One World Trade Center: capturing an icon in pictures

19 May 2013 (Last Updated May 19th, 2013 18:30)

Twelve years after New York's twin towers were razed to the ground by terrorists, the One World Trade Center has been topped out. In this photo feature, we describe the process of building a new symbol of freedom and hope in the face of adversity.

One World Trade Center: capturing an icon in pictures

The Statue of Liberty has stood as a symbol of freedom and democracy since its dedication in 1886, but today, an even stronger sign of resilience towers over the US, the One World Trade Center. On 10 May, 2013, a crane lifted the last piece of the silver spire on top of the New York-based building, which now stands at 1,776 feet, a fitting reference to the year America signed the Declaration of Independence.

OWTC one

The 18-piece spire was designed in collaboration with artist Kenneth Snelson and shipped from Canada.


The completion of the 18-piece spire makes One WTC the tallest building in the Western hemisphere and marks a key milestone in an effort to replace the twin towers destroyed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Weighed down: problems encountered by the project

But in an attempt to build a beacon of hope, developers have been plagued by a series of delays, disputes and cost overruns, which put the future of the skyscraper and its surrounding buildings in doubt.

OWTC two

The construction of the foundation for One WTC was a significant engineering feat because it was constructed adjacent to and around the PATH, an operating railroad system.


A ground breaking ceremony took place at the One WTC site in Lower Manhattan on July 4, 2004, but further construction work suffered years of setbacks due to a number of disputes over ownership, design, financing and security.

A replacement for the original World Trade Center Complex has been on the cards for almost 11 years. In February 2003, architect Daniel Libeskind was selected in an open competition to design the ground zero project.

But his concepts went through several revisions and were largely discarded by May 2005, soon after Skidmore Owings and Merrill's David Childs joined the project at the request of top New York City real estate developer Larry Silverstein, who had won a 99-year lease for the World Trade Center with a $3.2bn bid just weeks before the twin towers were razed to the ground.

OWTC three

The first tower column was installed on August 12, 2009.


In a candid book, Breaking Ground, published in 2004, Libeskind recounts his "forced marriage" to Childs, and portrays the SOM architect as overbearing, determined to eliminate Libeskind's original design.

Twists and turns: making the dream reality

In the early plan, the tower was a twisting, angular glass structure with a spire that reached out on one side to mirror the Statue of Liberty's arm. He visualised aerial gardens, wind mills and public plazas which would accompany the building and an an elevated promenade circling the structure.

But much of the design was tailored to meet Silverstein's "uncompromising demands for yet more office space without regard for the public plazas, parks, memorials and streets of the master plan", Libeskind recalled in this book.

OWTC four

The construction of the One WTC was delayed due to disputes between owners and developers.


One WTC's final design is an octagonal structure which tapers as it rises. Childs planned to clad the building in prismatic glass, but preliminary testing proved this material easily shattered into large and dangerous shards. Instead, the structure is being covered in more than 4,000 13-foot glass fins positioned at varying angles. In combination with reflective coating, they refract and transmit light to create a shimmering surface.

Other safety features were included in the building's design to prepare it for another terrorist attack, including three feet-thick reinforced concrete walls for all stairwells, a reinforced concrete core, a dedicated set of stairwells for firefighters and elevator shafts.

Initial plans to enclose the spire, designed in collaboration with artist Kenneth Snelson, with a protective shell were also scrapped after it was claimed it would be too expensive and dangerous to maintain.

OWTC five

The tower is clad in 4,000 glass fins positioned at varying angles.


In 2006, Silverstein came to blows with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the transportation agency that built the 110-storey twin towers in the early 1970s.

The two parties had failed to reach an agreement for the financial plan for its 16-acre World Trade Center complex, which also includes four smaller commercial buildings, a transportation hub, 352,000 square feet of retail space and a 9/11 Memorial Museum.

The Port Authority had been pressing Silverstein for proof that he has the necessary financial resources for One WTC, then known as Freedom Tower, and proposed taking over the construction of the structure.

OWTC six

The final piece of the spire was installed on 10 May, 2013, making the One WTC the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.


In April 2006, Silverstein agreed to yield its rights over the One WTC and instead retain control of three buildings planned along the site's eastern edge, included a 950ft tower designed by British architect Norman Foster.

Sky high: One World Trade Center's soaring budget

Two years later, an arbitration panel ruled that the Port Authority did not fully excavate and prepare the two sites for Silverstein Properties, violating the terms of the agreement.

As the completion date for One WTC got pushed further ahead, the construction bill soared. Originally budgeted at $2bn, costs are now estimated to be $3.8bn.

OWTC seven

Architectural rendering of the completed World Trade Center complex.


With the last of the major disputes resolved, One WTC has finally been topped out and 55% of the building has been leased to publisher Condé Nast, the federal government; China Center New York; and the Legends Hospitality Group, which manages the observation deck.

New York's One WTC, a fitting tribute

At last, rows and squabbles have been put into perspective by the enormity of work that went into building such a symbolic building.

Speaking on the day the structure's spire was installed, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said: "Today's achievement is a fitting tribute to the sacrifices made by so many brave and innocent souls nearly 12 years ago."

The tower's interior construction is expected to be completed later this year, with an official opening scheduled for 2014.

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