1 World Trade Center Plans and Drawings, 2002 to 2014

Rebuilding After 9/11

Two people look out at Lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center in New York from a park in New Jersey
Lower Manhattan and 1 WTC Viewed from New Jersey. Photo by Gary Hershorn / Corbis News / Getty Images

On September 11, 2001, the skyline of Lower Manhattan changed. It has changed again. The drawings and models in this photo gallery show the history of design for One World Trade Center — the skyscraper that got built. This is the story behind America's tallest building, from when it was first proposed until it opened in late 2014.

The Final Look, 1 WTC in 2014

December 2014, One World Trade Center at Sunset
December 2014, One World Trade Center at Sunset. Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

When architect Daniel Libeskind first proposed plans for the new World Trade Center at Ground Zero in New York City, he described a 1,776-foot skyscraper everyone was calling Freedom Tower. Libeskind's original design was altered as planners worked to make the building more secure from terrorist attacks. In fact, the Libeskind design was never built.

The developer Larry Silverstein had always wanted Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to design the new building. SOM architect David Childs presented new plans to the public in 2005 and early 2006 — that is the Tower 1 that got built.

World Trade Center Master Plan

Architect Daniel Libeskind standing in front of his chosen Master Plan for Redeveloping Ground Zero
Daniel Libeskind's Master Plan Design, Proposed in 2002 and Chosen in 2003. Photo by Mario Tama / Getty Images News / Getty Images (cropped)

Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind won the competition to plan the redevelopment of what was known as Ground Zero. Libeskind's Master Plan, proposed in late 2002 and chosen in 2003, included a design for an office building to replace the destroyed Twin Towers.

His Master Plan included a 1,776-foot (541-metre) tall skyscraper he called Freedom Tower. In this 2002 model, Freedom Tower resembles a ragged crystal that tapers to a sharp, off-center spire. Libeskind envisioned his skyscraper as a "vertical world garden,"

2002 Design - A Vertical World Garden

Vertical World Gardens, Slide 21 of Studio Libeskind's December 2002 Master Plan presentation
Vertical World Gardens, Slide 21 of Studio Libeskind's December 2002 Master Plan presentation. Slide 21 © Studio Daniel Libeskind courtesy Lower Manhattan Development Corporation

Libeskind's vision was a romantic one, packed with symbolism. The building height (1776 feet) represented the year America became an independent nation. When viewed from New York Harbor, the tall, slightly tilted spire echoed the raised torch of the iconic Statue of Liberty. Libeskind wrote that the glass tower would restore the "spiritual peak to the city."

Judges chose Libeskind's Master Plan above more than 2,000 proposals submitted. New York Governor George Pataki endorsed the plan. However, Larry Silverstein, the developer for the World Trade Center site, wanted more office space, and Vertical Garden became one of the 7 Buildings You Won't See at Ground Zero.

While Libeskind continued to work on the overall scheme for reconstruction at the New York World Trade Center site, another architect, David Childs from Skidmore Owings & Merrill, began re-thinking Freedom Tower. The SOM architect already had designed 7 WTC, which was the first tower to be rebuilt, and Silverstein liked the pragmatic simplicity and elegance of a Childs design.

2003 Revised Design of Freedom Tower

From left to right, NY Governor Pataki, Daniel Libeskind, NYC Mayor Bloomberg, Developer Larry Silverstein, and David Childs stand around the 2003 model for Tower 1
2From left to right, NY Governor Pataki, Daniel Libeskind, NYC Mayor Bloomberg, Developer Larry Silverstein, and David Childs stand around the 2003 model for Freedom Tower. Photo by Allan Tannenbaum / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Skyscraper architect David M. Childs worked with Daniel Libeskind on plans for Freedom Tower for nearly a year. According to most reports, the partnership was stormy. However, by December 2003 they had developed a design that combined Libeskind's vision with ideas that Childs (and developer Silverstein) wanted.

The 2003 design retained Libeskind's symbolism: Freedom Tower would rise 1,776 feet. The spire would be set off-center, like the torch on the Statue of Liberty. However, the upper portion of the skyscraper was transformed. A 400-foot high open air shaft would house windmills and power turbines. Cables, suggesting the supports on the Brooklyn Bridge, would wrap around the exposed upper floors. Below this area, Freedom Tower would twist, forming a 1,100-foot spiral. Childs believed that twisting the tower would help channel wind upward toward the power generators.

