They set out to build the tallest skyscraper in the world — a giant that would rise a symbolic 1,776 feet (541m) from the ashes of ground zero.
Those aspirations of global supremacy fell by the wayside long ago, but New York won a consolation prize on Tuesday when an international architectural panel said it would recognize the One World Trade Center as the tallest skyscraper in the US.
The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, considered a world authority on supersized skyscrapers, announced its decision at simultaneous news conferences in New York and Chicago, home to the 442.26m Willis Tower, which is being dethroned as the nation’s tallest building.
Measuring the height of a building would seem to be a simple thing, but in the case of the new World Trade Center tower it is complicated by the 124.36m tall needle atop the skyscraper’s roof.
The council’s verdict rested on a conclusion that the needle should be counted as part of the building’s total height.
Without it, the tower would be just 416.97m tall, the same height as the original World Trade Center. That would make it smaller than not only the Willis, but also a 425.81m apartment building being built a short subway ride away near Central Park.
Speaking at his office in New York, council chairman Timothy Johnson, an architect at the global design firm NBBJ, said the decision by the 25-member height committee had more “tense moments” than usual, given the skyscraper’s importance as a patriotic symbol.
“I was here on 9/11. I saw the buildings come down,” he said.
Over the past few months, the council had hinted that it might be open to changing its standards for measuring ultra-tall buildings, given a trend toward developers adding “vanity height” to towers with huge, decorative spires.
However, the council also has a history of disallowing antennas in height calculations.
The Empire State Building’s landmark 62.18m needle is not counted in its height measurement. Neither are the two TV antennaes atop the Willis Tower, which had been the country’s tallest building since it was completed — and named the Sears Tower — in 1974.
However, in the end, there was unanimity on the committee that the One World Trade Center’s reach for 1,776 feet — a number that echoes the founding year of the US — was an artistic architectural expression.
“This was a quest to put something meaningful and symbolic on that site because of the horrible history of what happened on that site,” council executive director Antony Wood said.