American Landmark: The 9/11 Memorial, Museum, and New World Trade Center
Updated: Jul 20, 2021
Flags at the Memorial on September 11, 2015
American Landmarks is an irregular feature focusing on buildings, sites, objects, and structures which have not been officially designated as any of the four landmark types covered on this site, but have still been deemed by me to be important icons of America.
The National September 11 Memorial and Museum occupies the site in Lower Manhattan where terrorist hijackers flew two commercial airliners into the Twin Towers of the original World Trade Center, destroying both buildings and taking thousands of lives on the deadliest day of terrorism in American History.
Hijackers flew a third plane into the Pentagon in Virginia. A fourth was intentionally grounded in rural Pennsylvania by its hijackers after the passengers staged a revolt and attempted to regain control of the aircraft. That plane was headed toward Washington, DC and could have hit the White House or Capitol Building.
The events of September 11th changed the world and quickly defined the 21st Century. In response to the attacks, US President George W. Bush declared the Global War on Terror during a September 20th speech to a special joint session of Congress. Soon after, the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom, an invasion of Afghanistan that continued for 20 years after the attack. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq as well. The War on Terror spread to other nations too, as terrorist attacks hit the capitals of the world from London to Madrid and Moscow to Mumbai. To date, terrorism remains the greatest security threat to nations across the globe.
The Manhattan attack site, known for years following the tragedy as "Ground Zero", transitioned from a massive search and rescue effort to a cleanup and recovery operation, and finally to a construction site as the memorial, museum, and buildings of the new World Trade Center complex were completed over the course of more than a decade. Work on the site continues today and is expected to stretch until 2022.
Today the National September 11 Memorial and Museum serves as a place to commemorate those lost in the tragedy and reflect upon the importance of that fateful day to US and world history.
From the ashes of Ground Zero has risen one of the world's most modern and iconic office complexes. Sheathed in gleaming glass and stretching toward the sky, the towers of the New World Trade Center, including One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, have become modern American Landmarks in their own right.
Events of September 11, 2001 in Manhattan
The following account is adapted from the official 9/11 Commission Report published by the United States Federal Government. The complete details of the day's events can be found by consulting Chapters 1 and 9 of that book.
At 8:46 am on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11, scheduled to fly from Boston to Los Angeles, smashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. It was a clear and sunny day in Manhattan, and the primary election for the mayoral race was scheduled to take place. The impact of American 11 left a gaping hole in the North Tower and caused a large cloud of smoke to billow out from it. A large fireball of burning jet fuel raced down an elevator bank, bursting out at various points along the way to the basement. Television stations interrupted their normal broadcasts with live footage of the scene.
It is estimated that hundreds of people were killed instantly when the plane hit the Tower. Hundreds more were trapped above the impact zone. No one above the 92nd floor would survive the attack.
Firefighters and police officers raced to the scene. The wails of emergency vehicle sirens pierced the air citywide. September 11 was the single deadliest day for first responders and law enforcement in American History. 343 New York City Fire Department personnel perished, along with 37 Port Authority Police Officers, 23 New York Police Department Officers, 8 EMTS or paramedics, and 1 New York Fire Patrolman.
As news of the incident spread, networks broke into regularly scheduled programming with live coverage, and soon millions of people around the globe were watching the scene in New York live. At 9:03 am, in full view of the cameras, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. The plane banked before hitting the building, impacting it sideways and leaving only one stairwell completely passable from top to bottom, while taking out the other three. What many had thought to be an accident now seemed clearly to be a deliberate act.
Less than an hour after it was hit, the South Tower did the unthinkable: it collapsed. Millions watched in horror as the 110 story building came tumbling down, one floor after another. Those on the ground desperately fled a massive cloud of dust and debris which covered everything in its path.
At 10:28 am the North Tower followed suit. The Twin Towers, icons of the New York skyline and once the world's tallest buildings, had been completely destroyed.
The Twin Towers of the original World Trade Center, photograph displayed in the window of the Museum
South Reflecting Pool
In the months after the attack, there was intense public debate about what should occupy the site of the World Trade Center. In his final address as Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani promised to advocate for a "soaring, monumental" memorial to the victims. The new Chairman of the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Commission, tasked with rebuilding the neighborhood, also pledged that building a memorial would be a top priority of his group. There were calls for the site to be used for commercial activity as it had been before, in order to ensure it did not "die out" and lose its status as one of the defining centers of the American economy.
In 2003, the Commission held an international design competition for the memorial. Over 5,000 entries were received from 63 nations around the globe. A jury of 13 people including Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin, other artists, local officials, and the wife of a 9/11 victim selected the entry of Michael Arad and Peter Walker, titled "Reflecting Absence."
Arad is Israeli by birth and served in the Israeli Defense Force for three years. He was educated in the United States at Dartmouth and Georgia Tech. At the time he submitted his entry, Arad was an architect for the New York City Housing Authority and had designed award winning projects in Hong Kong and Miami while working for an architectural firm.
