windows face directly out into lower Manhattan from the East River. At the time it was a great view of the bridges and some drab brown housing but as time passed, slowly out those same windows (Where the homepage image was taken from) a new tower was taking shape. At first it barely cleared the buildings at the waters edge then the existent skyline. And slowly it overcame. Now it stands tall over anything around it. It has grown up and I have grown with it. I had no relevant personal connection to the Twin Towers nor have I ever attempted to search one out, but I do with Tower One.
I’ve now visited the grounds and memorial at World Trade Center once voluntarily and four times because of friends and family visiting. I’m always struck when people say “I want to go see world trade center.” It’s always awkward and it always will be. No one really means it when they say the want to go see a mass grave when seeing New York and every time someone requests they almost instantly know it’s not how you would want to spend the afternoon either but you submit and you comply. But this?dichotomy also naturally exists with the rest of the city. Thousands of tourists take photos of iconic landmark structures in New York City every day and yet people get up in the morning and go to work in them as well.
When the remains of the Twin Towers were finally cleared there was a staunch and often times petty debate about what to replace the iconic twin towers with in the middle of Lower Manhattan, as there should have been. But once you see for yourself the careful consideration that went into each detail on those grounds and into the soon to be completed Tower One, that you understand that nothing else could possibly be there. There has been great storied pain in coming to a united consensus about the new World Trade Center buildings and the grounds but great pain begets great art.
The waterfalls flowing from the footprint reflecting pools, designed by Architect Michael Arad, (the largest man made in North America) and landscape architect Peter Walker, drown out the noise from the city and the bronze platforms bearing each victim from that day are placed as such that they visually levitate off the moorings they are placed upon, right down to the font chosen and each letter spacing in every victim’s name. It’s usually once I’m standing over the footprints peering down that I feel like an invader of this sacred space the most. I know none of the victims. I relate to it only as it exists as a wonder of modern design which perhaps doubles as an emotional duvet. The one question everyone seems to ask me while visiting with them is “Would you work in that tower” My answer is always absolutely. Time will tell how resident New Yorkers feel passing by the reflecting falls and museum on a daily basis on their way to doing the exact thing each en-bronzed name they pass was doing. New York, I’ve learned living here, is a functioning city despite the never ending sea of distractions. Going to work in Tower One and each building at World Trade once completed would not only be honoring the people that died there, it’s honoring the men and women who re-imagined and constructed the replacements, tailored for a new century, and a new future.
Ultimately the most striking observation as I’ve watched Tower One grow up is what it represents to western advancements of architectural technology from the last century to this one. How these mirrored skyscrapers contrast against an aged cityscape. The most ironic thing about the successful destruction and mass murder planned by Osama Bin Laden and other extremists in caves and shacks across the world will be that they and they alone are responsible for these advancements. By destroying two titans of American ingenuity they have paved the way for an entirely new generation of brilliant designers, architects & engineers, hungry and educated for the Twenty First Century. They will follow, replicate and improve on the footsteps of the most iconic skyline in the world. Osama Bin Laden, a man who spent the better part of his last twenty years planning the destruction of western architecture has ended up doing more to advance it in the United States, the country he loathed the most, than anyone else in the past ten years.
This is his defining defeat.
Our ability to not only rebuild but to advance.
Al Qaeda members and Bin Laden’s replacements will be living in caves and transporting their possessions by rusty axles and mules through makeshift villages and unpaved mountain paths while dodging cluster bombs. In two years, 250,000 New Yorkers a day will be traveling in and out of lower Manhattan via the most advanced and elegant transportation hub in the country if not the world. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, when completed will be a modern marvel of design plus functionality. In perhaps the most astounding, heartfelt detail, every September 11 at 10:28 a.m – The time the second tower fell, the symmetrical wings of the exterior will retract, allowing a beam of light to shine down to sixty feet underground in memory of what stood before, both sentient and not. The architects of One World Trade have been inspired by harnessing and incorporating the light. Radical extremists are forced to seek shelter in the darkness of caves.
Tower One and the soon to be completed accompanying towers will change how future modern skyscrapers utilize open and productive space, complete with a structurally reinforced spine and suggested abilities to deny such an attack again. The plots where each building stand will be groomed and cared for unlike any other in the city. The janitors will take just as much pride in their job there as a day trader and the very people that cheered smoke pluming from the skyline of New York on September 11th 2001 are now in awe at the streamlined, futuristic upgrade. Across the country, as population grows in sprawling downtown areas, Tower One will inspire spores of architectural creativity unlike anything seen in decades. By destroying the Twin Towers, the only long term goal a group of radical jihadists accomplished that day was daring the most advanced country on the face of the Earth to dream bigger.
We as an American society do not sit idly by once something we love is destroyed. We figure out how to make what was once destroyed better. This is what Al Qaeda and those like it as they exists as an ideology never understood about us. We are just as fanatical about being Americans as they are about being radical Islamists. They sever limbs with machetes. We replace them with a bio-mechanical engineered and 3D printed prosthetics. This is where we claim victory. Not with drone strikes and midnight raids. We claim victory by advancing who we are and what we represent as an unparalleled, innovative society of imagination, humanity and technology.
That is who we are.
This week, as with every anniversary of September 11th, the night sky is lit up by the ghosts of the Twin Towers. The most indelible display of this tribute was in the opening credits of Spike Lee’s post 9/11 film, 25th Hour. Many people, myself included always thought that was a fitting permanent tribute. But almost as a phantom limb endlessly tortures it’s victim, the empty skyline would always continue to haunt the city in daylight. Not rebuilding could never be an option. Tower One is vertically complete and as it stands tall now, this tribute is no longer necessary. The spotlights should be powered down and retired once construction is completed. They served their purpose and served it well.
Let Tower One have the skyline. It owns it now.
It sits where two icons called home and it guards their memory as if to say “It’s cool guys, I’ve got this now”.
I have never felt an attachment to September 11th, 2001 and I don’t think one can truly call themselves a New Yorker unless they have. I have however on two occasions felt a part of this city in that regard. The first time was exactly right around the time Seal Team Six was kicking in the doors to Osama Bin Laden’s hideout, I was visiting The Statue of Liberty for the first time. Late that night, hundreds of young and old New Yorkers flocked to the construction of Tower One in celebration. It was an indescribable catharsis and a great goddamn day to be in this city. The second occasion was when I witnessed out my window, the spire being snapped into place atop One World Trade, making it the tallest building in the western hemisphere. With twenty dollar binoculars I purchased at a Flea Market I was able to make out the figures working 1,776 feet above the ground. It was a defining moment when blue collar sweat and steel met high brow architectural vision. Education, training and class standing meant nothing to these guys, only the job at hand. It’s a feeling we as a country haven’t felt in long time.
I cannot claim ownership over the emotions of September 11th 2001 or the emotions of what was lost that day. I cannot grieve as natives, eye witnesses and victims grieve while touching familiar names over hallowed footprints. But when Tower One is completed and the site is in full bloom, fully realized by the modern day visionaries who imagined and constructed it, then I can say I am a part of that day.
Then I will call myself a New Yorker.
– SM –