The New WTC Design is Good, but Needs to be Tweaked
by Vince Page
The design of the new World Trade Center is of interest to every American since it represents America's resolve to bounce back from a terrorist attack. Every day that the new World Trade Center remains uncompleted is another day in which the followers of Osama bin Laden can claim victory for themselves and their cause. As the lawyers like to say, time is of the essence in erecting this new structure so the world will know that America fully intends to thumb its nose at thugs and terrorists. To that end, this article will analyze the winning design to determine if it can be built within a one-year time frame, and compare it to other tall buildings around the world.
As an engineer by trade, I had previously performed some back-of-the-envelope calculations to determine how tall the replacement World Trade Center (WTC) buildings could be without exceeding a one-year build schedule. The magic limit turned out to be an 85 story office building, so I was very gratified to see that the winning design is a series of five buildings arranged in a semi-circle at continuously descending heights (from left to right) of 70 stories, 65 stories, then 60, 55 and 50 stories.
The average man on the street may well ask what the difference between two 50 story buildings and one 100 story building might be. Given that all floors are occupied, the difficulty increases not by a factor of 2, but by a factor of 4, with weight being a major consideration. For example, the weight of the Sears Tower in Chicago is 445 million pounds and it took three years to build. When the Petronas Towers were built in Malaysia, it took one year just to prepare the foundation and six years for total completion. The original World Trade Center took seven years to build. By contrast, the Empire State Building went from start to completion in a single year. Building design is a critical factor in determining time to completion.
By now you have noticed the tall spire in the above drawing of the winning concept. It stands 1776 feet tall, 18 feet higher than the antenna on the North Tower of the original World Trade Center complex, and it is the biggest stumbling-block to completing the new WTC site quickly. This is due to the fact that the spire is not placed atop the tallest building, but along-side it, which means that the entire structure must be built from the ground up. This will result in unnecessary completion delays that could easily be overcome by integrating the tower and spire into the 70-story building design. The skyline effect would remain unchanged.
Placing the spire atop the tallest building will also allow the United States to re-claim the title to the world's tallest office complex. You may recall that the Petronas office buildings took the honor away from the Sears Tower, beating it by a mere 33 feet. As a stand-alone structure, however, the new WTC spire has no chance of reclaiming the honor. The tallest structure in the world is the KVLY-TV tower (formerly the KTHI tower) in Fargo, North Dakota, at 2,063 feet 1. The tallest free-standing structure in the world is the CN Tower in Toronto at 1815 feet, and the tallest office buildings in the world are the Petronas Towers at 1483 feet. The Sears Tower comes in at 1450 feet, followed by the original World Trade Center at 1368 feet and the Empire State building at 1224 feet.
I am not counting antenna or flag pole heights here because those who officially decide which office buildings are taller than others don't count them either. They do, however, count the height of spires, which are considered to be an integral part of the building architecture. Therefore, the 390 foot WTC antenna, the 257 foot Sears Tower antenna and the 230 foot blimp mooring mast on the Empire State Building are not counted, whereas the 241 foot spire height on the Petronas Tower complex is counted, since it serves no other purpose.
The documents referring to the 1776 foot high structure in the new WTC complex alternately refer to the highest feature as an antenna or a spire, so it is difficult to tell which is actually intended. It is clear, however, that it needs to be a spire if we are to take maximum advantage of the situation. If the needle-point is an antenna and if it is limited in height to 260 feet, we will still beat the height of the Petronas Towers by 33 feet. We will not beat the height of a 1772 foot structure which is planned for Seoul, South Korea.
Some of you who are trying to follow my logic are understandably confused at this point, since I originally stated that the building could not be taller than 85 stories if we are to complete it in one year. If you go back and look carefully at that sentence, I stated that an 85 story office building was the limit. This is an important distinction since unoccupied structures are lighter and take much less time to erect. Take the KVLY-TV tower for example. It was completed in 33 days, and it is the tallest structure in the world.
For those who might think I'm cheating, please keep in mind that the highest occupied level in the Petronas Towers is the 88th floor, at approximately 1100 feet. The Empire State Building has higher occupied floors than this. Moreover, the observation deck on the Petronas Towers is the walkway adjoining the two buildings on the 41st floor, a mere 558 feet above ground (the highest observation deck in the world is in the Sears Tower at 1353 feet, followed by the CN Tower at 1136 feet and the Empire State Building at 1050 feet).
Therefore, every floor in an office complex need not be occupied to make it a contender for the world's tallest office building. In other words, the planned 1776 foot-high structure for the new WTC complex would indeed win the title if the necessary portion is placed atop the 70-story office building.
The second "tweak" that needs to be performed to the design concerns the tops of the five buildings. You will notice that they are all slanted, making them useless as heliports, spire mounts or antenna bases. The slanted tops say to the world that we are so scared of another attack that we are willing to deprive ourselves of helicopter transportation to and from the new towers. I say this is the wrong message. Flatten the tops and build heliports or install antennas on all four of the buildings that are not carrying the spire. This will say to the world that we are not afraid. It will say that America intends to go boldly into the future. It will yield a simpler, more utilitarian design, thus further shortening completion time and cost. As an added benefit, the resulting shape will more closely approximate that of the original WTC buildings.
Since more than one building is involved, the way in which construction is organized will be key to realizing a one-year erection time. Earlier we mentioned that the Empire State Building was erected in a single year, but it is doubtful that one construction company could handle more than one tower at a time. The best way to overcome this problem is to award five construction contracts to five companies, one for each tower. Sure, logistics will be challenging and the architectural firm will have to correspond with all five companies, but these difficulties can be overcome with proper management.
And lastly, money will also be key, and this is perhaps the biggest worry. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that New York City is staring a $3.4 billion budget shortfall squarely in the face. The Summary Report on the Selected Design for the World Trade Center Site recognizes this problem when it states that, "A phasing plan remarkable for its flexibility ensures that surrounding development can be built over time and as the market and financing demand." Wrong, wrong, wrong. All five buildings need to be built simultaneously, within a one-year target completion date. Should bin Laden and his followers remain victorious for a longer period of time?
Some will argue that if this is a national priority, then national financing needs to be made available. I couldn't agree more, but the financing needs to be private, not public. The Golden Gate Bridge was built with a private bond issue, as was the new Oakland stadium, and so too can Americans take ownership of the new WTC site if the bean counters will only let them. Americans would jump at the chance to buy bonds in the new buildings. They would frame the bond certificates and put them in an honored place in their homes. Public financing isn't needed to realize a one-year build cycle for this project. All we need is for the financial wizards to make bonds available to all Americans.
We can then hold our heads high knowing that we pulled-off a remarkable feat in record time, thwarting the intentions of the terrorists, and we did it with good old American ingenuity and by giving every American the opportunity to fund the effort.
 See http://www.kvlytv11.com/info_tower.html
Vince Page is the Communications Director for the Texas State Constitution Party and is a District Deputy for the Texas State Knights of Columbus. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com
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