Walker founded his own landscape architecture firm in Berkeley, California in 1983. He has designed a wide variety of projects across the world, including the Millennium Park for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
The central features of the Memorial Plaza are the massive twin reflecting pools and waterfalls. The south pool is shown above. Each of the pools is about an acre in size and stands in the footprint of one of the original Twin Towers. The two pools are positioned diagonally from each other on the plaza, just as those structures were.
Water cascades from the top rim of the pools to a lower level, forming the waterfalls and reflecting pools, before falling again into a deeper abyss that viewers cannot see the bottom of. This visual sensation represents both the absence of the Towers and the empty place in the lives of those who lost a loved one that day.
The names of each victim of the September 11th attacks and the February 1993 bombing of the Trade Center are engraved in bronze panels surrounding each pool. The names are stencil cut to allow visitors to take rubbings and are back-lit at night so they remain visible.
Special care was taken to ensure the memorial plaza is environmentally friendly. Over 400 trees were planted throughout the space, mostly swamp white oaks taken from spots within a 500-mile radius of Ground Zero, as well as locations in Pennsylvania and the Washington, D.C. suburbs. The plaza is actually a green roof for a large underground complex that includes the Museum and a PATH train station. The space between the ceiling of these structures and the plaza pavement was left wider than usual and filled with earth in order to ensure the trees' roots have ample room to grow. The entire Memorial is LEED Gold Certified.
Memorial Photo Gallery
Memorial Museum Pavilion
The 9/11 Memorial Museum is the nation's official cultural institution responsible for preserving and interpreting the story of the attacks. The Museum's permanent collection holds tens of thousands of artifacts relating to the events of, coverage of, and reaction to September 11th.
The Pavilion, pictured above, is the only above-ground portion of the museum. It holds the ticket booths, security checkpoint, and main entrance. Visitors line up for ticket purchases and the security check directly outside. The Pavilion was designed by international design studio SNØHETTA, which has completed a number of high-profile projects around the world.
Museum Interior Sign
After security, an escalator leads visitors down to the main museum. The underground space was designed by Davis Brody Bond, another well-known firm with notable projects around the country and strong ties to New York City. While on the escalator, visitors pass the Tridents, so named for their three-pronged tops. These are large steel columns that once helped form the east facade of the North Tower. They were anchored to the bedrock below ground level and rose to the fifth story before splitting three ways. This iconic design is visible in the photo of the Twin Towers above.
After passing the Tridents, visitors proceed past some brief introductory exhibitions down a ramp to a landing that overlooks the Foundation Hall. This is the largest open space in the Museum, spreading over 15,000 square feet. The Hall's left wall is a Slurry Wall built as part of the original World Trade Center's construction to hold back the Hudson River. Since the foundation of the original complex was dug immediately adjacent to the river, it needed to be protected from potential flooding. The slurry wall served this purpose by creating a "bathtub" for the site. Despite the chaos above it on 9/11, the wall held. Its failure and the resulting flooding of the complex's foundation would have created an even worse nightmare for the rescue and recovery operation.
Foundation Hall visitors sit in front of Last Column and Slurry Wall
In the center of the Foundation Hall is the Last Column. This was the final piece of steel removed from the site after the attacks. Specially selected a few weeks ahead of time, the column was covered in messages and items of tribute by site workers.
From the Foundation Hall, visitors enter the Memorial Hall, which is the passage connecting the North and South Tower footprints.
The wall of the Memorial Hall features a quote from Virgil's Aeneid: "No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time." Each letter was cast by New Mexico blacksmith Tom Joyce, who used steel recovered from the site. The quote is surrounded by the artwork "Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky that September Morning", a collection of 2,983 watercolor tiles by artist Spencer Finch. There is one tile for each attack victim, and each is painted a different shade of blue.
The remainder of the Museum is divided between the North and South Tower footprints. Each gallery space stands below its corresponding reflecting pool above ground.
The South Tower area is home to the In Memorandum gallery, which displays a photo of each attack victim. There is also the Renewal at Ground Zero theater, which shows a 10-minute film about the site's recovery and redevelopment.
The North Tower area holds the main historical exhibition, with hundreds of artifacts, several films, and some interactive stations which tell the story of September 11th, the events that lead up to it, and those which followed. The exhibit follows a winding path, and there are exits placed throughout for visitors who feel overwhelmed by what they see and wish to step out early. Also in the North Tower area is the Reflecting on 9/11 exhibit, which showcases personal reactions to the tragedy from past museum visitors, victims' families, and public figures, as well as recording booths for visitors to leave their own impressions on tape.
Photography is not allowed in the In Memorandum or historical exhibitions.
In addition to the artifacts and exhibits, the Museum features an auditorium, gift shop, cafe, and education center for programming.
Last Column and Foundation Hall
The New World Trade Center
The World Trade Center, 2017 as viewed from Jersey City, New Jersey. From left to right are: One World Trade Center, the tallest building in North America, finished in 2014; the empty space where Two World Trade Center will stand upon its completion; Three World Trade Center, opening in 2018; and Four World Trade Center, also finished in 2014.
