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One World Trade Center: Restoring Confidence

Facing A Monumental Challenge

One World Trade Center stands quietly at 285 Fulton Street as a proud but solemn memorial to our fellow citizens who perished tragically on September 11, 2001. But the teams that designed, engineered and built the towering symbol of America’s resilience in lower Manhattan were faced with issues from day one. Never mind all the wrangling by different groups about what the rebuild should be – or the disputes between the Port Authority and the developer. And forget about the nearly 4 billion that had to be raised and spent by the time its spire was set in place. This project was a monumental construction challenge from the ground up.

Removing Very Special Debris

After rescue and recovery operations were halted, the first order of business was clearing the site. Shortly after the attack occurred, truck after truck began rumbling off with debris from the site. Many pieces would eventually find their way to every state in the union for use in local memorials, and some of the recovered steel was even used in building the Amphibious Warfare Ship, USS New York. But even though removing the mountain of debris was a Herculean task, the real work of constructing the tower was only just beginning.

Avoiding The Hudson’s Ooze

The site itself posed an extraordinary engineering problem to solve. For countless years, it had been a busy, working landfill that had eventually expanded the land area of lower Manhattan into the Hudson River. Without creating some type of barrier, the river’s waters would ooze the excavation as quickly as the compacted material was pulled from the ground.

The answer was nearly Medieval in nature. In effect, a deep moat (or trench) surrounding the site was dug and filled with a mixture of water and a high-swelling pond clay called bentonite. The result worked because dirt was not as dense as the slurry, and that kept the threat of a cave-in at bay.

Clearing The Path To Bedrock

Once the slurry moat was filled, a huge steel cage more than 100 feet tall was lowered into a section of it. And when concrete was poured into the trench, it displaced the lighter-weight slurry and created the first section of a barrier that was affectionately known as the bathtub. After the bathtub was completed and the Hudson’s waters were held at bay, workers could start removing the 70 feet or so of former landfill and dirt to get down to the solid bedrock they would need to support the future tower.

Making Safe and Strong Beautiful

For obvious reasons, designers wanted to build the world’s safest skyscraper. But they didn’t want it to look like a cold, forbidding fortress. The answer was to create a core “building within a building.” The reinforced-concrete core’s 2-foot thick (at a minimum) walls shield elevators, stairways, mechanical systems, standpipes, antennas and restrooms within its 110-foot deep square space while ductile steel moment frames guard the perimeter. On each floor a 10-foot wide hallway cuts through the middle of the core. For building visitors and occupants, the result is wide open, column-free space with a generous amount of natural daylight.

Curbing The Risk Of Falling Objects

During construction, as the tower began to rise above its neighbors in the Manhattan skyline, contractors had to consider ways of minimizing the risk of objects falling from height. With all the pedestrian traffic that New York City is known for, this was no small concern.


As an example, self-climbing cranes were used to place the permanent perimeter structural steel. Since they were self-climbing, they didn’t have to disassemble and reassemble the tower crane mast sections to raise them up to the next level. Eliminating that process reduced the risk of falling pieces.
Another example was the use of fully enclosed skid boxes for debris removal so the most waste could be safely loaded and unloaded. Additional measures used were tool tethering, pail covers and other ways to secure tools and supplies as they were used or transferred from place to place.

Developing A Super Concrete

In an effort to further strengthen the building, an especially strong concrete mixture was developed. With compressive strength of up to 14,000 psi, it is stronger than any rock you could find, and was stronger than any mix that had ever been used in the Big Apple. The Port Authority’s Materials Engineering lab, working with several consultants, thoroughly tested the material, keeping hydration heat down by replacing more than half the concrete with industrial by-products like slag, flyash and silica fume. Normally, high-strength concrete sets up faster, but this concrete needed to be workable for a relatively long time of two hours to accommodate transit time on city roads and up to the tower’s top floors. They used sensors embedded in the concrete to monitor curing as ironworkers and concrete subcontractors constructed the core. During this project, concrete was pumped higher (103 stories) than ever attempted before in the Western Hemisphere.

Taking Steps To Improve Safety

Escape stairways leading down to street level were completely re-conceived for One World Trade Center. The two descending stairways are each 72 inches wide compared to the previous standard of 44 inches, and are enclosed within the core.
Glow-in-the-dark markings and battery-powered lights will keep stairwells lighted in an emergency. Independent air systems will keep them smoke-free. An additional dedicated first responders’ pressurized stairway and water-resistant elevator will make sure these heroes won’t have to wade through waves of descending occupants in the event of an emergency. Many of the improvements made in this building’s systems have now become part of the New York City Building Code for high-rise buildings.


Engineering Exterior Eye Candy

To create the dazzling appearance of the tower as the sun crosses the sky and light conditions change, architects chose to glaze it floor-to-floor. One million square feet of glass was used, and it was carefully developed specifically for this project.
One World Trade Center under construction as of July 2012

The extremely high U-value of the glass keeps interior spaces comfortable (contributing to its gold LEED rating) and its high transparency makes gazing across the landscape below a special treat. On the outside, the highly-reflective glass, with its corners covered in laser-finished stainless steel creates a breathtaking daily display. And when the light is just right, you can even see straight through it.

Restoring A Country’s Confidence

After the original Trade Towers fell on that terrible day, there was no shortage of voices calling for the goal of rebuilding on the same site to show terrorists our collective resolve and restore the confidence of the American people. But an unstated goal was standing by quietly in the shadows.

Architects, engineers and contractors wanted to restore Americans’ confidence in the viability and safety of skyscrapers. After painstakingly analyzing safety issues and what had happened structurally during the tragic event, the builders of One World Trade Center constructed a tower that has rewritten the playbook for supertall buildings to come.

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  1. Greg Henderson says

    Cool article HD Supply – White Cap!

    1. Randy Hall says

      Thanks Greg! Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Mike says

    Uh,the USS New York is Not an aircraft carrier. A little research and you would have known this.

    USS New York (LPD-21) is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock and the fifth ship of the United States Navy to be named after the state of New York.

    1. Randy Hall says

      OK, let’s go with “Amphibious Warfare Ship”
      Aircraft carried:
      Launch or land
      two CH-53E Super Stallion
      two MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft
      four CH-46 Sea Knight
      four AH-1 SeaCobra or
      four UH-1 Iroquois helicopters.
      The USS New York is an LPD, which is a different animal than a straight Aircraft Carrier.

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