Half-Pint Prototype: The Outsize Influence of 7 World Trade Center

This post, excerpted from One World Trade Center: Biography of a Building (Little, Brown & Co., 2016), appeared in the November 30, 2016 issue of Gotham. It explores 7 World Trade Center's influence on One World Trade Center's design, engineering, construction methods, and safety features.


To fully appreciate One World Trade Center, one must begin at Seven World Trade Center, simply called Seven. Completed in 2006, Seven was the first tower to be rebuilt after September 11. Its construction was catalytic, refocusing prolonged discussions from what should be done at the World Trade Center to actually getting it rebuilt. Seven’s design, safety measures, and civic generosity established a benchmark that set the tone for the rest of the World Trade Center site.

We had to do something to show the world 
that was busy migrating out of lower Manhattan that we were going to rebuild lower Manhattan...
I said, ‘Let’s get this rebuilt. Let’s start the design.’ And that’s exactly what I did. —Larry Silverstein, interview with Judith Dupré

Its innovations would be incorporated into every subsequent Trade Center tower — and towers built around the globe. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), engineered by WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff and Jaros Baum & Bolles, built by Tishman/AECOM, and developed by Silverstein Properties and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Seven also saw the creation of a team of experts, all of whom would go on to work on One World Trade Center, bringing their skills and close working relationships to that project.

​Routinely appraised as one of the finest new skyscrapers in Manhattan, Seven is a 42-story tower, sheathed in transparent glass, whose appearance changes over the course of the day according to the quantity and quality of available light. Its prismatic façade was created in collaboration with James Carpenter Design Associates, a firm known for pushing the aesthetic and environmental boundaries of building envelopes. “One of the great attributes of New York is the quality of light we have here, specifically, downtown,” Carpenter said. “Because we’re between two rivers, there’s a lot of moisture in the air. Tiny spheres of water that are in the air make the light, endow it with a physical presence.”

While the atmospheric conditions downtown are laden with potential, its narrow streets tend to be dark. To counter this, the curtain wall was designed to gather natural and ambient light from adjacent buildings and redirect it, illuminating the streets. Read more at Gotham.

Gotham is a blog for independent and professional scholars of New York City history. It is the blog of the Gotham Center, a public educational organization devoted to the history of New York City at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Mike Wallace founded the Center in 2000, inspired by the popularity of his Pulitzer-winning book, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, co-authored with Edwin Burrows. The center’s mission is to make New York City's rich past more accessible to citizens and scholars, teachers and students, locals and out-of-towners. They are committed to providing free access to the best and most interesting developments in the field.

Send submissions and feedback to Gotham's Managing Editor, Peter-Christian Aigner

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