Last week we looked at Minoru Yamasaki, architect of the WTC twin towers and his architectural designs both before and after.

This week, we look at what came after the twin towers were built, to where we are now. It's a contrast in how public-private partnerships have evolved, and critically, the processes that now cripple architecture and competitions for major projects.

The twin towers, named 1 WTC (north) and 2 WTC (south) were finished in the 1972, having taken six years to design and construct. The towers, over 400m high, occupy less than a 3% of the 16 Ha site, and 1 WTC had an additional 110m mast that broadcast all of New York TV stations. Five additional buildings (equally unimaginatively called 3 WTC to 7 WTC) were built on the site by 1985, by which time the site was profitable for the owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ).

The towers become a symbol of New York and capitalism: taking over the mantle of tallest building in NY from the Empire State Building which had held the title for 40 years. Housing 50,000 workers and 140,000 visitors a day it is a complex so large it had its own zip code, 10048. A restaurant at the top of 1 WTC, Windows on the World, was a meeting point for workers, a world-famous tourist attraction and the highest grossing restaurant in the United States in 2000.

In 1975 a fire broke out on the 11th to 14th floors of 1 WTC from an electrical fault, fueled by paper and office machinery. The steel superstructure was protected by fireproofing of vermiculite and plaster and there was no structural damage to the tower. There was water damage from firefighters’ hoses, but 1 WTC had no fire sprinkler systems, a portent of problems to come.

In 1993 a terrorist attack, using a truck filled with over 600 of kilograms of explosives detonated in an underground garage of 1 WTC, kills six people and more than a thousand were injured, but the buildings remained intact. Many people inside the tower were forced to walk down stairwells without emergency lighting and some took two hours to reach safety, So, we know that there were some fragilities in fire safety.

In July 2001, the entire site is leased by the PANYNJ to New York developer Larry Silverstein, which causes major headaches barely two months later and for the next 20 years.

To understand this week’s conundrum - why the original two buildings could be built in six years, but replacements could take more than 25 years - we need to look at the timeline, year by year, after the terrorist attack on 11 September 2001.


Three days after the attack President Bush visited the site and declared that it would be rebuilt, without any mention of a memorial. In November NY Governor George Pataki creates the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) to oversee the rebuilding. He snubs the local state assemblyman, but more importantly, fails to clarify its relationship to the PANYNJ.

The remaining five WTC buildings, the Transport Center, a Greek Orthodox church and the nearby Deutsche Bank (not part of the site) were declared to be unsalvageable and were demolished. The cleanup is awarded to Australian / USA firm Bovis Lend Lease (and was completed by May 02, on budget and without loss of life). But it takes 10 more years to settle the law suits for their liability, ending with indemnity (see the SMH) – ah, the wonders of law suits in the USA.

Despite the earlier fire and terrorist incidents testing the adequacy of the building, and the extreme conditions of a fully fuel-laden plane creating a firestorm, debate about the adequacy of the structure and fireproofing starts, with some commentators blaming the poor quality of the building for its collapse.

Quoted in an AJ article Harry Seidler claims the WTC “was little better off than if it had been built out of cardboard sheets. With most buildings, the steel supports are coated with concrete; in the WTC they were only coated with plaster. The steel supports were only sprayed with asbestos... That's a terrible way of building”. Possibly true (except it was vermiculite), but highly insensitive given it was less than three weeks after the terrorist attack.

In December, a temporary viewing platform is erected on Fulton Street.


In January, well-known gallerist Max Protech invites 50 architects to present schemes for the rebuilding of the site, the first public discussion of ways in which WTC may be rebuilt and commemorated. In March 88 search lights in two beams are the first form of commemoration. The LMDC appoints Bayer Belinda Belle to manage the site and sets out its design study for the reconstruction of the site.

The rebuilding of 7 WTC, the only tower not on PANYNJ land, commences in May ‘02 as it is not constrained by the Port Authority or the LMDC, and finishes in ’06, with LEED Gold status. In September the Winter Garden Atrium (by Cesar Pelli) opens, but no other construction starts.

In December the LMDC selects seven finalists for the masterplan: Norman Foster / Daniel Libeskind / Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, and Steven Holl (the “Dream Team” not to be confused with the NY5) / Peterson Littenberg (small local firm) / SOM Skidmore, Owings and Merrill / THINK (Shuguru Ban, Frederick Schwartz, Ken Smith and Rafael Vinoly) / United architects. They present their entries to the public in the Winter Garden, and it is broadcast live on TV given the huge public interest.


In early ’03 the machinations begin. SOM withdraws its entry just days before the announcement of the two finalists. Larry Silverstein writes to the LMDC that he doesn’t approve of any of the semi-finalists designs and claims that, as the insurance money recipient, he has the right to decide what would be built. He announces that he's already picked SOM as his master planner for the site.

