One World Trade Center Heralds a New Epoch

One World Trade Center in New York City
New York City’s One World Trade Center

My first glimpse in three years of Manhattan’s transformed skyline happened about a week and half before the 9/11 anniversary.

I was traveling to New York City from DC, motoring along the New Jersey Turnpike in an express bus where I had a window seat. I noticed Midtown first, but as I scanned south I saw a gleaming new behemoth that dwarfed the Empire State Building. It was One World Trade Center.

My first thought was: yes!

This colossus is the perfect architectural response to the crime of 9/11. It is muscular and massive, but also modern and elegant. I loved it immediately, and felt patriotic pride.

It was the Labor Day holiday and I was visiting my sister, who lives in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. That meant I got to admire One World Trade Center all weekend. Wherever we walked, we could see it soar from Lower Manhattan through the canyon-like vantage of the avenues.

I photographed it several times while we took a funny, kitschy tourist boat ride on the Hudson. We were on a high-speed boat called “The Beast,” which raced at 45 miles per hour from Chelsea Piers down to the Statue of Liberty and back, in just 30 minutes.

I highly recommend it.

After the boat ride, we took the subway down for a closer look. The first thing you notice is how much construction is still going on, with several more buildings rising as part of the re-developed World Trade Center.

Also, there are the crowds visiting – or hoping to visit – the 9/11 Memorial. I wanted to see that as well, but we hadn’t gotten tickets in advance and were running short on time.

So instead of focusing on 9/11’s death and destruction – and the pain it still evokes – I kept looking up.

At 104 stories, One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It’s the fourth-tallest building in the world when including its 408-foot spire which, symbolically, rises to a height of 1,776 feet.

One World Trade Center shines like a beacon.
One World Trade Center shines like a beacon as it reflects sunlight.

One World Trade Center is the strongest, safest, greenest, and most innovative skyscraper of such scale ever built. It’s also the most expensive, with the latest estimate I found putting the price tag at $3.8 billion.

Sunlight bounces off the octagonal sections of its bluish glass-and-steel façade. Its windows are made of strong but ultra-clear glass to allow maximum sunlight in the interior.

Little wonder it’s such a bright building — 90% of its occupied spaces use natural light.

The skyscraper takes green building “to new heights” (sorry, had to). One World Trade Center is expected to receive U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design) Gold standard, just one below Platinum.

Approximately 70% of its energy use will come from green energy, and the skyscraper will exceed New York City code requirements for energy efficiency by 20 percent. It houses two storage tanks on its 57th floor to collect rainwater used for operations.

When it comes to toilets, one of the world’s highest buildings will have the lowest flow. Toilets in One World Trade Center are specially shaped to increase the velocity of flushing, using only a fraction of the water needed in today’s standard low-flow toilets.

Now that’s elimination!

This bad-boy building is also very strong. One World Trade Center’s interior features large open floor plans thanks to its massive central core. The core is made of a special fire-resistant, reinforced concrete that is the strongest concrete ever developed at 14,000 psi (pounds per square inch).

By contrast, standard (wimpy) concrete has a psi of 400.

The building’s “podium” base is a 16-acre square that rises 20 stories before tapering into an octagon. Then at the top the skyscraper squares off again, alluding to the square twin towers that once stood nearby.

A fitting homage to its stately but vulnerable twin predecessors.

One World Trade Center view from "The Beast" tourist boat.
Admiring One World Trade Center from the belly of “The Beast” tourist boat.

Unlike most skyscrapers, One World Trade Center is unusually stiff on account of its strength. But its octagonal shape and tapered corners reduce wind turbulence and the need for sway that most tall buildings accommodate.

One World Trade Center’s safety components are its most notable feature. The building’s architect, David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, was determined to make it the safest skyscraper ever built.

At ground level, the podium base and main lobby feature special shatter-proof glass and blast walls designed to withstand a truck-bomb. The 55-foot high main lobby is also designed to offer an open and welcoming feel.

The building’s 54 high-speed elevators are the fastest in the world; its stairwells are pressurized to prevent smoke penetration from a fire, and they’re extra-wide to accommodate occupants with disabilities.

Along with the stairwells and elevators, advanced communications and safety systems are encased in the core, including a dedicated stairwell for first-responder use.

Tenant occupancy of One World Trade Center is currently at 55%, with some concerns that the skyscraper may be difficult to fill.

One thing is certain: One World Trade Center will stand. And it will lead us into a new era of innovative, efficient, and safe skyscraper design.

As the famous German-American architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, once said: “Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space.”