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The Complex

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A view north to One World Trade Center.   

The Port Authority is projecting an opening date of late 2013 for One World Trade and is in the process of negotiating a partial sale of the tower to a private developer. (Last week, the Times reported that Condé Nast is considering leasing up to a million square feet.) These days, a lot of what’s coming into the site is concrete—up to 2,000 trucks per month, precisely timed so their contents don’t start to harden before they’re poured. As the job shifts from basic structure to fitting-out, deliveries become an even larger part of the logistics, because there are so many: glass, plumbing, air-conditioning ducts, all by the ton, daily. There is no vacant lot (or landfill, as was the case when the Twin Towers went up, 40-odd years ago) to stash materials, only a tiny sliver of a staging area, slotted in next to Greenwich Street. Supplies, therefore, have to arrive in small batches, just before they go into place, and over at 115 Broadway, there’s an entire office devoted to coordinating trucks and deliveries. Every building site works with some kind of coordinator, but Ken Lewis, another SOM architect, explained the difference this way: “Usually, it’s four guys who go over this once a week. Here it’s twenty,” all full-timers. (Consider all this good practice for managing the tour buses that will start streaming in after the memorial opens on the tenth anniversary of the attacks—two years before the parking garage is finished. The Port Authority is projecting that the site will be the single biggest tourist destination in America, outdrawing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.)

There’s also another, larger trafficking group at work. Called the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, it exists to keep the whole jurisdiction circus south of Canal Street under control: forestalling clashes where, say, the Port Authority bumps into the MTA and argues with Verizon over its cables while talking to the NYPD about traffic and fielding questions from Silverstein’s team. “It’s certainly a challenge beyond anything the city has done before—I would say anyone has done before,” says the LMCCC’s executive director, Robert Harvey. “This is rebuilding a city as it operates. Everyone always says it’s like doing open-heart surgery on a marathon runner in the middle of a race.”

When things do go a little awry, the basic nature of these buildings makes it hard to recover. Lewis lays out, just as an example, a scenario that happens all the time on your typical construction site. Let’s say, after a small miscommunication between an architect and a concrete team, a wall is poured and finished, and it turns out there was supposed to be a pipe through it to carry electrical wires. In any other building, what happens next? “The contractor usually counts on being able to cut a hole in the wall afterward,” Lewis explains. “Here, we have 14,000-psi concrete”—about two and a half times denser and stronger than the usual stuff. Nobody’s drilling through that. Everything has to be right the first time, and when it’s not—and it sometimes isn’t—undoing it is tremendously difficult.

The sparkling finial that will top off One World Trade may eventually come to define it on the skyline, but extra-dense concrete is far more suggestive of what this building really is. Every inch of the tower, from subbasements on up, is braced against an imagined future attack. Its chunky base, twenty stories tall, is dramatically armored—or “hardened,” the builders say. Heavy reinforced walls at street level extend outward and underground, making even the plaza explosion-resistant. The glass outer skin of One World Trade—blast-tested, successfully, out in the New Mexico desert—will hang on extra-heavy steel. That structure surrounds an inner, slightly less hefty frame that holds up floors and the rest of the interior. That, in turn, houses an elevator core, its walls up to eight feet thick, made of that super-dense concrete and packed with steel rebar as thick as your wrist. In its current raw state, it looks like the containment dome over a nuclear reactor, except with slots for turnstiles. “If we hadn’t had to do that,” says the Port Authority’s Steve Coleman, “we’d be past 50 stories by now.”

In the past, the difficulty of building in New York—even on sites as challenging as downtown Manhattan—was of local origin: the density of our urban grid, the egos of our power players, the grind of our bureaucracy. But the architecture and infrastructure of fear brings a new layer of complexity, one that stems from global forces and is largely beyond our ability to resolve. While ground zero may be an especially alluring terrorist target, we have moved into an age where every part of a major building is shaped by security plans, from truck inspections at the parking garage to airport-style screening at observation-deck gates. In this sense, One World Trade is the city’s future. Asked whether he went through a background check, Gottesdiener says, “Oh, yes. Everyone does.” There’s a lot of stuff in that building that he can’t discuss, and elements of the design that even his team of architects isn’t privy to. Ask him about it, and he tightens up: “When it comes to security, we take confidentiality very seriously” is all he’ll say.


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