Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Memoriam

Ten years ago, I was a senior at Georgia Tech studying architecture. Feeling a bit under the weather, I had decided to skip my morning structures class, and I was sleeping when a phone call from a friend startled me awake. I could not believe what I was hearing when she said, "the World Trade Center has been attacked and one of the towers just fell." As an architect, I could not even grasp the concept of a building that large falling. It was surreal as I turned on the television to see replays of the tower collapsing on itself. Unsure of what was going on and whether other large cities such as Atlanta would be a target, we got a small group together and went to my friend's parents' house outside Atlanta and watched the news all day. It was unreal.

In more recent history, I have been slowly but surely cleaning our basement, which includes going through and organizing a number of old boxes. It dawned on me as we approached the tenth anniversary of the 9|11 attacks that back in high school, I went with my father to photograph skyscrapers in New York City for a class project.  After looking through a couple of boxes marked "photos," I was able to find a pile of photos of New York and felt it would be a nice tribute to post photos of the World Trade Center.

Most of the photos are in black and white and they were shot with 35mm film.  They were probably taken in 1997 or 1998, but I cannot remember.  After I scanned the photos, I did a little bit of digital doctoring, but did not want to do too much to them as I think the tones and textures of the imperfect photos give them an air of nostalgia.

This photograph above was one of two photographs of the World Trade Center I chose to have enlarged for my class project.  I think I called it Tracks, and I paired it with the photograph below, entitled Chambers WTC, of the World Trade Center subway station.  I always felt the photograph of the station had an air of melancholy.   Though according to Wikipedia the Chambers WTC subway station survived the 9|11 attacks, I still think there is something sad about the photograph.

I think this photograph epitomizes the typical view of the World Trade Center and is taken from across the Hudson River in New Jersey.  Looking back at the photo now, I am struck at the scale and height of the massive towers, easily twice as tall as anything else around them.  (Note the Woolworth Building, just to the left of the World Trade Center towers.  It was once the world's tallest building!)

If my research is correct, I think this is a view looking south toward the north face of the base of the South Tower from across Tobin Plaza.  The sculpture is called Ideogram by artist James Rosati, and was destroyed on 11 September 2001.  The 200+ foot broad face width of each square tower easily accepted the full wingspan of the Boeing 767s that hit them in the attacks.

The view up between the towers can only be described as dizzying.  It is hard to believe that in 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit strung a wire between this gap and performed a "dance" between the towers more than a thousand feet above the pavement.  (There is a great documentary about Petit's amazing feat called Man on Wire, which I very much recommend.)

Yes, I count myself among the architects who love to take photographs looking up the corner of tall buildings.

Another view up one of the towers through the leaves of a tree on the plaza.

In my attempt to be artistic, I had wanted to document the elevator doors of New York's tallest buildings.  I thought it would make a cool series to see how their design and ornament changed over time.  After having a difficult time getting permission to photograph in the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and Woolworth Building, we were not only allowed to photograph in the World Trade Center lobby, but also to set up a tripod!  If you look carefully, you can clearly see the tripod in the photograph.  My father and I are also visible in the slightly distorted reflection of the chromed doors.

This photograph of the World Trade Center elevator doors was taken at the moment the doors were either opening or closing, I cannot remember.  You can see the ghostly image of people inside the elevator cab, and looking at the photograph now, I am haunted wondering if any of these people were in the towers on 11 September 2001.

We went up to the observation deck on the top of the South Tower that day.  Though I cannot remember if it was particularly windy, I do distinctly remember the uneasy feeling of the building moving slightly beneath my feet.
A view north toward Midtown that will never be again, with the Empire State Building front and center.  This part of the city has changed significantly in the past ten years, including the addition of the Time Warner Center, New York Times Building, Bank of America Tower, and Hearst Tower to the skyline.

A view south over New York harbor toward the Statue of Liberty.

Another view south toward Governors Island, with the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in the distance.

A view looking west up at the towers from Liberty Street.  The steel facade of One Liberty Plaza is in the foreground on the right edge of the photograph.  One Liberty Plaza suffered broken windows but no major damage in the 9|11 attacks.

This photograph shows the South Tower reflected in the facade of the Deutsche Bank Building.  The Deutsche Bank Building sustained massive damage, including a 24 story tall gash in the facade, when the South Tower fell and was subsequently dismantled.

I cannot be sure, but I think this staircase was near the base of the Deutsche Bank Building.  I am pretty positive the small amount of facade showing at the upper left of the photograph is the old Marriott Hotel, and that this view is of the South Tower.  (If anyone knows where this staircase is--or was, rather--please leave me a comment.)

At the end of our trip photographing around Manhattan, my father and I took the ferry back to Jersey City where we had parked and set up the tripod to catch the downtown skyline slipping into the night.


Julia said...

Those are beautiful.

The Beholder said...

I was just online looking for photos of the World Trade Center and ran across the website of New York-based photographer Brian Rose ( A quote on Rose's website is, I feel, an especially poignant description of the towers architecturally speaking.

He says, "I, like most New Yorkers, didn't see great architecture in the World Trade Center, but the sheer size of the towers made them an inevitable presence. As big as the towers were, they were perfect background buildings against which the rest of the skyline was measured rather than interesting architecture in and of themselves. Some felt that the World Trade Center's scale overwhelmed its neighbors, but now that the towers are gone, I feel that the remaining skyline appears oddly diminished, attenuated."

Rose closes his WTC photo page with a dedication: "In memory of those whose lives were lost on September 11, 2011. New York will rebuild--but buildings will never suffice."

The Princess said...

Thank you, son. I was especially taken by the juxtaposition of the easy acceptance of the buildings -- I could see open and welcoming arms, a vulnerability -- and the immediate horror that followed when the planes crashed. And the description of the people in the elevator haunted me, too. You have honored those who died with this beautiful tribute. I love you. Mom

tnctpa said...

Hello, I came across your photos while searching for a shot of the WTC, south angle, taken in the morning. You would not believe how difficult that was. I came across the b&w images that your father took and 2 of them are PERFECT for a project i'm working on. I'm working on a short film for The Global Peace Initiative film festival. In the film i want to create a video mapping effect of the flight 11 hitting the first tower. (Video mapping is a technique for making still images appear as a video clip). Only 1 clip of video exists, but we don't have a big enough budget to purchase the right. The second shot i'm trying to create is the flight 11 approaching the tower from a POV of being inside the tower. Question: May i have permission to use these 2 photos? My email address is Thank you.

Miguel Perez said...

Im Miguel and i am the admin of

i was wanting to contact you regarding your WTC Nighttime photos you have posted on your Eblog
Iam Currently in the process of Publishing a Photo Book Magazine that would be sold to my facebook readers and followers and i was wondering if i could Request and have your permission to use one of your WTC CNighttime photos?
i think it would make a Great addition to the Magazine as it gives an eyewitness account into the history of the Towers.
of course if allowed you would be credited and have your name posted with the photos
i hope you will consider and i hope to hear from you soon!
you can contact me at the facwebook link above or at
Thank you!