Petit Between The Towers

On the morning of August 7, 1974, the newly constructed World Trade Center towered high and mighty…an object of scorn and ridicule. The “packaging that the Empire State Building was delivered in” was the favorite joke of many critics when referring to the structure; dismissed as a building devoid of any aesthetic form, shamelessly serving only a capitalistic function.

New York City was in the midst of the world’s first oil crisis and about to descend into its worst financial recession; this added fuel to the derision and contempt from a public who saw the World Trade Center as a symbol of corporate greed and excess and as a mockery to its troubled situation.

On this particular summer morning, however, the World Trade Center was attracting an attention that wasn’t scornful nor derisive. Crowds of people (first numbering in the tens, then hundreds and eventually thousands) were gazing upward to view a small figure high above them walking and dancing along a cable suspended between the North and South Towers. His carefree, frolicsome, death-defying moves along the cable held everyone far below captivated. The small figure was Philippe Petit, a 24-year-old French street performer now high-wire walker; his perilous moment was in the planning for six years.

In 1968, the then 18-year old Petit was suffering from a toothache and was impatiently leafing through a magazine while in the waiting room of his dentist. He came across a article that featured a story on the construction of the World Trade Center complex, the tallest and largest in the world. The technical design of the construction wasn’t what interested Petit but rather the sheer height of the project’s two main buildings: the Twin Towers (Towers One and Two) as they came to be known. Petit instantly vowed to himself that one day he would walk between these towers and promptly embarked on his dream. Pretending to sneeze to muffle the sound, he tore the article out of the magazine and swiftly left the office, his toothache forgotten. The Towers “called me,” Petit would claim over and over again, “I didn’t choose them…it was a calling of the romantic type.”

As the structures rose, so did Petit’s skill on the high-wire, arduously and tirelessly he practiced and trained; and when the World Trade Center reached completion, he had mastered the high-wire along with his study of every aspect of the Twin Towers. In January 1974, he arrived in New York City with a group of friends and colleagues and immediately set about implementing his hair-raising designs.

After months of scouting the Towers, posing as a journalist to interview Guy Tozzoli, head of the Port Authority (ubiquitous owner of the World Trade Center), Petit and two of his associates gained access to the top of the South Tower, while another group made its way up the North Tower, with their concealed equipment: a disassembled balancing pole, rigging wire, 250- feet of one-inch braided steel cable and a bow and arrow.

They worked through the entire night, stretching the cable across the 130-foot space separating the Towers, and by 7 a.m. Petit was ready for the soon-to-be legendary walk: the moment Petit had desired for the past six years had finally arrived.

One of the first people to report on Petit as he effortlessly made his way toward the center of the wire was Sgt. Charles Daniels of the Port Authority Police who was dispatched to the scene in an effort to stop him. “I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’–because you couldn’t call him a ‘walker.’ Daniels stated that upon seeing him and other officers he “laughed” and started to go into a “dancing routine.” When he finally reached the North Tower, his walk complete, Petit suddenly turned and happily waltzed the other way. For nearly 45 minutes this spectacle continued while everyone watched spellbound and thrilled; the unknown street performer had made himself famous throughout the world.

Petit was arrested but, due to overwhelming praise and support from the public, all charges against him were dropped. He was instead “sentenced” to perform his high-wire act before a group of children in Central Park. The Port Authority was overjoyed that the young Frenchman had also cast the World Trade Center into a rarely seen favorable light. They had Petit sign his name into a steel beam overlooking the space where he performed his incredible stunt and presented him with a lifetime pass to the South Tower’s observation deck.

Philippe Petit had also accomplished an even more astounding feat: he had single-handedly made “two of the tallest, largest and most imposing structures in the world seem suddenly endearing and friendly.” And that’s how most New Yorkers (including me), and many people in the civilized world, would see the World Trade Center until the morning of its destruction by high-flying psychotics.

Source: To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers


Wedge-Shaped Jewel

The Flatiron Building is one of those architectural curiosities that has always attracted both admiration and disapproval. Unlike NYC’s newer, loftier skyscrapers (such as the Woolworth, Chrysler and, of course, Empire State buildings), the Flatiron appears somewhat quaint and rather droll. Even though an odd structure here and there  can be found in such cities as London or Paris, the Flatiron ranks among the most famous of structural oddities and, as a result, a popular target for controversy.

Completed in 1902, the Flatiron Building (originally called the Fuller Building, after George A. Fuller, who financed its construction) is situated on a triangularly shaped city block at 175 Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street in Manhattan. The building derives its name from the shape of this block and for its business: flatirons; the neighborhood itself is known as the Flatiron District.

Designed by Daniel Burnham, it was one of the first buildings to utilize a steel skeleton, crucial to support its height of 287 feet. Many people erroneously consider it the city’s oldest surviving skyscraper, whereas the Park Row Building is three years older and taller. During the building’s construction, many thought that it would topple over and critics soon  began calling it “Burnham’s Folly” due to its peculiar and precarious  shape. Others felt that it was a ludicrous sacrifice to form over function, artistry over safety, and would prove to be an utterly useless if novel conversation piece: the eccentric whims of its architect.

