Built on Facts

Rebuilding

Eight years ago today a terrorist group attacked and killed more than three thousand people. Nothing I can say can improve on what other have said in the memory of this horror, and nothing I can say will change any opinions about what followed.

I would, however, like to express my bitterness and disappointment on the failure to do the one thing almost everyone agreed upon even before the smoke cleared. There was only one right, proper, and American thing to do: rebuild. Rebuild the twin towers as they were, with an extra few feet in height as an act of defiance. Even building a different structure would be better than nothing as long as it was a taller and prouder symbol of American resilience, built with speed and efficiency.

Today – eight years after the towers fell – we have the bare beginnings of scaffolding for what will become a dreadfully cowering structure. The new 1 World Trade Center (formerly the Freedom Tower) will have only half the floor space of either of the Twin Towers taken individually. It will have fewer floors than either of the originals, and its comparable height is only the result of the structure sitting on an ugly and paranoid bunker of a base. Completion is not officially expected until 2013, and recent reports indicate that the actual date of topping out may be as late as 2018.

The original Twin Towers – both of them – went from groundbreaking to completion in a little over four years. The Sears Tower took two years. The current world’s tallest building is the Burj Dubai, and is scheduled for completion this year. Construction started in 2004.

That what should be the most important and symbolic skyscraper in the hemisphere is a tiny shell of an eventual anemic building is nothing less than a national embarrassment. If this were a just world everyone involved would be tarred and feathered. Regrettably this is not a just world, so all I can do is heap scorn and contempt on them from my internet soapbox. What has been allowed to happen is an insult to the memory of those who died. We owed them better.

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Comments

  1. #1 doug l
    September 11, 2009

    I can hardly think of a more effective memorial to the terrible incident than a big smoldering crater, but obvously that wont do in the long run. A memorial garden with poignant reminders, some of them coming off as more like over-gestures or too-clever by half, seem fine now but we eventually will place this into the context of the times through which we will struggle, as human cultures and societies have always done.
    But speaking of too-clever-by-half, I never liked the Liebeskind 1,776 foot tall optical illusion and vertigo generator, but then I’m not such a big fan of building just another glass tower, regardless of the kind of head-dress and underwear they put on it.
    My wish, for what it’s worth, and realizing the ship is going to sail without it abord, is to build not a tower but a sort of pyramid, emphasising the universal icon of longevity, persistence and durability, the symbolic mountain, but instead of slick surface and stark geometric form, I think it would be fitting if it emulated more natural form, rather like the building ‘aqua’ in chicago designed by architect Jean Gang. It’s worth looking at but only goes half the way. The exterior should be like a real mountain garden with small hanging valleys, fountains, falls, pathways and pocket parks for picnics or just getting some sun or shade or breeze or view..the exterior should be a park. The interior space would be for exhbition and commercial developement, offering soaring spaces and offering the comfort our species gets from watching swarms of us peacefully pursuing our social a economic activities. Imagine a mountain, if only half as tall as most of the neighboring slabs of steel and glass, but so different and compelling…and with so many more views, offering a place to get together outside or inside, enjoying the dynamic beauty of peregrins and pigeons or xmas shoppers and entourages of celebrities.
    Of course, what about bugs and bird poop, what if someone fell…the same old stuff that we use to keep ourselves confined the craziness inducing geometry of the frustration generator we call the urban landscape which offers us safety and security and an ever shrinking option to enjoy what E.O.Wilson called biophilia, and it’s that quality which is conspicuously absent from our modern world, the view of open parkland, trees with low hanging branches and the sight of a spring or pond or fountain, which I think accounts for some of the mental distress anyone who’s lived in a city can feel sometimes.
    I’m going outside now to enjoy a late summer afternoon amid the fields and forests. How I’d love to do that while 200′ or 400′ above the street level in NYC while gazing at the marvels all around me, while those in other buildings who are able t0 see this mountain outside their window would consider themselves better for it. Make your internal monkey happy and the rest of the day goes better.

  2. #2 anonymous
    September 11, 2009

    I’m more or less on board with your sentiments regarding the new tower, but where did you get “over six thousand”? Are you including those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan? I thought the actual tally from the attacks was more like under 3,000.

