What Are They Building at Ground Zero?

Lower Manhattan Roars Back from 9/11

What's going on at Ground Zero in New York City? Photos still show scaffolding, construction cranes, and security fences, but it's not like it used to be. Go down there, and you see people. Lots of people have returned to the site, gone through airport-liked security, and are realizing from the 9/11 Memorial Museum that construction is both above- and below-ground. New York is recovering from the ruins left after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. One by one, the buildings rise. Here's a status report of what they're building.

New York skyline, One World Trade Center from the Hudson River in 2014
New York skyline, One World Trade Center from the Hudson River in 2014. Photo by steve007/Moment Open Collection/Getty Images

As New York removed debris from Ground Zero, architect Daniel Libeskind proposed a sweeping Master Plan in 2002 with a record-breaking skyscraper that became known as Freedom Tower. A symbolic cornerstone was placed on July 4, 2004, but the building's design evolved and construction did not begin for another two years. Architect David Childs became the lead architect, while Libeskind focused on the overall master plans for the site. Now called One World Trade Center, or Tower 1, the central skyscraper is 104 stories, with an enormous 408-foot steel spire antenna. On May 10, 2013, the final spire sections were in place and Tower One reached its full and symbolic height of 1776 feet, the tallest building in the United States. By September 11, 2014, the omnipresent exterior elevator hoist was being dismantled. Over several months in 2014 into 2015, the media group Conde Nast moved thousands of employees into a million square feet of office space. The observation area (oneworldobservatory.com) on floors 100, 101, and 102 opened to the public in May 2015. On a clear day you can see forever. On a cloudy day, not so much.

Lead Architect: David Childs, Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM)
Project Manager Architect: Nicole Dosso, SOM
Opened: November 2014 More »

Rendering of 2015 Design for Tower 2, the Memorial Side, by Bjarke Ingels Group
Rendering of 2015 Design for Tower 2, the Memorial Side, by Bjarke Ingels Group. Press image © Silverstein Properties, Inc., all rights reserved.

We thought that Norman Foster's Plans and Designs from 2006 were out. The second tallest World Trade Center Tower had new tenants signed up, and with them came a new architect and new design.  In June 2015 the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) presented a two-faced design for Tower 2. The Memorial side is reserved and corporate, while the street side is stepped and residentially garden-like. But in 2016 the new tenants, 21st Century Fox and News Corp, pulled out, and now the developer, Larry Silverstein, is said to be rethinking the architects, too. Stay tuned.

Foundation Construction Began: September 2008
Expected Completion: Foundation at grade-level; Status of tower construction is at the "Concept Design" stage. More »

Three World Trade Center Skyscraper
Three World Trade Center. Press photo courtesy Silverstein Properties

High-tech architect Richard Rogers has designed a skyscraper using a complex system of diamond-shaped braces. Because Tower 3 will have no interior columns, the upper floors will offer unimpeded views of the World Trade Center site. Rising to 80 stories, 3 World Trade Center is the third tallest in height, after the celebrated One World Trade Center and Tower 2. Its design is basically the same as the design presented in 2006.

In September 2012, construction of the lower "podium" stalled after reaching a 7 story height. With new tenants by 2015, however, 600 workers a day were onsite and assembling 3 WTC resumed at a frantic pace, zooming past the Transportation Hub next door. Concrete construction topped out in June 2016 with the steel topping out not far behind.

Lead Designer: Richard Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Foundation Work Began: July 2010
Expected Completion: 2018 More »

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4 World Trade Center

Four World Trade Center Skyscraper
Four World Trade Center. Press photo courtesy Silverstein Properties (cropped)

WTC Tower 4 is an elegant, minimalist design. Each corner of the skyscraper rises to a different height, with the highest elevation at 977 feet. Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki designed 4 World Trade Center to complete the spiral configuration of towers on the World Trade Center site. Be sure to see Maki's architecture portfolio, too.

Lead Designer: Fumihiko Maki, Maki and Associates
Construction Began: February 2008
Opened: November 13, 2013

Looking Overhead and Inside the Transportation Hub
The Oculus Transportation Hub in New York City in 2016. Photo by Drew Angerer / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed a bright, uplifting transportation terminal for the new World Trade Center. Located between Tower 2 and Tower 3, the hub provides easy access to the World Financial Center (WFC), ferries, and 13 existing subway lines. Photos do not do justice to the spiny framed structure and the streaming light through the oculus. Go take a look when you're next in New York City.

Lead Designer: Santiago Calatrava
Construction Began: September 2005
Opened to Public: March 2016 More »

An aerial view of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and the Oculus Transportation Hub
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum surrounded by Towers and the Oculus Transportation Hub. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The long-awaited National 9/11 Memorial lies at the heart and soul of the World Trade Center site. Two thirty-foot waterfall memorials designed by architect Michael Arad are in the exact locations where the fallen Twin Towers once soared skyward. Arad's Reflecting Absence was the first design to break the plane between above- and below-ground, as the water descends toward the broken foundations of the fallen skyscrapers and to the Memorial Museum below.

