At ground zero, the future finally appears
The noise at ground zero is a steady roar. Engines hum. Cement mixers churn. Air horns blast. Cranes, including one that looks like a giant crab leg, soar and crawl over every corner of the 16-acre site.
For years, the future has been slow to appear at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But with six months remaining until the national 9/11 memorial opens, the work to turn a mountain of rubble into some of the inspiring moments envisioned nearly a decade ago is thundering forward.
One World Trade Center, otherwise known as the Freedom Tower, has joined the Manhattan skyline. Its steel frame, already clad in glass on lower floors, stands 58 stories tall and is starting to inch above many of the skyscrapers that ring the site. A new floor is being added every week.
The mammoth black-granite fountains and reflecting pools that mark the footprints of the fallen twin towers are largely finished, and they are a spectacle. Workers already have begun testing the waterfalls that ultimately will cascade into a void in the center of each square pit. The plaza that surrounds them has the potential to be one of the city’s awesome public spaces once construction is complete. Some 150 trees already have been planted in the plaza deck, even as workers continue to build it.
The memorial plaza won’t be complete when it opens Sept. 11 this year, and a tour of the site last week makes clear that work around it will continue for years. Mud is still plentiful at ground level, and for now the site is dominated by the same concrete-gray shades that blanketed lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks.
But the agency that owned the trade center and has spent nearly a decade rebuilding it is aiming to deliver a memorial experience on 9/11/11 that closes one chapter — marked by mourning — and ushers in a new experience, where ground zero again becomes part of the city’s everyday fabric.
“We want people to be able to see that downtown does have this incredible future to it,” said Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
For now, the complexity and scale of the construction is evident in every corner.
Workers labor round-the- clock. During the busiest shifts, around 2,800 people labor amid tangles and ravines of steel. In one steel cavern that will become a transit-hub concourse, showers of orange sparks fly as welders install trusses weighing up to 50 tons.
From the top of One World Trade, the view is spectacular, as it was from the twin towers, even though the building stands at 680 feet, less than halfway to its planned 1,776-foot height.