Photos show how New York City built the Freedom Tower in the wake of 9/11

Joe Woolhead/Courtesy of Silverstein PropertiesA construction worker climbs a ladder at the World Trade Center site in 2014.

Fourteen years ago on the Fourth of July, New York City officials laid the cornerstone of what would soon become a major Manhattan landmark. With then-mayor Michael Bloomberg at his side, former New York governor George Pataki recited the inscription on the building’s first stone: “To honour and remember those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001 and as a tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom.”

With this small gesture, the Freedom Tower was born – at least in spirit. It would take another two years to begin construction on the site of the former 6 World Trade Center, which was destroyed in 9/11.

Both the design and location account for this tragic history. Though the tower was originally set to be built 25 feet away from a state highway, the New York Police Department expressed concern that it might be vulnerable to car or truck bombs. This led to the structure being built farther away from the road and outfitted with a windowless concrete base.

The security precautions came at the expense of the building’s aesthetics. Many accused the new design of resembling a dreary bunker or fortress. In response, the owners came up with an idea to install decorative glass prisms along the base. The design proved untenable, with the glass shattering into pieces during off-site testing.

In the end, the owners landed on a steel structure with high-tech, laminated safety glass that would break into pebbles – not shards – in the event of a blast. Even then, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff called it “a grotesque attempt to disguise [the tower’s] underlying paranoia.”

The building’s security measures made it an expensive project. By April 2012, the tower’s construction costs had exceeded $US3.8 billion, earning it the temporary title of the world’s most expensive building. Today, it still ranks among the top ten.

The following images chronicle the tower’s construction in the wake of 9/11.


After years of delay, construction finally began in May 2006.

Joe Woolhead/Courtesy of Silverstein PropertiesThe assembly of the tower’s foundation in August 2007.

By the end of the year, New Yorkers were invited to sign the first steel beam along the tower’s base.

The photographer, Joe Woolhead, described the experience of photographing the site: “Being there on the ground practically every day afforded me the opportunity to get to know the workers,” he said. “A lot of workers told me more than once how proud they were to work at the site … For me, photography has never been more personal and more universal.”


The tower officially opened on November 3, 2014, more than eight years after the start of construction.

Joe Woolhead/Courtesy of Silverstein PropertiesProgress in October 2009.

In 2009, Port Authority officials announced the signatory of the building’s first lease: the Chinese property developer Vantone Industrial Co. The tower is now home to Condé Nast, Moody’s, and Ameriprise Financial, among other organisations.


At its middle, the tower forms a perfect octagon. From the street, it looks like a pyramid ascending toward the sky.

Joe Woolhead/Courtesy of Silverstein PropertiesThe tower’s construction during the 2010 Tribute in Light, an art installation that takes place every year on the anniversary of 9/11.

The building’s architect is David Childs, whose firm also designed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the Willis Tower in Chicago.

Joe Woolhead/Courtesy of Silverstein Properties

In an interview with Project Rebirth, Childs addressed the criticism of the project. “The discourse about Freedom Tower has often been limited to the symbolic, formal and aesthetic aspects, but we recognise that if this building doesn’t function well, if people don’t want to work and visit there, then we will have failed as architects,” he said.


At 1,776 feet, the Freedom Tower is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. Its height is an homage to the year the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Joe Woolhead/Courtesy of Silverstein Properties

In 2012, there was some controversy about whether the building’s spire qualified as part of its overall height. Without the spire, the tower stands at 1,368 feet – below 432 Park Avenue in New York and the Willis Tower and Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago.

By 2013, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat had determined that the spire was indeed an architectural element, and therefore could be counted. At night, the spire emits a beam of light that stretches more than 1,000 feet into the sky.


It only takes one minute for the tower’s “Sky Pod” elevators to rise 1,250 feet in the air.

Joe Woolhead/Courtesy of Silverstein Properties

The above image shows a view from inside the Freedom Tower, looking out. The building features the highest panoramic views in all of New York City.

In addition to gazing down at Manhattan, viewers can interact with LED displays and dine at a host of cafés and restaurants at the building’s observation deck.


On a visit to the construction site in 2012, former President Obama inscribed the following phrase on a steel beam: “We remember, we rebuild, we come back stronger!”

Joe Woolhead/Courtesy of Silverstein Properties

For Woolhead, who also photographed the city in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, capturing the rebuilding process was a source of deep pride.

“I feel a profound sense of obligation to produce work that will stand the test of time,” he said, “much like the buildings that now stand as monuments, and as symbols of our age.”

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