World Trade Center: The Tallest Building In The World

Culture | December 23, 2019

World Trade Center (Photo by Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The World Trade Center will forever be associated with the tragedy of September 11, 2001, but for 27 years the Twin Towers stood as an architectural marvel and a symbol of New York City. A giant ape climbed the towers in a remake of King Kong, and a Frenchman walked on a wire stretched between them. When completed, the World Trade Center stood as the tallest building in the world; though it lost that title just a year later, the Twin Towers continued to loom large in the imagination of a generation that had watched their construction with awe.

Few things are as stunning as a beautiful piece of architecture. Not only does a massive building say something about the infrastructure used to create it, but it shows what people can accomplish when we work together. By the time the World Trade Center's towers were completed in 1973, they were 110 stories tall and took up 10 million square feet of space. The towers took up serious real estate and changed the makeup of the city forever.

An Idea Is Born

source: Tripod

Long before the Twin Towers went up they were simply the dream of Winthrop W. Aldrich, one of the organizers of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He wanted to create a physical space where there could be a permanent trade exposition in the Big Apple. His concept was hatched in the middle of World War II, a time when all of America’s resources were being diverted towards defeating the axis, so the initial concept never came to fruition.

In 1959 Aldrich’s nephew, David Rockefeller, latched onto the idea as a way to revitalize lower Manhattan. He created the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association and started working on a project to create a 70 story, $250 million complex where the Fulton Fish Market sits on the East River.

The Towers Find A Home

source: reddit

The folks at the Fish Market weren’t pumped that they were going to be out of their jobs because of a skyscraper, so after some back and forth between the states of New Jersey and New York, the proposed site of the World Trade Center was moved to the Hudson River. Before Port Authority broke ground on the World Trade Center, they combined the construction project with the renovation of the PATH train, New Jersey’s Hudson and Manhattan commuter railroad. Port Authority razed an area of Manhattan once known as "Radio Row," so called for its electronics businesses, and began construction on the towers. 

Port Authority Reaches For Great Heights

source: flickr

Port Authority finally got the go ahead to build the World Trade Center, and decided that the buildings should be big. The Empire State Building had held the record for world’s tallest building at 1,250 feet high, since its completion in 1931. Architect Minoru Yamasaki designed two towers of 110 stories each, both with hollow tubes supported by closely spaced steel columns encased in aluminum.  Construction got underway in February 1967 in spite of mass criticism from men in the New York real estate world. They said that the buildings weren’t safe, that they’d be an eyesore, and that at their proposed height they ran the risk of planes flying into them.

Construction Began In 1966

source: tumblr

Construction of the towers was no easy task. The area that was proposed for the World Trade Center was a massive landfill that had to be dug out and removed before the foundation could be laid. In order to get started, 70 feet of bedrock had to be removed and a slurry mixture had to be poured into the base to fill any stray holes. After that, workers were free to pour the foundation. 

So-called “kangaroo” cranes that could grow taller along with the building were brought in to deal with the ever-sprouting towers, along with 3,000 miles of electrical wiring, 425,000 cubic yards of concrete, 40,000 doors, 43,600 windows and six acres of marble. When all was said and done the project cost $1.5 billion. At the time it was one of the most expensive pieces of architecture known to man.

For A Brief Moment The North Tower Was The Tallest Building In The World

source: reddit

One World Center saw its final piece of steel added on December 23, 1970. The building topped out between 1,368 and 1,353 feet tall; either way it was enough to dwarf the Empire State Building and its puny 1,250 feet. The Twin Towers only held onto their status as the tallest buildings in the world for a brief period time as they were quickly overtaken by Chicago’s Sears Tower, standing 1,451 feet tall, in 1974.

Regardless of whether or not the North Tower managed to stay the tallest building in the world for long, it’s amazing that this dream of international commerce served from its inception in the 1940s until its construction in the 1960s, and its eventual destruction in the early 2000s. The Towers may no longer stand, but their memory remains. 

Tags: Architecture | New York City | World Trade Center

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.