A Better World (Trade Center)


Here is some of what awaits you if you choose to dine at the top of One World Trade Center:

One Mix serves “handcrafted small plates and cocktails celebrating New York.” I suppose this explains why the margarita is dedicated to Corona, Queens, with its predominantly Latino population (really). Corona also happens to be one of the the region’s most affordable neighborhoods, and so the margarita at One Mix is “affordably” priced at $18. The unbalanced tipple tastes of alcohol and sugar. And this is when you realize that the WTC’s diluted Disney-approach to honoring the city’s gastronomic diversity might not work.

Small plates, in corporate concessions parlance, mean sliders. So instead of one hamburger we get three mini-burgers. They’re a hat tip to “Brooklyn,” the menu claims, a statement that technically makes sense as the dense patties mimic the hockey pucks that the Islanders will use when they move to the Barclays Center. The mini meatball hero, an ode to Staten Island, is a single, leaden globe of meat, the size of a golfball, stuffed into a mini-loaf that walks a fine line between crunchy and stale. Bronx-inspired chile and olive empanadas are as mushy as oatmeal, and come with a side of yellow arroz so cold and insipid it would’ve made the chef at a boxed rice company frown.

Windows on the World, it is not. But it would have been difficult to expect anything less cynical from a restaurant housed in a building once dubbed — and still frequently called — the Freedom Tower, the centerpiece of a site designed by a man “who declared himself ‘the people’s architect’ and took to wearing an American flag lapel pin at meetings.”

We were, as hard as it is to believe now, offered better once. Even after we were unilaterally stuck with an ungraceful obelisk plunged deep into the gut of Manhattan — the net result of, essentially, developer Larry Silverstein prevailing over governor George Pataki prevailing over the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation — there was a version of it that was, if no less mawkish, then at least mildly less oppressive.


The base of the building, after being fundamentally altered to accommodate the NYPD’s desire to convert the bottom twenty stories of One World Trade into a windowless, unbombable concrete fortress, was again redesigned to camouflage its bunker architecture, in two ways: It tapered inward, and it was set to be “draped…with 2,000 clear prismatic glass panels welded aluminum screens to create, in the words of the architect, ‘a dynamic, shimmering glass surface.’” However, the Chinese manufacturer that was awarded the contract could not produce the prismatic glass to spec in time. The result — after considering alteratives like “more traditional clear glass panels, possibly with granite elements to tie it into the surrounding plazas” — was the current base, which sets pairs of frosted glass fins against steel latticework that is seemingly designed to produce the maximum possible sensation of imprisonment before one even sets foot in the building.


The awkward, naked fuckstick thrusting toward the sky is arguably One World Trade’s most defining feature, in that resting on its tip is the lie that the building is the tallest in North America — at least until, appropriately, the vast sums of capital congealing into the form of luxury condo towers produce a greater truth, the Central Park Tower (née Nordstorm Tower), whose roof will rise a hundred and fifty-four feet higher than One World Trade’s.


This over-decorated javelin was supposed to be slightly less terrible, too, clad in a fiberglass and steel, so that it would resemble a gleaming toothpick. One of the building’s co-developers, the Durst Organization pushed for its removal, which shed twenty million dollars in construction costs — “some of which the Durst Organization will recoup as part of its agreement with the Port Authority,” reported the Times in 2012. What’s left can’t even exhilarate on America Day — compare One World Trade Center to the Empire State Building during the city’s July 4th celebration.

The most remarkable thing about One World Trade Center, perhaps, is that it seems to fail — and the architect Rem Koolhaas said this derisively of the World Trade Center project — even at its empty goal of being “a monument at a scale that monuments have never existed (except under Stalin).”

Renderings by their respective architects; spire diagram by patrykus via NYYIMBY