The LMDC selects two finalists: THINK and Daniel Libeskind. The LMDC, encouraged by Roland Betts, one of the board members, selects the THINK team before the final presentations. Governor Pataki intervenes, overrules the LMDC that he created, and installs Libeskind as the master planner for the WTC.

Libeskind’s scheme has a clear and beautiful idea which strikes a chord with the public, which remains to this day: the two “memory foundations” are pools of water on the original footprint of the two largest buildings, with one single tower to replace them. It rises to 541 meters (more remarkable in feet: 1776 - commemorating the year of in American independence).

The master plan undergoes extensive revisions during collaborations and various parts are hived off to others; the National Museum and National Memorial are awarded two different architects. The Memorial, entitled ‘Reflecting Absence’ is designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker.

There are disagreements about ownership of the site, now known as ‘Ground Zero’; what would be built there and how it would be built. Turns out the PANYNJ does not own the streets that had been subsumed for the original scheme and further protracted negotiations were required. The lawyers move in and arguments break out between the various organisations including Larry Silverstein.

By the end of ‘03 a ‘land swap’ has to be orchestrated to allow for the new 1 WTC to be built on a separate site and the memorials to occupy the site of the original twin towers. This swap, and the following negotiations, which lasted for years have been referred to as the most complex real estate transaction in history.


By the end of 2004 the big tower, 1 WTC, has been designed by David Childs of SOM, with Daniel Libeskind as advisor. However, the New York Police Department have reservations which delay it for a further two years in redesigns. The Windows on the World restaurant is cancelled, outraging New Yorkers.

The WTC Performing Arts Center and Museum are announced, with Frank Gehry as architect for the former and Norwegian firm Snohetta the latter. But no further progress is made until 2016 (see below).


1 WTC is authorised to commence construction (and takes eight years until November ’14 to complete).




In January, 4 WTC, designed by Fumihimo Maki and associates, commences construction. In March Fiterman Hall, a small building that was also demolished, starts construction. The base of 2 WTC, designed by Norman Foster, starts but no more than that is constructed. Foster is later replaced by Bjarke Ingels of BIG, with a stepped version, but has just been replaced in 2021 by Foster again.




In April the WTC Transport Hub known as The Oculus, designed by Santiago Calatrava, starts construction and takes six years to complete. The hub connects eight subway lines on the Eastern side of the site with the PATH transport system to New Jersey at the Western. These transport systems bypassed the WTC after the terrorist attack for 15 years.

The hub attracts enormous criticism, not least for its costs that more than doubled to US$4.4bn. Alan G. Brake in Dezeen criticised the space for its privatisation and retail outlets, citing the Grand Central Terminal as an example that should have been followed. A European idea, not applicable in the home of commerce and Madison Avenue, where the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) is triumphed by the Rockefeller Center example.



In November, 3 WTC, designed by Richard Rogers, commences construction and takes eight years to complete.


In September, 5 WTC, designed by Kohn Pederson and Fox, commences construction, but never reaches above ground and is anticipated to be unfinished until 2028. The Vehicle Security Center starts construction (and is finished until 2017). It is designed to control security and parking on the site, particularly given the earlier terrorist attack in 1993.


Liberty Park starts construction, and takes a further three years, at which point the Saint Nicholas Greek Church, designed by Santiago Calatrava, is built on top of the park and was completed for the 20-year commemorations just recently.

In December, Australian firm Westfield bids US$800m for the retail rights, and then lifts its stake to US$1.4bn by buying 50% of PANYNJ’s retail spaces and plans the retail spaces across the site and particularly in the Transportation Hub.


The Performing Arts Center, announced in 2004, is renamed for billionaire businessmen, Ronald Perelman, who donated $75m. Gehry is pushed out and the design is awarded by Joshua Prince-Ramus. The center sits on top of the underground parking garage and is unfinished.




That 20-year timeline highlights the torturous history of the site in the 21st C. It went from one to three owners, from one architect to twenty, from private process to the glare of the public furore, from a well-rehearsed and relatively straightforward construction system to the requirements for enhanced safety and concerns for terrorism, fire, and other risks.

The story of how the WTC went from being a singular entity to a complex web of interwoven interests is the story of our age. Only one building was built in the first 10 years. The WTC has become an exemplar of protracted public-private negotiations and corporate difficulties, egos and complex management processes on a bizarre scale. The intrigue will no doubt be a Netflix special at some stage in the near future.

It is where we have come to in the architectural design process for massive schemes: from straightforward to highly problematical. The WTC has become the Rockefeller Centre you have when you don’t have a Rockefeller.

Tone Wheeler is principal architect at Environa Studio, Adjunct Professor at UNSW and is President of the Australian Architecture Association. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and are not held or endorsed by A+D, the AAA or UNSW. Tone does not read Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Linked In. Sanity is preserved by reading and replying only to comments addressed to [email protected].