The site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks near the southern tip of Manhattan Island was full of helmeted construction workers and the roar of heavy machinery in mid-March.
Where the two 417-meter-tall towers of the World Trade Center once stood, there were now two huge man-made square pools.
The rest of the memorial square, designed as both a symbol of defiance against the terrorist violence and a memorial to those who died in the 2011 outrage, is gradually taking shape. It will be partially surrounded by five high-rise buildings, including Tower 4, designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki.
The square’s lead building, One World Trade Center (1 WTC), had already reached the 95th floor when I visited, its mirror-glass facade reflecting the surrounding structures.
When completed late next year it will have 104 floors and a height of 1,776 feet (541 meters), making it the tallest building in the United States. Its height was chosen to coincide with the year the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence: 1776.
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When the hijacked airplanes hit the twin towers, real estate agent Larry Silverstein, 80, happened to be away from his office on the 88th floor of the North Tower. That saved his life. He is still a World Trade Center lease holder and is one of the key figures in the redevelopment of the site.
"I was raised in New York. This city needs a new tower," he says.
Skyscrapers first began to rise in Manhattan, which is of roughly equivalent size to the inner circle of Tokyo's Yamanote Line loop, at the beginning of the 20th century. Second-generation American Silverstein was born in 1931, the same year that the Empire State Building was completed, and grew up amid the city’s world-famous towers.
The World Trade Center's twin towers were built in the first half of the 1970s.
"Skyscrapers were born from money," says Carol Willis, director of The Skyscraper Museum, next to the World Trade Center. "The purpose of the WTC was to create as many commercial floors in New York as possible."
The towers were designed by Japanese-American architect Minoru Yamasaki, and were initially widely criticized as "useless white elephants" and "ugly boxes.” But, as time went by, New Yorkers gradually came to view them in a different light.
"Everyone thought of the twin towers as a part of New York," says Robert Yaro, president of the local nonprofit organization Regional Plan Association.
Two months after the terrorist attacks, the governor of New York and the mayor of New York City created an independent body to consider possibilities for redeveloping the site. People such as Roland Betts, owner of Chelsea Piers on the Hudson River, took central roles in putting the project together, and an open competition to design a memorial involving renowned architects was held.
Betts says most of the people involved in the discussions around the rebuilding project were motivated by one sentiment: they would not yield in the face of terrorism, and they would build an even greater building than had stood before.
Some people simply called for the complete restoration of the World Trade Center as it had existed before the attacks. Supporters of the idea held two fingers in the air at public meetings, silently demanding that the twin towers be rebuilt.
The desire to defy the terrorists overwhelmed concerns that there was no demand for offices in the new skyscrapers or that they might become another target for terrorists.
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"It is my first time seeing 1 WTC up close. The design is not bad," says Greg Manning as he sat in a hotel restaurant overlooking Ground Zero. It had been five years since his last visit.
Eleven years before, Manning worked for a bank on the 84th floor of the South Tower, but was taking a day off on Sept. 11. His wife, Lauren, who worked for major securities broker Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the North Tower, was entering the lobby of the building just moments after the first plane hit. She sustained 80 percent burns to her body from the fireball it produced, but miraculously survived.
Between them, the couple lost around 700 friends and colleagues.
Today, when they think of the old twin towers, they see the faces of the people they knew who worked there.
"I want to remember how they lived," says Lauren.
Greg believes that is why another skyscraper must be constructed.
"I want to stand up there and feel the wind shake the building, looking at the same sky that my friends and workmates saw," he says. "It'll remind us that they were once alive here, as a way of paying tribute to them."
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