In December 2003, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation presented the new design to the public. Reviews were mixed. Some critics believed the 2003 revision captured the essence of the original vision. Others said that the air shaft and web of cables gave Freedom Tower an unfinished, skeletal appearance.

Dignitaries laid a cornerstone for Freedom Tower in 2004, but construction stalled as New York police raised safety concerns. They worried about the mostly-glass facade, and also said that the proposed location of the skyscraper made it an easy target for car and truck bombings.

2005 Redesign by David Childs

June 2005 New Freedom Tower Design Unveiled by Architect David Childs
June 2005 New Freedom Tower Design Unveiled by Architect David Childs. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

Were there security concerns with the 2003 design? Some say there were. Others say that real estate developer Larry Silverstein wanted SOM's architect David Childs all along. By 2005, Daniel Libeskind had acquiesced to Childs and Silverstein.

With an eye toward security, David Childs had taken Freedom Tower back to the drawing board. In June 2005 he unveiled a building that bore little resemblance to the original plan. The Press Release on June 29, 2005 said the "New Tower Will Evoke Classic New York Skyscrapers in Elegance and Symmetry" and that the design was "Bold, Sleek and Symbolic." The 2005 design, which looks much like the skyscraper we see in Lower Manhattan today, was clearly a David Childs design.

  • The base is cubic rather than a parallelogram
  • The footprint measures the same as the original Twin Towers, 200 feet by 200 feet
  • The design is geometric, with eight tall isosceles triangles rising from the cube base. At the center "the tower forms a perfect octagon."
  • The height will be the symbolic 1778 feet as Libeskind suggested in his Master Plan.

The windmills and open air shafts of the earlier designwere gone. Most of the mechanical equipment would be housed in the square, concrete-shrouded base of the new tower design. Also located in the base, the lobby would have no windows except for narrow slots in the concrete. The building was designed with safety in mind.

But critics lambasted the new design, comparing Freedom Tower to a concrete bunker. Bloomberg News called it "a monument to bureaucratic bungling and political gutlessness." Nicolai Ouroussoff in The New York Times called it "Somber, oppressive and clumsily conceived." 

Childs proposed adding shimmering metal panels to the base, but this solution didn't resolve the foreboding appearance of the redesigned tower. The building was scheduled to open in 2010, and it was still being designed.

A New Footprint for 1 World Trade Center

Site Plan Drawing for the ground floor of 1 WTC
Footprint of Childs' Plan for 1 WTC. Press Image Courtesy Silverstein Properties Inc. (SPI) and Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) cropped

Architect David Childs had adapted plans for Libeskind's "Freedom Tower," giving the new skyscraper a symmetrical, square footprint. "Footprint" is a colloquial word used by architects, builders, and developers to describe the two dimensional size of land occupied by a structure. Like a real footprint from a living creature, the size and shape of a footprint should predict or identify the size and shape of the object.

Measuring 200 x 200 feet, the Freedom Tower footprint is symbolically the same size as each of the original Twin Towers that were destroyed in the September 11 terrorist attack. The base and the top of the revised Freedom Tower are square. In between the base and the top, corners are lopped off, giving Freedom Tower a spiral effect.

The height of the redesigned Freedom Tower also references the lost Twin Towers. At 1,362 feet, the proposed new building rises the same height as Tower Two. A parapet elevates Freedom Tower to the same height as Tower One. An enormous spire centered at the top achieves the symbolic height of 1,776 feet. This is compromise — the symbolic height that Libeskind wanted combined with a more traditional symmetry, centering the spire atop the building.

For additional safety, the placement of Freedom Tower on the WTC site was slightly changed, locating the skyscraper several feet further from the street.

David Childs Presents 1 WTC

tall man in dark suite standing before large projection of Lower Manhattan with model of proposed skyscraper
Architect David Childs Presentation on June 28, 2005 in New York City. Mario Tama/Getty Images (cropped)

Functionally the proposed 1 WTC design offered 2.6 million square feet of office space, plus an observation deck, restaurants, parking, and broadcast and antennae facilities. Aesthetically,  architect David Childs looked for ways to soften the fortified concrete base.