  3. #3 John
    September 11, 2009

    I thought there were supposed to be a total of 6 new buildings for the entire complex, not just one.

    Wikipedia confirms (heights to antenna or roof, whichever is higher):
    1 World Trade Center – 1776 ft tall, 2.6M square feet
    200 Greenwich Street – 1350 ft tall, 2.53M square feet
    175 Greenwich Street – 1255 ft tall, 2M square feet
    150 Greenwich Street – 975 ft tall, 1.8M square feet
    5 World Trade Center – 743 ft tall, 1.3M square feet
    7 World Trade Center – 741 ft tall, 1.7M square feet
    Total: 11.93M square feet

    As opposed to the old complex (same height pattern):
    1 WTC – 1727 ft, 4.3M square feet
    2 WTC – 1362 ft, 4.3M square feet
    3 WTC – height/size unknown
    4 WTC – height/size unknown
    5 WTC – only 9 stories, 1.08M square feet
    6 WTC – only 8 stories, 537693 square feet
    7 WTC – 610 ft, 1.868M square feet
    Total: 12.08+M square feet

    So pretty close. I’m not necessarily arguing about your major point, that we really could have done better. I’m sure we could do better easily without all of the bureaucracy holding it back. But its not quite as bad as you’ve made it out to be.

  4. #4 Comrade PhysioProf
    September 11, 2009

    Yeah, dude, you are totally right. We are Americans, goddammit, and we need to show the rest of the world that we have the HUGEST COCKS ON EARTH! GO USA!!!!!

  5. #5 Matt Springer
    September 11, 2009

    anonymous: Sorry, you’re right. Just over three thousand.

    CPP: Not to put too fine a point on it, yes. Pretty much. Not just because we’re Americans, but because the best thing anyone anywhere can do in response to disaster is to heal, rebuild, and come back better and stronger.

  6. #6 jon
    September 11, 2009

    Actually it was just under three thousand. If you’re building on facts, you should try to get them right :)

  7. #7 Robert
    September 11, 2009

    I think the delay has to do with time required to find new tenants. Some large businesses that used to be there built or acquired new headquarters and won’t be returning. Business that might want to move to the WTC have commitments to existing leases. It takes time to fill up millions of square feet. There are such a things as supply and demand, the economy and taxes of New York City, the availability and cost of labor, labor unions, raising funds to pay for construction costs, and finding tenants willing to pay for expensive leases that are realities angry physicists don’t have to deal with. :D

  8. #8 toss255
    September 11, 2009

    Every so often, you remind me that I read your blog for more than the physics alone. Thanks. I was there watching and then running as the buildings fell. Still mad they couldn’t organize themselves to rebuild at all.

    Eight years later, strikes me, that urban remodeling by the terrorists seems to have carried the day. The current plans are but a timid memorial to a terrible day, not a spirited rejoinder to American resilience.

    I’d have been happier if they put up at least one building within a year.

  9. #9 toss255
    September 11, 2009

    sorry, last phrase should have read …

    spirited rejoinder testifying to American resilience.

  10. #10 Matt Springer
    September 11, 2009

    Wikipedia says 3,017 – but that counts 24 presumed dead (fair enough) and the 19 hijackers. Interesting that the three thousand mark requires counting the attackers. I think I’ll let the post stand as-is, with the assumption that readers interested in exactness can read the caveats in the comments.

    Robert: And tenants willing to work in what is admittedly a likely future target. Still, I doubt it could be attacked with such success again. Car bombs are easy to prevent (don’t let cars near it) and surely no one will ever let another airliner be captured in flight. But I wouldn’t want to underestimate the capabilities of a sufficiently murderous lunatic either.

  11. #11 Robert
    September 11, 2009

    I found a good rebuttal. This is from “Of Time and the Freedom Tower” by Scott Raab:

    –Quote:

    But the best possible answer to the question of what’s taking so long is another question: What’s the rush?

    I’m serious. Why the hurry? I mean, all due respect to Oklahoma City, but here you can’t just set some chairs on a lawn and call that a memorial. And not for nothing, but Pearl Harbor waited ten years just for a stinking plaque — plus ten more for a memorial. Are we so devoid of historical memory — and so frightened of the time passing — that we can no longer recognize and live with reality?