Reports, both real and fanciful, of strong and sudden currents of wind that would buffet the building and adjacent streets, lent credence to the widespread belief that the building would simply fall over or just as simply fall apart. The adjoining area, particularly 23rd Street, already possessing a somewhat shady reputation, began drawing hordes of “lusty young men” eager to view the bare legs of women when their skirts were blown upwards by the eddying wind (you know…I’m sorry I missed that one). Police would shout to these roues to disperse by shouting “23 Skidoo.” While this phrase is now obsolete, an offshoot expression was widely used throughout the last century in America: “scram!”

However, as the years passed, most New Yorkers came to accept, admire and (in various ways) love the wedged-shaped jewel erected in their midst.  As with the World Trade Center seventy years later, it merely assimilated itself into a city conducive to assimilation. While progressively larger and ambitiously taller buildings emerged around it, the Flatiron retained its quiet yet tough dignity…often out of sight but never out of mind in our modern age.

“Perhaps because it symbolizes so much of how New Yorkers see themselves — Defiant, bold, sophisticated, and interesting. With just enough embedded grime and soot to highlight its details. ” (Glass, Steel and Stone)

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Sphere Of Contention

The Sphere at its original location.

The 9/11 Sphere, that iconic relic of the World Trade Center attack, has been getting the bum’s rush lately. Designed in 1971 by Fritz Koenig, the sculpture once graced Austin J. Tobin Plaza situated between Towers 1 and 2. It was retrieved from the rubble, virtually intact but obviously damaged, and moved to Battery Park in 2002. New Yorkers, victims’ families and visitors alike viewed it as a permanent addition to the park, a permanent tribute to 9/11. However, the Port Authority, the autocratic agency that owned the WTC, viewed it differently.

At Battery Park.

The agency had originally said it would haul the 25-foot sphere to a storage hangar at JFK Airport‘s Hangar where it stores other large 9/11 artifacts by the end of April — but reversed course following a public outcry from many 9/11 families, who feel the sculpture should be returned to its original home, between the Twin Towers, inside what is now the 9/11 Memorial.

Nevertheless, the sphere’s future is still uncertain; the Port Authority, that acts according to its own desires regardless of public concerns, is silent on that issue. Even Mayor Bloomberg came out in support of the sphere. “I think it’s beautiful where it is,” he said recently. “You have people going elsewhere to understand this is something that affected the whole city, not just on the World Trade Center Site.” Ever the politician, Bloomberg also added that he won’t interfere with whatever the Port Authority  decides to do with the sphere.

Currently surrounded with construction fencing and with indecision.

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“Can’t See The Top Of The Empire State Building”

Media_httpelectricegg_jbjjyOn the morning of July 28, 1945, a U.S. B-25 bomber piloted by Lt. Colonel William Smith, was flying a routine mission from Bedford, Mass. to Newark Airport in New Jersey; the weather was rainy with a thick overcast. He inexplicably appeared over New York Municipal Airport (now LaGuardia ) and requested a weather report. The Municipal tower warned  Smith of poor weather conditions and advised him to land immediately, but he requested and received permission to continue on to Newark. Municipal tower’s final transmission to the plane were the ominous words,  “From where I’m sitting [less than 2 miles away], I can’t see the top of the Empire State Building.”

Conditions were growing worse as the steady rain quickly changed over to a dense fog with visibility near zero at altitudes higher than 2,000 feet. Now over Manhattan, but losing his approach vector to Newark, Smith lowered the plane to regain his bearings. The B-25 suddenly  found itself in New York City‘s famed canyon of skyscrapers, flying at less than 900 feet, and Smith also realized that he was on a collision course with one of these skyscrapers:  the New York Central Building. He quickly banked to the west, (putting more drag on the plane and reducing its speed and maneuverability at such a low altitude) and was able miss that building, but also putting himself in line with another skyscraper and then another…until the Empire State Building loomed dead ahead.

At 9:49 a.m., as people on the ground watched in stunned disbelief and fear, the doomed plane struck the north side of the Empire State Building at nearly 200 mph, tearing a hole 18 feet wide and twenty feet high from its point of impact at the 79th floor. Its high-octane fuel tanks exploded and poured flames and pieces of wreckage along the sides of the building, through offices areas, and down hallways and stairwells. Several office workers were killed instantly, reduced to charred remains still seated at their desks. Smith, his two crew members, and 11 people working at their desks were killed; over two dozen more were injured. The workers were on the staff of the National Catholic Welfare Service, now known as Catholic Relief Services.

