After 9/11, a Tale of Two Cities: Eight Architects on the Changes New York Has Undergone in the Past Twenty Years | Features

Image courtesy David Z/Pixabay. As part of the landmark 20th anniversary of the September…


Image courtesy David Z/Pixabay.

As part of the landmark 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Archinect asked a series of architects with ties to New York City to reflect on changes that have defined the past two decades of life and architecture in the city. 

Their responses represent a range of opinions as to how New York initially reacted to the attacks and how it has transformed in the intervening decades. For some, the city has developed into a small surveillance state with implications that have been felt around the world. For others, it has turned into a dreamland for designers and developers alike. For all of them, 9/11 was a touchstone that engendered changes to public memorials, office towers, and building science which have come to define architecture in the 21st century. 

Scroll down for a collection of answers to our one-question prompt: How has New York City changed since 9/11?

Craig Dykers of Snøhetta

National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion by Snøhetta. Image courtesy Snøhetta.

Snøhetta co-founder Craig Dykers witnessed the South Tower attack from the window of a plane touching down that moment at JFK. The 61-year-old architect would later be instrumental in landing the firm the commission for the National September 11 Memorial Museum’s entrance pavilion that opened in 2014. 

Craig Dykers: Now that twenty years have passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, it’s worth remembering that Lower Manhattan has been the place of many violent and traumatic events in the past. Not unlike the 2001 events, many of these attacks had to do with anti-capitalist and societal insurrections. Most memorable of these early events is the 1920 Wall Street bombing, when unnamed political anarchists killed thirty people and devastated the world’s leading banks and stock market. This attack, the most substantial of the time, followed many similar terrorist acts over several decades, events that were well-publicized but are now forgotten. 

Nearly a century ago, just as now, these terrible events increased surveillance and empowered police and military to investigate foreigners no matter their criminal history. Streets and buildings were heavily fortified. Police presence increased dramatically, although it was later dampened by the 1929 stock market crash and WW2. Intervening decades and the city’s bankruptcy then left most New York streets less fortified as those events faded into history, until the dark days following September 11th. 

Today we again see increases in surveillance tactics and in bollard and security fortifications throughout the city.  Although useful, these tactics are also fraught with policies that potentially diminish the quality of the public realm. This remains an interest on the part of urban thinkers; as this year’s remembrance is honored and we think about the balance of freedom in public life alongside security and protective controls in the built environment.

As the focus of architecture moves away from security and turns toward the public realm and social concerns like affordable housing, let’s hope that this legacy of diversity may continue.  Craig Dykers

Unlike the early 20th-century terrorist acts, the events of September 11th, 2001 left greater physical devastation, requiring more rebuilding as a result. On the positive side, this rebuilding happened at a time when there were also increased magazine and internet publications highlighting international design. These exposures opened the door for greater diversity in design thinking and many new foreign companies were given commissions in the city at a scale not seen before September 11th. This dynamic continues to this day where many of the foreign architects arriving shortly after 2001, like our studio, are now seen to be locals. 

Some of the influences can be found in new engineering techniques used by European architects often working with infrastructure projects, social and environmental sensitivities as a part of Scandinavian and Northern European design, in the work of Japanese architects who bring wonderful construction detailing to their work, and in the material explorations of architects connected to the African continent. For some reason, there has not been as great an influence by architects from Mexico and South America, though I think their sense of craft could lend a happy addition to the city context. 

In many ways, the architectural make-up of Lower Manhattan has come to more closely resemble that of the city itself, though not perfectly. As the focus of architecture moves away from security and turns toward the public realm and social concerns like affordable housing, let’s hope that this legacy of diversity may continue.

Billie Tsien and Tod Williams of TWBTA

American Folk Art Museum by TWBTA before it was demolished in 2014. Image courtesy Dan Nguyen/Flickr.

Billie Tsien and Tod Williams opened one of their most significant projects exactly two months after 9/11. The former American Folk Art Museum building fell victim to the Museum of Modern Art’s controversial redevelopment scheme in 2014, a move that to many signified the rapaciousness of development in and around Manhattan during the tenure of NYC mayors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio. 

In the past 20 years, public space — democratic space — where anyone can choose to be, has become more and more necessary and important. — Billie Tsien and Tod Williams

Billie Tsien and Tod Williams: We all wanted to connect to each other (even as we do now), so a huge wave of politeness engulfed the city. We said hello to each other as if we were in a small town. I think there is a residue that has resurfaced as we move through the pandemic. So in the past 20 years, public space — democratic space — where anyone can choose to be, has become more and more necessary and important. We need to connect outdoors. We need the ability to put down a blanket and have a picnic without getting permission. 

Private space now masquerades as public space (Hudson Yards) and is ever-more guarded. We must make new and reclaim old open space. 

Ken Lewis of SOM

One World Trade Center by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Image courtesy Lucas Franco/Unsplash.

Ken Lewis was one of the project managers for SOM’s One World Trade Center and currently serves as president of the AIA New York chapter. His view that the new tower represents aspects like the resiliency of the city is shared by many who have felt the nearly $4 billion building carried more symbolic importance projected in its original name

Ken Lewis: Almost immediately after 9/11, many of us at SOM began an intensive reexamination of our city, using historic photos, economic maps, and other documents as our raw data. We delved into books, like Kenneth T. Jackson’s Encyclopedia of New York, and pored over maps and photos dating back to the Dutch plans of the 17th century, the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, and early 20th-century aerial photos of New York taken from zeppelins. We also reviewed studies that looked at land-use patterns of  Manhattan’s Indigenous populations. Even though this was a city that we all felt we knew well, David Childs and Marilyn Jordan Taylor recognized that this was a moment where we needed to think of the city anew, as a living and ever-changing organism. This seems obvious now, but 20 years ago, it was not mainstream thinking. 

