When the World Trade Center was built, and remembering how it looked before 9/11

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Here’s a selection of photos taken by those visiting New York City — tourists, commuters and residents — all of whom snapped pictures of the impressively tall twin towers of the World Trade Center during the months and years before they fell.

But first, a little about how the WTC was built, and an interview with Minoru Yamasaki — the architect who designed the buildings.

Building the World Trade Center

Land costs mean superscrapers here to stay

by Fred Bruning

Somewhere in the lower regions of the building lies what might have been. Down there are models of the World Trade Center, designs that were rejected for one reason or another, more than 100 of them.

The approved model is just about up. One-thousand three hundred- fifty feet up. Times two.

The world Trade Center has two towers of equal altitude. When the project that covers 16 acres of Lower Manhattan is completed in 1975, there also will be two nine-story plaza buildings and an eight-story US Customs facility.

There will be a five-acre plaza and maybe even a hotel, depending on what the scions of the New York-New Jersey Port Authority, who brought all of this to the financial district, finally determine to be wise and wonderful.

No one undertakes an exercise in immensity like this without causing considerable comment. There are those people who like the World Trade Center, and those who loathe it.

“Beautiful,” said John Seery, a maintenance man at the center. “…An esthetic failure,” intoned Newsweek.

It’s a massive effort to extend man’s ego,” maintained Donald Shake, a mail clerk for a shipping agency, while waiting for an elevator in the lobby of Tower One. “Another effort to get close to the heavens.”

If you stand on the roof of Tower One, the building on which they may yet plunk a television transmitter, if you stand there on an impossibly clear fall day, you can see… forever, or at least 100 miles into every direction of forever. Contemplations of infinity seem perfectly normal in the milieu of the Trade Center.

The World Trade Center during construction
The World Trade Center during construction, shortly before opening

The Twin Towers: By the numbers

Its vital statistics are no less staggering than its mere existence: 9 million square feet of office space (average rent per square foot is $8.50; 50,000 workers; 80,000 daily visitors; 2 zip codes; 43,600 windows; 600,000 square feet of glass; computerized systems control, 8,500 sensors that monitor pressures, temperature, power consumption; 102 elevators, including 32 Big-Momma expresses that hold 55 people; below-grade parking for 2,000 cars.

Yet, all these tributes having been placed on the altar of enormity, it remains true that the WTC towers, while rising a full 100 feet above the Empire State Building (not counting the Empire State’s 222-foot TV tower), are not the tallest buildings in the world. The Sears Tower of Chicago takes that title, teetering in at 1,450 feet.

But who cares? There will be other superscrapers in other cities, and each will be a little higher than the reigning champion.

Minoru Yamasaki, designer of the World Trade Center, expects New York to have 150-story buildings in the next 10 to 15 years. “Big” may be an epithet among ecologists, urban sentimentalists, certain architectural thinkers and social planners, but with city land prices going up faster than the cost of porterhouse steak, and with America’s love-affair with monumentalism still intact, tall buildings look like a sure bet for the rest of this century.

Amazing newly-discovered footage takes you back to New York in 1911

The Trade Center will be remembered as the first of the new breed, and 60-year-old Yamasaki, mild-mannered, soft-spoken, humanistic, may be remembered as the first of the maxibuilders.

Minoru Yamasaki sat on a couch on Floor 63 of Tower One recently, and smiled and talked, and refused to be unraveled by the detractors of the towers.

Which is not to say he wasn’t awe-struck by the prospects of producing the Titans of Lower Manhattan. “Obviously, I was scared of it at first,” he said. “I’ve been preaching (architectural) scale related to man.”

Then: “What are cities for? A building, whether it is 1,350 feet, 800 feet, 30 feet high — that’s not what counts. Man counts. You try to make life as pleasant as you can in set limitations — which are mainly economic.”

The World Trade Center is costing approximately $800 million.

Minoru Yamasaki with his completed buildings - World Trade Center 1973

Yamasaki was as interested in what happened on the grounds around the Trade Center as what happened in the heavens over them. The five major buildings (only the Southeast Plaza Building is yet to be built) are situated around a five-acre open space — a plaza with sculpture and a fountain and seating, a place that will be bathed in the summer by great swatches of shade, courtesy of Towers One and Two, which are just too much for the afternoon sun.

“The plaza,” said Yamasaki, “that’s the greatest part… Throngs of people enjoy open space. We came up with this idea of great space and towers.”

Now, at the plaza level, Yamasaki looks around. The space is huge and indistinct at this point. The sculpture is installed, a hose is running over part of the plaza. There is a distant feeling about the place, a surface-of-the-moon feeling.

Then Yamasaki points. “There will be green there,” he says. “Green here. Green there. It’s gonna be a pretty wonderful space.” He agrees more seating may have to be put in. He will watch to see how people use the plaza when jt is open.

The people using it now are the 10,000 employees who stream around construction workers to get to their offices in the towers. About 350 firms already have opened shop at the Trade Center while interior work is being completed on the upper third of the superscrapers.

So unembarrassed by the size of the buildings is Yamasaki that he admits to wishing plans would have allowed for towers slightly taller — for the sake of proportion.

The architect is aware that some New Yorkers are not happy with the World Trade Center…

A smile floats on the still sea of his face as he contemplates the twin titans of Lower Manhattan — buildings that climb to heights formerly reserved for helicopters, television antennae and King Kong. “As you get used to them,” he says, “they grow on you.”

See NYC's stunning historical Fifth Avenue mansions (1890s)

World Trade Center from Circle Line (July 6, 2001)

World Trade Center from Circle Line (July 6, 2001)
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World Trade Center (1978)

World Trade Center - Twin Towers
by lucac4

World Trade Center One

WTC NYC - World Trade Center 1
by David Barrie

World Trade Center – WTC (1984)

World Trade Center - WTC (1984)
by Lars Plougmann

The Twin Towers (1987)

The Twin Towers (1987)
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World Trade Center & Woolworth Building (1996)

World Trade Center and Woolworth building
by Ken Lund

World Trade Center & Marriott Hotel (May 15, 2001)

World Trade Center and Marriott Hotel (May 15, 2001)
by David Paul Ohmer

New York skyline from Statue of Liberty (1995)

The WTC rises tall in the background

New York skyline from Statue of Liberty (1995) - Baby and World Trade Center
by Nancy Price/Click Americana.com

“All for the Best” from Godspell – Filmed on the top of the WTC

YouTube video

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