First, he modified the shape of the base, giving the corners beveled edges and fanning the corners progressively wider with the rise of the building. Then, more dramatically, Childs suggested sheathing the concrete base with vertical panels of prismatic glass. Capturing the sun, the glass prisms would surround Freedom Tower with flashes a light and color.

Newspaper reporters called the prisms an "elegant solution." Security officials approved the glass sheathing because they believed that it would crumble into harmless fragments if hit by an explosion.

In the summer of 2006, construction crews began clearing the bedrock and building began in earnest. But even as the Tower rose, the design was not complete. Problems with the proposed prismatic glass sent Childs back to the drawing board.

Proposed West Plaza at 1 WTC

Artist's rendering of West Plaza of Freedom Tower, June 27, 2006
Rendering of the West Plaza of Freedom Tower, June 27, 2006. Press Image Courtesy Silverstein Properties Inc. (SPI) and Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) cropped

Low steps approach One World Trade Center from the western plaza in the David Childs design presented June 2006. Childs gave One World Trade Center a sturdy, bomb-proof base that rises nearly 200-feet high.

The heavy, solid base tended to make the building seem imposing, so the Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) architects planned to create a "dynamic, shimmering surface" for the lower portion of the skyscraper.  More than $10 million poured into fabricating prismatic glass for the base of the skyscraper. Architects gave samples to manufacturers in China, but they weren't able to produce 2,000 panels of the material specified. When tested, the panels shattered into dangerous shards. By the spring 2011, with the Tower already soaring 65 stories, David Childs continued to tweak the design. No sparkling facade.

However, more than 12,000 glass panels form transparent walls at One World Trade Center. The enormous wall panels are 5 feet wide and over 13 feet tall. Architects at SOM designed the curtain wall for strength and beauty.

Proposed Lower Lobby

Artist's Rendering of Childs' design for lower lobby of 1 WTC
Elevators Lead Down to the Lower Lobby of Freedom Tower. Press Image Courtesy Silverstein Properties Inc. (SPI) and Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) cropped

Below-grade, One World Trade Center was designed to provide tenant parking and storage, shopping, and access to the transit center and the World Financial Center—the César Pelli-designed office and shopping complex now called Brookfield Place..

By all appearances, the design for Freedom Tower was finished. Business-minded developers gave it a new, no-nonsense name — One World Trade Center. Builders began pouring the central core using a special super-strong concrete.  Floors were raised and bolted into the building. This technique, called "slip form" construction, minimizes the need for internal columns. Ultra-strong curtain wall glass would offer sweeping, unobstructed views. For years a temporary external elevator shaft was visible to onlookers, picture-takers, and self-appointed supervisors of the construction project.

2014, the Spire at 1 WTC

The moon rises over lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center at sunset in New York City
One World Trade Center, NYC. Photo by Gary Hershorn / Corbis News / Getty Images (cropped)

Soaring 408 feet, the spire atop 1 WTC elevates the building height to a symbolic 1,776 feet — a height from architect Daniel Libeskind's Master Plan design.

The huge spire is David Childs' one concession made to Libeskind's original vision for the skyscraper at One World Trade Center. Libeskind wanted the building height to rise 1,776 feet, because the number represents the year of America's independence.

Indeed, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) determined that the spire was a permanent part of the skyscraper's design and, so, included it in the architectural height.

America's best-known office building opened in November 2014. Unless you work there, the building is off-limits to the general public. The paying public, however, is invited to 360° views from the 100th floor at One World Observatory.

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Craven, Jackie. "1 World Trade Center Plans and Drawings, 2002 to 2014." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/one-world-trade-design-4065225. Craven, Jackie. (2023, April 5). 1 World Trade Center Plans and Drawings, 2002 to 2014. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/one-world-trade-design-4065225 Craven, Jackie. "1 World Trade Center Plans and Drawings, 2002 to 2014." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/one-world-trade-design-4065225 (accessed June 4, 2023).