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Major Step at Ground Zero: 7 World Trade Center Opening

Images courtesy Silverstein Properties, © David Sundberg (top), Joe Woolhead (bottom)

Almost five years after the attacks of September 11, the first major project near Ground Zero is about to open. Seven World Trade Center (7 WTC), a 52-story tower designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), and developed by Larry Silverstein, was at press time set to be completed on May 23. It is located just north of the World Trade Center site.

The 1.7 million-square-foot, $700 million building stands out downtown largely because it does not stand out. Its glass curtain facade is made of ultra-clear, low-iron glass, making it much lighter in color than any of the area's surrounding buildings. Behind the glass, curved stainless-steel spandrels reflect sky-like blue light back onto the windows. The relatively narrow building was pulled back from its eastern property line while adhering to the Manhattan street grid, which gives it an irregular-shaped floorplate. The setback allowed room to build a small, but lovely park, designed by Ken Smith. This acts as an entryway to the rest of the Trade Center site, which unfolds in front of it in dramatic fashion.

Like the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, also designed by SOM and developed by Silverstein, 7 WTC has a concrete base, in this case to provide security, and to house a Consolidated Edison electrical substation and the building's mechanical systems. The 11-story base's surface is fitted with an installation of reflective metal panels designed by New York artist James Carpenter with SOM. During the day, the surface reflects outside light, and at night it is animated by LED projections that mimic the movement of passersby. A glass ceiling in the lobby changes color throughout the day. The lobby also features an installation, with projected moving text about New York, created by New York artist Jenny Holzer.

Above the lobby most floors, which are column-free and fairly lofty, are still bare because tenants will not move in until the fall. The most dramatic element is the view: floor-to-ceiling glass reveal cityscapes on all sides. One can look down from the south side at construction on the Freedom Tower site, which recentlybegan. To the west, one sees construction on the Goldman Sachs building, and condominium projects seem to be going up everywhere else.

The building, the first high-rise in New York to complete LEED certification, is one of the greenest skyscrapers in the U.S. Rainwater is collected for irrigating the park and cooling the building; recycled steel was used in construction, and high-efficiency cooling, heating, and plumbing systems were installed. Daylight is provided to about 90 percent of the building's occupied space. Not surprisingly, the building also contains myriad safety features. Besides the concrete base, the building rises around a concrete core. If any exterior columns are compromised, the load will shift elsewhere. Exit stairwells are much wider than those in the old 7 WTC, and fans and vents ensure smoke won’t fill these areas. Since fuel tanks for diesel generators were thought to have stoked the fires which caused the original 7 WTC to collapse on 9/11, emergency power supplies for the building have been located away from the footprint.

The project still has few tenants, a sign that Manhattan office properties are not filling as quickly as residential ones. Most tenants of the old World Trade Center signed 10-year leases when they relocated after 9/11, says Silverstein Spokesman Dara McQuillan, so they can’t consider leaving until 2011. Seven WTC's major tenants are Ameriprise Financial, China-based Beijing Vantone Real Estate, the New York Academy of Sciences, and Silverstein’s offices. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has called for more residential development at Ground Zero, as have many planners and critics. But McQuillan says the Trade Center will be successful as a business complement to the area's residences, a “21st-century Rockefeller Center.' Officials from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation say that demand will increase once  transportation facilities here are completed. 

Sam Lubell