Lead Designers: Michael Arad and Peter Walker
Construction Began: March 2006
Completed: September 11, 2011

Near the memorial waterfalls sits a large, steel and glass entryway to the National September 11 Memorial Museum. This Pavilion is the only aboveground structure on the 9/11 Memorial Plaza.

The Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta spent nearly a decade designing and redesigning a structure that would satisfy the project's many stakeholders. Some say its design is like a leaf, complementing Santiago Calatrava's bird-like Transportation Hub nearby. Others see it as a glass shard permanently imbedded—like a bad memory—into the landscape of the Memorial Plaza. More »

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The National 9/11 Memorial Museum

Two tridents from original Twin Towers inside atrium of National September 11 Memorial Museum
Two tridents from the original World Trade Center inside the National September 11 Memorial Museum. Photo by Allan Tannenbaum-Pool/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

The underground National 9/11 Memorial Museum houses artifacts that were salvaged from the destroyed buildings. The entrance features a glass atrium—an above-ground pavilion—where the museum guest is immediately confronted by two steel trident (three-pronged) columns salvaged from the destroyed Twin Towers. The pavilion transitions the visitor from street-level remembrance down into the a place of memory, the Museum below. "Our desire," says Snøhetta co-founder Craig Dykers, "is to allow visitors to find a place that is a naturally occurring threshold between the everyday life of the city and the uniquely spiritual quality of the Memorial."

The transparency of the glass design promotes an invitation for visitors to enter into the Museum and learn more. The Pavilion leads down to the subterranean exhibition galleries designed by Davis Brody Bond.

Future generations may ask what happened here, and the Museum details the 9-11 Attack on the World Trade Center. This is where it happened. As an area subject to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Memorial Plaza and the Memorial Museum together  preserve the memory of that day in 2001.

Memorial Pavilion Lead Designer: Craig Dykers, Snøhetta
Museum Design: Davis Brody Bond
Construction Began: March 2006
Opened: May 21, 2014

Sources: National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion, Snohetta website; Message from the Museum Director and Memorial Museum FAQ, National September 11 Memorial & Museum [accessed May 13, 16, 2014]

In 2006, 7 WTC became the first skyscraper to rebuild Ground Zero and begin the reopening of Greenwich Street
In 2006, 7 WTC became the first skyscraper to rebuild Ground Zero and begin the reopening of Greenwich Street. Photo by Joe Woolhead courtesy Silverstein Properties Inc.

The Master Plan for redevelopment called for a reopening of Greenwich Street, a north-south city street that had been closed since the mid-1960s for construction of the original Twin Towers area. Tower 7, at 250 Greenwich Street, began the healing.  At 52 Floors and 750 feet, the new 7WTC was completed first as it sits atop a mass of underground infrastructure.

Lead Architect: David Childs, Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM)
Construction Began: 2002
Opened: May 23, 2006 More »

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Performing Arts Center

Rendering of the Proposed Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center
Rendering of the Proposed Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center. Press photo © LUXIGON courtesy Silverstein Properties (cropped)

A Performing Arts Center (PAC) was always part of the Master Plan (see site plan map from 2006). Originally, a 1,000-seat PAC was designed by Pritzker Laureate Frank Gehry. Below-grade work began in 2007, and in 2009 the drawings were presented. The world economic slowdown, and Gehry's controversial design, put PAC on the back burner.

Then in June 2016 billionaire Ronald O. Perelman stepped up and donated $75 million for the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center. Perelman's donation is in addition to the millions of dollars of federal money allocated to the project.

The plan is to have three small theater spaces arranged in such a way that they can be combined to create larger performance areas. Incorporating the latest broadcasting technology will enable the performance space to become a global venue of infinite capacity. Flexible performance space is a design idea incorporated into the 2009 Wyly Theatre in Dallas, Texas by architect Joshua Prince-Ramus.

Lead Architect: Joshua Prince-Ramus of REX, once a partner with the New York office of Rem Koolhaas (OMA)
Location: Vesey Street and West Broadway
Expected Opening: 2020

Learn More:

16 Acres: The Struggle to Rebuild Ground Zero, directed by Richard Hankin, 2014, 95 minutes (DVD)
Buy this DVD on Amazon

Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero by Science and Discovery Channel
Buy on Amazon

Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero by Philip Nobel, Metropolitan Books, 2005
Buy this Book on Amazon

Up from Zero: Politics, Architecture, and the Rebuilding of New York by Paul Goldberger, Random House, 2005
Buy this Book on Amazon