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World Trade Center

A World Trade Center (WTC) brings together businesses and government agencies involved in foreign trade. The World Trade Centers Association is an organization of nearly 300 World Trade Centers in almost 100 countries. [1]

The World Trade Center in New York City was a complex of several buildings around a central plaza, near the foot of Manhattan . It was designed by American architect Minoru Yamasaki with Antonio Brittiochi, and was one of the most striking American implementations of the architectural ethic of Le Corbusier, as well as the seminal expression of Yamasaki's gothic modernist tendencies. Constructed in the early 1970s under the auspices of the semi-autonomous Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the WTC had its ribbon-cutting ceremony in April 4, 1973. Ultimately the complex came to consist of 7 buildings, but its most notable features were the main twin towers. On any given day, some 50,000 people worked in the towers.

Although the towers became an undeniable icon of New York City, they were not without their flaws and were troubled in many ways. Initially conceived (as the name suggests) as a complex dedicated to companies and organizations directly involved in "world trade," they at first failed to attract the anticipated clientele; during its early years various governmental organizations became key tenants. The Towers began receiving private companies, mostly financial firms tied to Wall Street, as tenants during the early 1980's, as the city climbed out of the financial crisis that had nearly bankrupted it in the 1970's.

Moreover, the immense "superblock" plaza they sat upon, which replaced a more traditional, dense-packed neighborhood, was regarded by some critics as a inhospitable environment that disrupted the intricate flows of traffic typical of Manhattan. For example, in his book The Pentagon of Power, the technical historian Lewis Mumford denounced them as an "example of the purposeless giantism and technological exhibitionism that are now eviscerating the living tissue of every great city." However, the spectacular views available from the WTC's observation deck (located on top of the South Tower) and the fancy restaurant called Windows on the World (located on top of the North Tower) made up for its flaws by offering city-dwellers and tourists alike a perspective on the region that became central to the city's identity.

The Twin Towers

The twin towers, photographed from the west

Each of the WTC towers had 110 stories. The heights of the towers were 417 m (1368 feet) (tower one, the North Tower with a huge antenna on top) and 415 m (1362 feet) (tower two, the South Tower with the observation deck). When the towers were completed in 1972 (tower one) and 1973 (tower two) they were the tallest buildings on earth, 100 feet taller than the Empire State Building. Their size was the subject of a joke during a press conference unveiling the landmarks. Minoru Yamasaki was asked: "Why two 110-story buildings? Why not one 220-story building?" His response was: "I didn't want to lose the human scale."

Another joke was that the towers looked like the boxes that the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building came out of.

For a time the local television station on Channel 11 used the towers as a graphic representation of its channel number.

The WTC towers held the height record only briefly. As the building neared completion in 1973, work had already begun on Chicago's Sears Tower, which would ultimately climb to 1,450 feet. With the World Trade Center's destruction, the Empire State Building again became the tallest building in New York, after spending almost 30 years as the third-tallest.

To solve the problem of wind sway or vibration in the construction of the towers chief engineer Leslie Robertson took a then unusual approach - instead of bracing the buildings corner-to-corner or using internal walls the towers were essentially hollow steel tubes. Each tower thus contained 240 vertical steel columns called Vierendeel trusses around the outside of the building, these were bound to each other using ordinary steel trusses. In addition, 10,000 dampers were included in the structure. With a strong shell such as this, the internal floors could be simply light steel and concrete with internal walls not needed for structural integrity, creating a tower that for its size was extremely light. This method of construction also meant that the twin towers had the world's highest load-bearing walls. The exterior steel supports were spaced 22 inches apart, and narrow windows filled the gaps in between.

Of the 110 stories twelve were set aside for technical services, in four three-floor areas evenly spread up the building. All the remaining floors were free for open-plan offices. Each tower had 3.8 million square feet of office space, ample room for companies to set up shop. Altogether the entire complex of seven buildings had 11.2 million sq. ft of space. During the 1990s some 500 companies, especially financial firms, had offices in the complex, including Morgan Stanley, Aon Corporation, Salomon Brothers, and the Port Authority itself.

The Twins were also the first supertall buildings to use sky lobbies, spaces where commuters can switch from one local elevator to another. Located on the 44th and 77 floors of each tower, those sky lobbies enabled the elevators (each tower had 104) to be used efficiently while taking up a minimum of valuable office space.

At least five smaller buildings stood around the 16-acre superblock. One was the 22-floor Vista Hotel, later a Marriott Hotel, that was squeezed between the two towers. Three low-rise buildings in the same hollow tube design as the towers also stood around the plaza; they housed the US Customs Service and the US Commodities Exchange. In 1987, a 46-floor office building called 7 WTC was built north of the superblock. Under the superblock was a highly profitable underground shopping mall, which in turn led to various mass transit facilities, particularly the New York City subway system and the Port Authority's own PATH trains connecting Manhattan to Jersey City.

The excavation of the foundations of the building, located on the former Radio Row, was particularly complicated since there were two subway tubes close by needing protection without service interruption. A six-level basement was built in the foundations. Excavation of about 1 million cubic yards of earth and rock created a $90 million real estate asset for the project owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which helped offset the enormous loss in revenues which came from the tax breaks given to the Trade Center itself. The spoil was used to create 23 acres of landfill in the Hudson river next to the World Trade Center site, which became the site of Battery Park City (still under development).

World Trade Center site, January 2003
(the linear, sloping structure in the middle
of the pit is the lines 1 and 9 subway tube)
One of the world's largest gold depositories was stored underneath the World Trade Center, owned by a group of commercial banks. The 1993 bomb detonated close to the vault, but it withstood the explosion, as did the towers. One source estimates the 1993 value of the gold at one billion dollars, believed to be owned by Kuwaiti interests. That same source claims that when the World Trade Center was destroyed, the amount of gold "far exceed[ed] the 1993 levels." The gold was finally recovered in its entirety in late 2001.

See World Trade Center site for reconstruction news.

1993 terrorist attack

1993 World Trade Center bombing: On February 26, 1993, a bomb planted by terrorists exploded in the underground garage of the north tower, opening a 30m hole through 4 sublevels of concrete. Six people were killed and over a thousand injured. Six Islamic extremist conspirators were convicted of the crime in 1997 and 1998 and given prison sentences of 240 years each.

2001 terrorist attack

The twin towers and 7 World Trade Center collapsed in a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, when two commercial jetliners were deliberately crashed into the twin towers. For details on this terrorist attack, see September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. For details of the tenants at the time of the attack, see One World Trade Center tenants and Two World Trade Center tenants.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the agency tasked with coordinating the reconstruction of the WTC site sponsored an international design competition for the World Trade Center Memorial in spring 2003. A winning design should be selected by winter 2004.

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