“Thought we’d been bombed,” Doris Pope, Boynton Beach, Fl. told the The Palm Beach Post in 1999. “I worked for the Office of Office of Price Administration in the Empire State Building. That day, as we were getting ready to take our coffee break, we heard this terrible noise, and the building started to shake. … As we looked out our third-floor window, we saw debris fall on to the street. We immediately thought New York was being bombed.”  ABC News

New York City would’ve had no idea what was to occur 56 years later.

Belatedly Towering Again

A lot of time and effort, dalliance and hokum, went into the construction of One World Trade Center. The former Ground Zero appeared to have become a perpetual construction site; a never-ending project of purported self-esteem as costly, unmanageable and exploited as the “war on terror” that began there. Nevertheless, the reborn WTC will again, in 1-2 (?) years, be one of the tallest buildings in the world.

One World Trade is being built on the site of the original World Trade Center towers – or Twin Towers. They were the tallest buildings in the city, but were destroyed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, in which an estimated 3,000 people were killed.

The progression of construction on One World Trade can be seen in a two-minute, time-lapse video from EarthCam, the international webcam technology company. ABC News

I, along with most New Yorkers, remember the morning of September 11 2001 very well. Even remembering it during convoluted days, fraught with irresponsible leadership, questionable ambitions and braggadocio spiel, which made such memories easily if unfortunately forgettable.

related post: WTC: On The Rise?

WTC: On The Rise?

If all goes according to plan, we may yet see a new World Trade Center emerge in our lifetime. For seven years after the 9/11 attack, Ground Zero remained essentially a barren pit of motley construction hatched, for the most part, from a potpourri of architectural snarls and contractual dead-ends. The controversy over the projected form and function of a resurrected WTC seemed endless indeed; its commercial viability as opposed to its commemorative aesthetic resulted in ceaseless debate and tortuous irresolution.

While the controversy went on heatedly and progress remained frozen, Ground Zero was reduced to being “a dust bowl in summer and mud pit in winter” [NYT]; of diminishing interest, as the years passed, to both tourists and residents alike. We had grown so accustomed to referring to this dawdling construction site as Ground Zero we couldn’t see or think of it as anything else…merely a pathetic wasteland resting in a futile state of suspended animation.

Nevertheless, during the latter stage of this “dust bowl / mud pit” limbo, over 300,000 square feet of ground had been cleared to form the shell of NYC’s third-largest train station. Two more skyscrapers are now suddenly rising to join the only heretofore visible sign of progress: the gleaming 7 World Trade Center (on September 11, 2001, the last of the seven buildings to fall) is now complete. Rapid progress is quite suddenly being made; and I, at least for the moment, will suspend disbelief and accept reports that this rapid progress will indeed continue without any further delays or interruptions.

The BBC outlines the projected World Trade Center as follows:

Tower 1 – The centrepiece, formerly known as Freedom Tower and now as One World Trade Center. Its planned height is 1,776ft (540m) echoing the date of the founding of the republic. It will be America’s tallest building, housing offices, an observation deck, restaurants and broadcast facilities. The project architect is David Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Estimated completion date is 2013.

Tower 2 – Also known as 200 Greenwich St. At 79 storeys high with a diamond shaped top and an 80-foot antenna, it will be the second-tallest skyscraper in NYC.

Tower 3 – Also known as 175 Greenwich St, it will be the third-tallest building on the site and include shops, offices, trading floors. It’s scheduled for completion in 2014.

Tower 4The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the City of New York will take two-thirds of the office space at 150 Greenwich St. It is due for completion in 2013. Towers 3 and 4 were designed by architects Richard Rogers and Fumihiko Maki.

Tower 5 – 130 Liberty Street will stand on the site currently occupied by the remains of the Deutsche Bank building, which was badly damaged by the 9/11 attacks. New York University has expressed an interest in leasing the building.

Plans for a Tower 6 were abandoned.

Tower 7 – or 7 World Trade Center, opened in May 2006 and is two-thirds leased. It includes a park and central plaza with 30ft-wide fountain. Tenants include its owner Silverstein Properties and Moody’s Corporation, WestLB, Ameriprise Financial, Dutch bank ABN AMRO, and Mansueto Ventures, publisher of Fast Company and Inc magazines.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum comprises a museum, waterfalls and a park.

The museum is being constructed underground and will boast interactive displays explaining the 9/11 and 1993 terrorist attacks, as well as the part of the huge slurry wall that held back the Hudson River during the attacks.

At the twin towers there will be two massive waterfalls over illuminated pools. Names of the 9/11 victims and those of the February 1993 World trade Centre attacks will be inscribed around the edge of the memorial called Reflecting Absence and designed by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker.

The 1,000-seat performance arts centre to be designed by Frank Gehry will be home to the Joyce Theater which specialises in modern dance. Film festivals will also be held there.

The transportation hub will house a state-of-the-art rail terminal featuring retractable 150ft (46m) high “wings” made of glass and steel will let natural light to pass through to platforms 60ft (18m) below street level.

Once more, we could only hope that all goes according to plan and that the scar which was Ground Zero will  finally become the World Trade Center again.

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