One World Trade Center: 15 years of rebuilding a landmark

Tears, vows and memories marked emotionally charged ceremonies Sunday, September 11 at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon and a rural field in western Pennsylvania on the 15th anniversary of the most deadly terror attack in U.S. history.

Bells tolled across much of the nation at 8:46 a.m. ET, the moment the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Thousands gathered here as family members, after a moment of silence, solemnly said aloud the names of the almost 3,000 victims. The presenters each read about 30 names, ending with a few words about their own loss.

Fifteen years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the World Trade Center is still one of the world’s most scrutinized construction sites. Developers have had to balance honoring the dead while reviving some of the most valuable real estate in the world.

The twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center were iconic. They stood tall as a testament to the strength and abilities of the humans who built them, and to both the city and country that they called home.

The north and south towers officially opened in 1970 and 1971, respectively. The nearly-identical buildings were the tallest in the world until being surpassed by Chicago’s Sears Tower in 1973. The north tower stood just six feet taller than its counterpart.

The towers were destroyed in the September 11 attacks, killing over 2,000 people that were within their walls or in the area at the time. In addition to the tragic and unfathomable loss of life, the collapse of the towers caused health issues, worldwide financial problems and severe damage to the surrounding World Trade Center buildings.

The process of cleaning up the rubble of the collapsed towers was a tedious one, and cleanup efforts were deemed complete on May 30, 2002 — nearly nine months after the attacks. From there, decisions had to be made on what kind of structures would fill the vacant space left by the twin towers as Lower Manhattan was rebuilt.

For years after the 9/11 attacks, nearly all the activity at Ground Zero was downward—digging through the piles of debris, excavating a vast pit to restore the ruined transit lines, preparing the foundations for the new buildings that would emerge there.

The new World Trade Center needed to be a public response to 9/11 while providing valuable commercial real estate for its private owners, to be open to its neighbors yet safe for its occupants. It needed to acknowledge the tragedy from which it was born while serving as a triumphant affirmation of the nation’s resilience in the face of it.

“It was meant to be all things to all people,” says Christopher Ward, who helped manage the rebuilding as executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “It was going to answer every question that it raised. Was it an answer to the terrorists? Was the market back? Was New York going to be strong? That’s what was really holding up progress.”

A 1,776-foot-tall skyscraper, initially called the ‘Freedom Tower,’ was pitched as the new One World Trade Center (a title formerly held by the north tower). A ground-breaking ceremony was held for the building on April 27, 2006.

Eight years later, on November 3, 2014, the new One World Trade Center was completed, a shining beacon of the hope and resilience of the American people in the wake of tragedy. The skyscraper, which is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, overlooks the reflecting pools and museum of the 9/11 memorial, as well as the rest of the new World Trade Center area.

You can see the names of almost 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 attacks — including those killed in Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon — on the panels around the memorial pools. But it’s hard to find many remnants of that day’s destruction on the World Trade Center’s new plaza.

Seven stories below the plaza, visitors at the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum can see a crushed fire engine and a memorial wall behind which the unidentified remains of Sept. 11 victims are stored. Aboveground, developers say they’re constructing living memorials through new skyscrapers. Their business strategy has shifted toward tenants from the tech and creative industries. When the Westfield shopping center opened at noon today at the World Trade Center, it marked the first time there has been a shopping mall at ground zero since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Somewhere between 50 and 60 of the fully leased center’s 113 retail tenants will be open for business today in the 365,000-square-foot shopping complex, while the rest are set to open before the holiday season, reports CNBC.

The latest addition now open to the public is a $4 billion, marble-floored train station. Every day, thousands stream through the World Trade Center Transportation Hub on their way to their new offices, shopping malls or the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum. Above them are soaring, white steel arches that have been compared to a rack of whale bones.

Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The attacks and the reaction to them have shaped U.S. policy for the last 15 years, leaving a nation that is far more vigilant and jittery about terrorism. Yet for all of the talk about 9/11, many elements of the attacks and the actions leading up to them have receded from the public memory. To the families, friends and colleagues of the nearly 3,000 victims who lost their lives on that dreadful night, these painful memories will stay with them for the remained of their lives.

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