Above is a photograph of Manhattan taken from the 64th floor, the sky lobby, of the new One World Trade Center. The tower replaces the twin towers that crumbled on 9/11/2001. Ground zero of the attack took 15 years and a lot of money to rebuild. The entire area surrounding the new tower, encompassing the National September 11th Memorial and Museum and the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, hasn’t been popularly named yet. In hope that space might replace horrifying memories of the tragedy with a revived purpose, the area just kept the old name, that is The World Trade Center.
But nothing is old in that completely rebuilt area of downtown Manhattan, the only part of a bursting city that showed futuristic modernity intertwined with wealth, security, and technology. Since the area needed to be rebuilt from scratch, literally, humanity had a chance to be creative while proposing the model for future urban life. And the future, at least to me, looks fascinating yet cold at the same time. It also looks to me like a remote deja-vu of the images stolen from some science fiction movie, the title I cannot recall right now. But New York has always been a movie scene, and ground zero will not be any different.
The main building, One World Trade Center –which during the construction had a more popular and inspiring name, the Freedom Tower– has 104 floors and dominates the Manhattan skyline. Sleek and glossy from afar, it is not much different from the vertiginous towers in any of the modern cities in Asia, the building instilling respect as you approach it. The atmosphere changes as you get closer to the area; one feels he has stepped through some sort of invisible security door, entered into the space where only selected and scanned people are allowed to go. Indeed, the nearby Transportation Hub building rarely feels crowded and smelly, the signature of New York relics like the Times Square subway station. It’s rather a huge cathedral that is built to make people feel small, and though there is nothing wrong with this historic symbolism, the emptiness, continuing with your every step, makes you feel acutely the contrast between this and the outside world. It dictates its own awesome impression.
Every entrance to each building within this area seems to separate the city by some invisible demarcation line, packed with security, leaving you feeling more scanned than served in every bar or restaurant you enter. An absurd, dystopian sensation. Is it because the area is still unfinished and underpopulated, with many offices still empty? Or was it the intention? The only idling crowd you can see within the area are the people lined up outside the Freedom Tower. They paid almost $60 climb to the One World Trade Observatory and enjoy the view of Manhattan. Everybody else scurries along, past each other, in indistinguishable blurs.
It was noon when I entered the building and the lobby and, as you can see, it was empty. Another scene from the movie. I was immediately asked not to take photos. The only way to enter the building and see it from the inside is to set an appointment with a person who works in the building, who will have to come down to collect you. But even the movements of the people who work in the building are limited by their ID’s, programmed only for specific elevators, floors and spaces. I could not see the possibility of somebody hacking their way to the 64th floor of this fortress.
Once in the sky lobby, the city remotely stirring below you, an endless fascination sets in. “There is so much freedom from this place, it flows like water,” a friend tells me as we walk all around the floor watching the city stretch before us in 360 degrees. It is endless, and it is beautiful; it is silent and privileged in a way that compels you to leave your earthly worries somewhere outside, somewhere below. There are very few people on the viewing floor and the peonies (my favorite) at the reception are fresh every day, both creating a sense of religion in the space, a solemn grandness that makes one feel he is a part of something important. I felt that my mind, after being there a bit more than an hour, switched to a distant, unknown me. And I wondered how Donald Trump must have felt, when he was living high up in his golden tower, for many long years.