    This is reality: Austin Tobin, too, had to make peace with New Jersey — that’s how the PA wound up running its own railroad — and with the Rockefellers to get the Twin Towers built. The PA condemned those sixteen acres — seized them via eminent domain from folks who’d lived and owned shops there their whole lives. Power, profit, politics: All the forces that shaped the World Trade Center forty long years ago — including the Hudson River, including the private real estate barons whose outrage at a publicly funded agency building office towers to compete with their own led to lawsuits and ugly public-relations campaigns — haven’t changed. Nothing has changed.

    I’m not saying that’s a good thing. I’m just saying that in 2050 no one will care how long it took, how much it cost, or who blamed whom for what — same as those who come to Rockefeller Center to work or gawk at the Christmas tree don’t care about John D. Rockefeller or the nine years required to finish its construction — with one man of stupendous wealth in full command.

    I’m saying that these forces are both inevitable and necessary, and that accidental, organic splendor blooms when the predations of capitalism, government, and art — or at least, architecture — are composted, day by day, by time and fate. This, too, does not change.

    So figure five more years to get it done — and enough already with the kvetching.

    –End quote

    http://www.esquire.com/print-this/world-trade-center-1008

  12. #12 MPL
    September 12, 2009

    To be honest, I suspect a lot of the delay comes down to the fact that unlike a memorial, a skyscraper is expensive. Really honking expensive.

    The bulk of the reason that the tallest building in the world hasn’t been American for a while (the Sears Tower was until 1998, but it was built in 1973), is that they didn’t appear to be worth it any more (whether or not they were worth it in the past is a different matter).

    So, I suspect that the political traffic jams on the way to completing a replacement are largely the result of a clear motivation for what the buildings should be like in detail (“tall” is not really a complete design spec).

  13. #13 Nathan Myers
    September 12, 2009

    The towers were stupidly uneconomic, amounting to Robert Moses’s phallic display. What south Manhattan needs is a park. Put a park there, as a memorial of America’s mass cowardice, dismantling our traditional civil rights in response to a poke by a ragged band of thugs. We impoverished ourselves and our children invading a country that had nothing to do with the attack, and we agonize over actively idiotic questions on how desirable torture is. Meanwhile, tobacco executives walk around loose in Manhattan with nothing to worry about.

    The whole episode might be the most disgraceful in America’s history. If you felt anything but disgust at the mass of your fellow citizens’ behavior in the days, weeks, and years after 9/11/2001, hang your head in shame.

  14. #14 Uncle Al
    September 12, 2009

    Ted Morris, 12 September 2001:

    “Find out who they are.
    Kill them all.
    Kill their wives.
    Kill their children.
    Kill their parents.
    Kill their friends.
    Kill their neighbors.
    Kill their animals.
    Salt the earth where they lived.
    Mount their heads on pikes on the steps of the Capitol.”

    The proper memorial would have been a B61 Mod 7 340 kt thermonuclear air burst at 4000 feet above ground with hypocenter 21.422518, 39.826153 on 18 September 2001. Instead, everything since has been Santaria candles, aluminized PET heart balloons, plushie bears, and torn off corners of dollar bills.

    Reprehensible.

  15. #15 Ramel
    September 12, 2009

    Is Uncle Al joking or just a dick?

  16. #16 Kaleberg
    September 12, 2009

    There is a good reason for the delay. The Bush administration was sterile. Nothing could grow of it. It was like something out of the Bible in which David could not build the Temple being a man of war, and that task was fulfilled by Solomon, a man of peace. I remember when the towers were destroyed. I told people that nothing would rise on that site until Bush was out of office. I felt like Nehemiah.

  17. #17 Ian
    September 13, 2009

    Perhaps this should have been a massive public works project that would have stymied the economy after the dot-com bust or even in the current situation, unfortunately it was more likely contracted out to private firms who bankroll their execs on the backs of dead Americans. But a free-market fundamentalist like yourself wouldn’t buy that idea, now would you?

  18. #18 meh
    September 15, 2009

    Imagine no religion…

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