The original World Trade Center had been envisioned, built, funded, and managed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an agency overseen by the Governors of both states and charged with managing the transportation infrastructure of the Western portion of the Greater New York City area including the seaport, bridge and tunnel crossings of the Hudson River, and airports.
Despite its landmark status, massive scale, and international celebrity, the World Trade Center often had trouble attracting and retaining enough tenants to remain profitable. By 2001, the Port Authority had grown open to the idea of leasing the complex to a private developer, in the hopes new management would make the Center more successful. The Authority selected Larry Silverstein, who signed a $3 billion, 99 year lease for the complex just weeks before the attack.
After 9/11, the process of rebuilding dragged on far longer than anyone anticipated. Silverstein clashed with the Port Authority and Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Commission over what should occupy the site and the final design details of the project. The developer was among those insisting that office towers be rebuilt, because he would not be allowed to claim the insurance money on the project without them. After a legal dispute with his insurer and an attempted lawsuit against American and United Airlines, Sliverstein collected $4 billion in insurance money. This proved to be only a fraction of the cost of rebuilding. Ground Zero has been America's most famous construction site since the attacks, and work continues to this day.
The buildings of the World Trade Center are listed below in order of their completion date.
Seven World Trade Center (right) with One World Trade Center
Completed in 2006, Seven World Trade Center was the first tower on the site to be rebuilt. Silverstein had been the outright owner of the original tower and thus was allowed to rebuild it to his liking with minimal conflict. A simple but elegant design of curtain wall glass, the tower was created by David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM). 7 WTC was New York City's first LEED Gold Certified office building. Sporting 1.7 million feet of office space across 52 floors, major tenants of the tower include Moody's and the New York Academy of Sciences.
Four World Trade Center (right) with Three World Trade Center (left)
Four World Trade Center came next, completed in 2013. At 297 meters high, it is just three shy of counting as a supertall skyscraper. Designed by Fumihiko Maki, the tower is also covered by floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing for incredible views of the surrounding cityscape for its occupants. There are five floors of retail space in the tower, which connects to the Oculus mall and transportation hub. Major tenants include music streaming service Spotify and the Port Authority.
One World Trade Center
One World Trade Center is the centerpiece of the new complex, a 1776 foot supertall skyscraper that is the tallest building in the United States and the Western Hemisphere. Designed by David M. Childs of SOM, the tower, formed by eight isosceles triangles, rises from a tall, cubic base with a footprint as large as that of the original Twin Towers. A perfect octagon at its center, the tower is topped with a communications platform ring and an iconic 408-foot crowning spire. Like its peers on the site, One World Trade is sheathed in glass.
The tower's major anchor tenant is the Condé Nast publishing group. The One World Observatory and its associated bar and restaurants occupy floors 100-102.
One World Trade Center Photo Gallery
Winged Transportation Hub, designed by Santiago Calatrava
The World Trade Center Transportation Hub was designed by celebrity Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and opened in 2016. Its iconic soaring white wings create a ribbed interior and are separated by a full-length skylight which is opened on September 11th of each year. The Hub connects New York City Subway Lines at Fulton Street with Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) trains to Newark and Hoboken. There is also access to Brookfield Place and its offices, shops, restaurants, and ferry terminal through a large underground passageway.
Oculus Interior, a few months before completion
The interior of the hub is known as the Oculus, a sterling white space beneath the building's ribs and skylight which houses the Westfield World Trade Center mall. Dozens of prominent retailers opened locations within the complex, including Apple, whose store occupies a prominent position on the main level.
Three World Trade Center (left) rises above Four World Trade Center (right) and the Transportation Hub
At 328 meters high, Three World Trade Center will qualify as a supertall skyscraper when it officially opens in 2018. Following a unique design by architect Richard Rodgers, the tower sports an exterior steel skeleton with diamond-shaped braces. The building contains 2.5 million square feet of office space and five floors of retail, reflecting its proximity to the Oculus mall. The anchor tenant here is Group M, the world's largest media investment firm.
Still under construction at the site are Two World Trade Center and the Performing Arts Center.
Two World Trade was redesigned in the hopes of attracting media companies NewsCorp and 21st Century Fox, both controlled by Rupert Murdoch, as anchor tenants. The new design is a series of stepped glass boxes with outdoor terraces created by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Murdoch has decided against moving his companies to the tower, and construction is on hold while the tenant search continues. The tower is expected to be completed between 2020 and 2022. It will sit just north of the Transportation Hub.
The Performing Arts Center has officially been named the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Performing Arts at the World Trade Center in honor of Mr. Perelman, a billionaire investor, and philanthropist who donated tens of millions to the project. The Center will resemble a large cube and sit immediately east of One World Trade Center.
After the devastation of 9/11, the Memorial, Museum, and New World Trade Center stand as symbols of rebirth and remembrance at Ground Zero. The complex is a testament to the unique experience of shock, grief, strength, and resilience Americans faced on that day and in the years following. Even as September 11th falls deeper into history, its effects are still being felt. The ongoing construction at the site and war in Afghanistan are reminders that what was started that day has not yet been truly finished.
In loving memory of all those lost on September 11, 2001.
We Will Never Forget
The Tribute In Light
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