After years of sluggishness, the pace of building the new World Trade Center has quickened considerably. About 2,000 construction workers are on the job — weekends included — and that number will just keep rising.
In 2008, it was difficult to imagine how the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site of the trade center and is building most of it, could ever finish the eight-acre memorial in time for the 10th anniversary of the attack, on Sept. 11, 2011. Today, it is difficult to imagine what would stop them (though, given the site’s tortured history, the possibility shouldn’t be completely dismissed).
So many conflicting demands were imposed on the site — it was to be a solemn memorial, a soaring commercial complex, a vital transportation hub, a vibrant retail destination and the keystone in Lower Manhattan’s revival — that none could advance. And the many competing players seemed unable to break the logjam for long. They addressed one another as “stakeholders” in public, but the stakes they wielded usually seemed destined for someone else’s back.
What seems, in retrospect, to have been a key turning point was the politically unpalatable prospect that the 10th anniversary would come and go without a permanent memorial. In 2008, prodded in part by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who heads the memorial foundation, the Port Authority adopted new schedules, approaches and construction techniques. Dozens of firms, including many of the city’s leading developers, architects and engineers, are involved.
In 2010, the great square voids in the plaza marking where the twin towers stood are fully formed and almost entirely clad in charcoal-gray granite. Enormous pumps are ready to send thousands of gallons of water cascading into the voids, creating what memorial officials say will be the largest human-engineered waterfalls in the United States. Bronze panels are being incised with the names of all 2,982 victims of 9/11 and of the trade center bombing in 1993. Sixteen swamp white oaks have begun to take root on the plaza. Four hundred more will follow.
Perhaps the most surprising phenomenon occurs at bedrock level, seven stories beneath the street, in the great chamber of what will someday be the National September 11 Memorial Museum. Here, the ceremonial “last column” from the twin towers already stands in a climate-controlled cocoon. At certain moments, the room echoes. Dull and distant noise is transformed into profound, inchoate reverberation.
As the anniversary approaches, it has begun to sound like a memorial.