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S258
World Trade Center: Magnificent Ambition

Jeffrey Syken

With the end of the Second World War, New York’s port was in decline and lower Manhattan’s financial district only a shadow of its former self. What it needed, in the minds of the “Brothers Rockefeller” (David & Nelson) and others, was a heavy dose of urban renewal in the form of modernist architecture and enlightened city planning. What it needed, and got, was a “World Trade Center.”

Big ideas need big institutions with the wherewithal and financial resources to see them through to completion. In this case, it would be a “quasi-governmental agency” – the Port of New York Authority, who would take the lead – and controversial, role of developer and constructor. With a well-deserved reputation for professionalism and engineering excellence, exemption from the laws of the two states it served (NY & NJ) and very deep pockets, the die was cast by the early 1960s for the PNYA to create the WTC at the foot of Manhattan Island.

The twin towers of the WTC and the complex at its base were referred to, at the time, as “The First Buildings of the 21st Century,” for good reason. The WTC was a marvel of architectural and engineering design and innovation. From the “Giant Bathtub” (that kept the nearby Hudson River at bay) to the window-washing apparatus, the WTC was a springboard and proving ground for contemporary design, construction and manufacturing techniques. Modern super-tall buildings still use the express/local elevator system first adapted for use in the twin towers (based on the NYC subway system). By making the exterior walls load-bearing, thus freeing the interior spaces from support columns, fully 50% more rentable space was realized. This was a major achievement, then and now.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of course materials.


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