Local Architects Debate Plan To Rebuild New WTC

June 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Real estate news service Globe Street reported last week that developer Larry Silverstein confirmed he intends to rebuild the World Trade Center.

“The reality is once we care for the human needs, I personally feel we have an obligation to our children and our grandchildren and the world. If we don’t rebuild it, we give in to the people who resort to destroying our way of life,” said Silverstein, who made his comment before the Real Estate Board of New York.

Generally known as the world’s largest office complex, the WTC took seven years to build. The first building, 1 WTC, opened in 1970. The last, 4 WTC, was built in 1977. The towers stood 110 stories tall. More than 200,000 tons of steel were used in the construction. As for the concrete, enough was used for the complex that a five-foot-wide sidewalk could have been built from New York to Washington, D.C.

The towers were each supported by a series of steel beams placed every 39 inches along the perimeters of the buildings. Normally, beams in an office structure are set 10 to 15 feet apart. The closeness of the beams kept the towers from falling when the buildings were hit by the hijacked airplanes. It was the heat from the explosion and resulting fire, with temperatures reportedly reaching 1,500 degrees, that caused the steel to melt and the towers to fall.

“I don’t know what they can do. When something like that happens, you can’t plan for it,” said John Edison, vice president and COO of BETA Design Group in Grand Rapids. “I think the first attack in 1993, with the bomb planted in the basement, proved that the building was sound.”

Stephen Fry, president of Concept Design Group, agreed.

“There is nothing that can be, or should be, designed into a building to cover a catastrophic event like an airplane smashing into a building. Certainly there will be some new codes in place that will make the fire protection better than it was in the existing buildings, but nothing that would have changed anything, in my mind,” he said.

Fry pointed out that the reason the sprinkler systems didn’t work on the floors above the crashes was because the impact leveled by the jets destroyed the sprinklers on the top 20-or-so floors of each tower, and the resulting fire was not a ‘normal’ blaze.

“They were designed to resist hurricanes, all sorts of weather and wind loads. But it’s just not financially feasible to design a building to withstand impacts like that, let alone the heat from the jet fuel. The same thing would happen if a jet hit a 10-story building,” said Fry

“It’s just a tremendous tragedy. There is no way for architects, engineers and developers to anticipate something like that and do anything about it,” he added.

Silverstein has indicated he wants to construct a complex consisting of a monument and four 50-story towers.

“I think that if he has the tenants and if it makes sense business-wise, then why not do it,” said Edison. “We’ve had some conversations in the office, philosophically, on whether it should be rebuilt or not. I think you can make a philosophical argument that both shouldn’t be replaced. That there be some kind of memorial left there as a reminder.

“But part of me says let’s build both back up and show them that if you knock them down, we’ll build them back up again,” he added.

“As a developer, I would be concerned whether people would actually want to lease space and go back into that facility,” said Fry.

Silverstein has held the master lease to the office complex since late 1980. To rebuild the WTC, he needs support from the Port Authority of New York, which owns the land the buildings occupied.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we’ll have the cooperation of the Port, the insurance carriers and the political leaders,” said Silverstein. “We can get this done. To those who lost their lives and who almost lost their lives, this is our obligation.”

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