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THE 1 & 2 WORLD TRADE CENTER (Between Vesey St. and Liberty St.)
[Minoru Yamasaki & Assoc. and Emery Roth and Sons]

are the two towers soaring up from the midst of the World Trade Center complex (seven buildings in all, one of which is a hotel and one is across Vesey street) (map) in Downtown Manhattan. Owned by the New York and New Jersey Port Authorities, the WTC was planned to attract international firms to Downtown Manhattan.

Originally planned on the Downtown East River waterfront, this trading and business center was to also incorporate the New York Stock Exchange, but when the project was relocated, under the auspices of the Port Authority, to the Hudson River shore in 1962, also the NYSE connection was dropped.

The site chosen was originally owned by the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad and occupied, along with other low-rises, by the rail terminal and the adjoining twin office skyscrapers (image) at 30 and 50 Church Street, dating from 1908. At the time of their completion, these were the largest office buildings in the world. The buildings had, in fact, undergone a major, multi-million renovation just before they were bought and demolished.

During the pre-planning stage, over 100 schemes were studied, including a plan for a single 150-storey tower which was discarded due to an excessive scale and replaced by a design with twin towers. The completed WTC plan was introduced in 1964 and after slight alterations, like the abandonment of a plan enclosing the plaza with a low-height building "wall" or change of cladding material from stainless steel to an aluminium-alloy, the construction was started.

The towers required 23 m deep foundations, and the dug-out earth was used as a land-fill for the nearby Battery Park City. The prefabricated steel elements made in the mid-west and on the west coast were shipped to New York and eight cranes built in Australia were used to hoist the elements into place. In all, 181,400 metric tons of structural steel was used in the towers.

The towers started to rise off the ground in March 1969 and were dedicated on April 4th 1973. They were at 415.5 m (WTC 2) and 417 m (WTC 1: 521 m with the TV mast) the tallest buildings in the world until the completion of the Sears Tower in Chicago in 1974.

As part of its modern office building status, the center was to have a complete, integrated telecommunications network system, much like those built into the modern office buildings. From the offered proposals, the ITT package was chosen, but years of mainly legislative delays led to stripping down of the delivered system as well as a change of the provider. The system nevertheless broke new ground with, for example, the first business-use data and video fiber optic and cable network in the USA, electronic international mail and business directory services and the first commercial building electronic central telephone switch.

In the beginning, because of the difficulties in finding tenants, the State of New York had to rent out most of the buildings to avoid a total financial disaster. Moreover, the price had soared in the course of the construction from the originally estimated $350 million to the presented $800 million -- which was widely considered to be $300 million short of the true cost. Even it didn't include the annual payment of $25 million to the construction locals during the years of delayed construction -- years which were beset further by inflation and unstable interest rates.

Nowadays, there are about 500 international companies in the Center, providing work for 50,000 people. The Center has subway stations of its own (both for six subway lines of the NYC subway service and for the cross-Hudson PATH line -- acting as a terminus for New Jersey commuters), as well as an underground shopping center of 60 shops, the largest in the city.

The towers house 418,600 m² of office space, which at 75% of the total floor area is considerably more than was usual in high-rises. The upper floor office area is up to 3,700 m² due to the open area afforded by the structural system. The employment of a load-bearing outer wall was also a factor that saved one of the towers in the 1993 WTC parking garage bombing.

The entrance lobbies are all in all seven storeys high, the third floor being on the upper plaza level as a mezzanine floor (image) along the outer walls, leaving the central part open. From the all-glass walls (intermittently interrupted by supporting columns, though) of the mezzanine, a view opens to the 21,500 m² Austin J. Tobin Plaza (image), the largest public plaza in NYC, occupying the space between the buildings of the Center. A $12 million rework on the plaza in 1999 replaced the white Italian marble cladding with 40,000 blocks of brown and red granite. Also spiralling benches for the "radial" plaza were installed and the mid-plaza sculpture Globe by Fritz Koenig restored to rotate again. There is also the sculpture Ideogram by Rosati on the plaza (image).

The elevator complement consists of 23 express elevators and 72 local elevators in each zone. There are 43,600 windows in the towers; glass, however, comprises only 30% of the towers' facade area, the rest being taken up by the aluminium-clad columns that leave between only narrow, slot-like windows. In order to allow the top floor observation facilities better views, the top floor windows had to be widened by one-third. In each tower, a specially-designed window washing machine travels up and down the facades and takes half an hour to wash one vertical stripe of windows.

Despite the strict security checks, the observation decks (opened 1975) of WTC 2 at 107th and 110th floors are visited daily by 80,000 people. The WTC 1 has a group of restaurants and bars at the 107th floor level, crowned by the Windows on the World restaurant (1976) with appropriately sky-high prices and reservation requirements. When the weather permits, both offer breathtaking views, though.

The other, low-rise office buildings were completed between 1972 and 1977. In 1981 the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill-designed Vista International Hotel (the 3 WTC, 820 rooms, since 1998 a Marriott hotel) was completed as the last addition to the main compound (image). The buildings in the World Trade Center (excluding the 7 World Trade Center) house a total of 930,000 m² of office space, seven times the that of the Empire State Building.

On August 7th 1974 the French tightrope performer Philippe Petit performed a 45-minute walk between the towers' tops, a distance of 40 meters.

NYT Articles: Blast Hits Trade Center | A Vertical World of Its Own
Great Buildings Collection entry
New York's World Trade Center: Tall Stories - essays and pieces
Garth's Hall of Architecture entry on Yamasaki | WTC Register
a pictoral tour in World Trade Center | images | image

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