The 9-11 Photos - An Attack on Architecture

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The World Trade Center Towers Before the Attack

New York City Skyline before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack
World Trade Center Twin Towers and the New York City Skyline before September 11, 2001. Photo © Markus Seidel / iStockPhoto

Built in the 1970s, the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York City were designed to withstand normal fires and hurricane-force winds. According to some reports, engineers believed that even the impact of a Boeing 707 would not bring down the towers.

But no engineer could have prepared for the destruction caused on September 11, 2001 when terrorists hijacked two passenger jets, each much larger than a Boeing 707, and slammed them into the World Trade Center Towers.

WTC 1, known as "the north tower" was located geographically north of WTC 2, or "the south tower." The north tower was hit first, from a plane originating in Boston, Massachusetts.

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8:46 a.m. ET: Hijacked Plane Hits the WTC North Tower

A passenger plane hijacked by terrorists struck the North Tower of the New York Trade Center
A passenger plane hijacked by terrorists struck the North Tower of the New York Trade Center. Photo © Peter Cunningham/Mission Pictures/Getty Images

On September 11, 2001 at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Time, terrorists flew a hijacked Boeing 767 jet, American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston, into the north tower, WTC 1, of the World Trade Center Complex of buildings.

The plane punctured the tower at floors 94 through 98, but the skyscraper was not yet destroyed.

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September 11 Photo Timeline: Smoke Fills the WTC North Tower

Smoke billowed from the North Tower of the New York World Trade Center
Smoke billowed from the North Tower of the New York World Trade Center. Photo © Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images

Debris from the aircraft sliced through the core of the World Trade Center north tower. The elevator shaft became a conduit for burning jet fuel. As smoke billowed from the upper floors, countless people leaned from the windows, waiting for help.

The evacuation of WTC 2, the South Tower, was not immediately called for.

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9:03 a.m.: Hijacked Plane Hits the WTC South Tower

A fiery blasts rocks the south tower of the New York World Trade Center
A fiery blasts rocks the south tower of the New York World Trade Center. Photo © Spencer Platt / Getty Images

At 9:03 a.m. Eastern Time, hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashed into the south side of the south tower, WTC 2 within the World Trade Center Complex of buildings in Lower Manhattan.

The plane, a Boeing 767 jet, burst into flames as it struck floors 78 through 84—lower in the building than the aircraft that crashed into WTC 1. Like the first jet into tower 1, the jet's impact on tower 2 destroyed support columns but did not cause the immediate collapse.

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10:05 a.m.: The WTC South Tower Collapses

Flames engulf the south tower of the New York World Trade Center after terrorist attack
Flames engulf the south tower of the New York World Trade Center after terrorist attack. WTC 2 collapsed an hour later. Photo © Craig Allen/Getty Images

The intense heat of the jet fuel cannot melt metal, but heat and flames from the crash probably weakened the steel truss system and steel columns around the facade. Because the second aircraft landed on lower floors, more weight had to be redistributed from the top floors. By 9:45 a.m. Eastern Time, a witness reported that the floors in the south tower were buckling. Videos confirmed the observations.

The South tower was the first to collapse. At 10:05 a.m. Eastern Time, in ten seconds, the entire Tower 2 fell upon itself while tower 2 stood smoldering.

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10:28 a.m.: The WTC North Tower Collapses

People flee the New York World Trade Center after the towers collapsed
People flee the New York World Trade Center after the towers collapsed. Photo — Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Because the jets struck the World Trade Center Towers on the upper floors, the weight of the buildings caused their own collapse. As each concrete slab floor gave way, it smashed into the floor below. The massive downward crush of floors crashing, or pancaking, on floors, sent out enormous clouds of debris and smoke.

At 10:28 a.m. Eastern Time, the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed from the top down, pancaking into dust. Researchers estimate that the rush of air displaced—faster than the speed of sound—caused sonic booms.

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The Fallen World Trade Center Towers

Rescue workers clear debris from the remains of the destroyed World Trade Center towers
Rescue workers clear debris from the remains of the destroyed World Trade Center towers. Photo © Spencer Platt / Getty Images

After the World Trade Center towers collapsed, white ashes covered the streets and skeletons of shattered walls. Compare the remains seen here with Structure of the New York World Trade Center Twin Towers. These are the same tridents that can be seen at the National 9/11 Memorial Museum.

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Seven Hours Later: WTC Building 7 Collapses

Seven hours after the World Trade Center twin towers fell, the 47-story WTC building 7 collapsed
Seven hours after the World Trade Center twin towers fell, the 47-story WTC building 7 collapsed. Photo © Pool / Getty Images

Flying debris and raging fire from the collapsed World Trade Center towers had an impact on nearby buildings. Seven hours after the Twin Towers fell, the 47-story WTC building 7 collapsed.

After years of investigations, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found that the intense heat on the floor beams and girders weakened a critical support column in WTC Building 7.

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Two Days Later: Rescue Workers Search Through the Wreckage

Rescue workers sift through the wreckage of the World Trade Center
Rescue workers sift through the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York City, two days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. Photo © Chris Hondros / Getty Images

Two days after the terrorist attack, rescue workers continued to sift through the wreckage of the World Trade Center, searching for survivors.

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Five Days Later: Only Ruins Remain

Aerial view of the World Trade Center ruins, five days after the terrorist attack in New York City
Aerial view of the World Trade Center ruins, five days after the terrorist attack in New York City. Photo © Eric J. Tilford / U.S. Navy / Getty Images

Five days after the terrorist attacks, ruins of the New York World Trade Center buildings still smoldered. Lower Manhattan in New York City seemed like a war zone and became known as Ground Zero.

Buildings Destroyed in Lower Manhattan:

  • the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (WTC 1 and WTC 2)
  • 7 World Trade Center
  • 6 World Trade Center
  • 5 World Trade Center
  • 4 World Trade Center
  • 3 World Trade Center (the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel)
  • St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

Buildings Damaged, Condemned, then Razed:

  • the Deutsche Bank Building at 130 Liberty Street (1974)
  • CUNY, Manhattan Community College's Fiterman Hall at 30 West Broadway (rebuilt)

Buildings Damaged, but Eventually Restored:

  • the World Financial Center complex, designed by Cesar Pelli (1980s)
  • 90 West Street, designed by Cass Gilbert (1907)
  • the Verizon Building (1927)
  • One Liberty Plaza, designed by SOM (1973)
  • the Millenium Hilton
  • U.S. Post Office at 90 Church Street (1935)

The demolition of the World Trade Center complex altered New York's skyline forever.