We came to realize that the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site was part of a much larger story for New York, and that it had an important parallel in the original World Trade Center construction in the 1970s. That was a monumental, though deeply flawed, effort to bring international commerce back to New York, through the buildings themselves and through the dredging of waterways that enabled modern container ships to reach the region’s ports. The dredged material became the fill upon which Battery Park City was built, creating a new neighborhood that pointed the way toward a more diverse and mixed-use Lower Manhattan. 

We came to realize that the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site was part of a much larger story for New York, and that it had an important parallel in the original World Trade Center construction in the 1970s.  Ken Lewis

Similarly, 9/11 represented another point where the city changed course — not in an effort to attract commerce but rather to create a more livable and sustainable urban environment, replace outdated and inefficient workspace that had either aged out or been destroyed. Most immediately, it was an opportunity to heal a severed street grid, to pedestrianize the financial district, and reconnect it to Tribeca and Battery Park. In a broader sense, it was a moment when we began to look to the themes of the future — rethinking transportation by prioritizing bicyclists and pedestrians, relinking the city to its rivers and transforming the waterfront into accessible public spaces, and placing a  higher value on design excellence in planning and architecture. 

Anthony Schirripa and Christian Giordano of Mancini Duffy

Dolan Family Science, Technology, and Research Center by Mancini Duffy. Image courtesy Mancini Duffy.

On September 11th, the office of Mancini Duffy was completely destroyed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The firm was located on the 21st and 22nd floors of the South Tower. Former Chairman and CEO, Anthony Schirripa, has been credited with saving every one of his former employees with the heroism he displayed that day. (A recent podcast about the anniversary with Schirripa and current president Christian Giordano can be found here.) 

Christian Giordano: While there were some obvious code changes in terms of egress, fire alarm, and communications, I think the longest lasting change that 9/11 caused was limiting the ability of the public to move freely throughout buildings. You can’t just stop in an office building and visit a friend or hang out in the lobby and wait for them.

You can’t just stop in an office building and visit a friend or hang out in the lobby and wait for them.  Christian Giordano

Anthony Schirripa: 9/11’s impact on architecture forced a rethinking of how to design supertall buildings. It placed a greater emphasis on life safety systems and designing the building core to provide a safety envelope for people to evacuate safely and a means for first responders and firefighters to move inside the building using elevators safely. One World Trade Center is designed that way.

Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos

Rutgers Business School by TEN Arquitectos. Photo: Peter Aaron/ESTO, image courtesy TEN Arquitectos.

Enrique Norten was named as a juror on the memorial commission in 2003. His subsequent residential projects in Brooklyn and Manhattan have helped define the post-9/11 era of luxury development and ever-taller residential towers that have cropped up in both boroughs as part of an altered skyline no longer dominated by the looming figure of the twin towers. 

Enrique Norten: 9/11 was the most disruptive, unimaginable event that could have ever happened. It changed us all as individuals and as part of a collective, it transformed both our beliefs and our relationships. It also abruptly changed the discourse of history. As a consequence, this also changed architecture and the city.

We are now in the process of inventing a new normality, where much of the physicality of our previous normal is being substituted by the new virtual. A new architectural and urban experience will emerge from this. Change should be good. Enrique Norten

We suddenly were made conscious of our vulnerability and fragility. We were infused with a sense of fear and distrust that we didn’t know before, and we entered into an unprecedented condition of excessive precaution and alert. All these factors have informed both the architecture and the urban environments of the 21st century.

As are our lives, both our buildings, our public spaces, and our cities are now less porous and permeable, our natural and built landscapes are less fluid and continuous. We are now in the process of inventing a new normality, where much of the physicality of our previous normal is being substituted by the new virtual. A new architectural and urban experience will emerge from this. Change should be good.

Daniel Libeskind of Studio Libeskind

The 2003 World Trade Center Master Plan by Studio Libeskind. Image courtesy Studio Libeskind.

Daniel Libeskind’s breakthrough design for the Jewish Museum in Berlin opened just two days priors to the September 11th attacks. The Polish-American architect was named as the master planner for what would eventually replace the destroyed World Trade Center complex in February of 2003 and has since significantly added to his portfolio of completed projects, which twenty years ago, numbered in the single digits. 

Daniel Libeskind: There was a change in everything we know about [but] we had to answer these attacks with something positive. When I started the project, so many companies had moved out of New York, so many had decided that it would never come back to life, that it was forever doomed to a void. But 20 years after the attacks, Ground Zero is almost completely rebuilt. It has re-invented Lower Manhattan. It has caused a completely different definition of Lower Manhattan. I’ve seen again the rise of the skyscraper, many have been built. There’s much more ambition, I think it was a propellent for a whole new way of looking at the city. There has been a renaissance of building in response to the attacks that I find amazing. I think the rebuilding of Ground Zero lead to the betterment of New York altogether. I think that it triggered in people’s minds that architecture is important. 

I think the rebuilding of Ground Zero lead to the betterment of New York altogether. I think that it triggered in people’s minds that architecture is important. — Daniel Libeskind

Definitely developments like supertall residential towers and Billionaire’s Row are bad. Income inequality is so prevalent — we need to rebalance it. There was a period where it became a playground for the wealthy, but people are moving out of the city because of the pandemic. Rents are coming down. It may be a kind of rebalancing. More people can afford the city again. It may be a harbinger of the realization that we need to institute more equality and that we need good housing for regular people. New York has always been a city about desire and about dreams, and that’s not about to change.