There is likely no one in the world who doesn’t know about my green building project, the rebuilding of the World Trade Center towers that were destroyed in the terrorist attack of 9/ll.

Now four new towers are rising in their place and I am fortunate to have full project management responsibility for the LEED® design component of these towers. Freedom One, or One WTC, is pursuing LEED Gold certification as well as additional sustainability requirements imposed by the Port Authority of New York. The project was registered with the USGBC in March 2007, and will become home to several of the world’s most prestigious tenants.

One WTC will be the tallest building in the western hemisphere when it’s completed, standing 1,776 feet tall – no accident, of course, and a reminder that One WTC is meant to be more than an office building in lower Manhattan. It is meant as a reminder to continue, to rebuild, to strive for a brighter future, and to never forget.

A Unique Redevelopment

Working on the World Trade center redevelopment is unique in many ways. First, it’s a construction project that everyone knows about. Most people don’t pay attention to design and construction projects except if they are living next door to one and have the rather unpleasant experience of being awakened by the demolition crew.

But what’s it really like? The truth? It’s a long and complex project. The project schedule is formidable and I often joke that I’ll be retired before the last certificate of occupancy is issued. It’s a huge project team and the level of coordination is immense. To give you one idea of the massiveness of this work…there is a billion dollars-worth of concrete in the World Trade Center redevelopment. Yes, a billion.

Like all construction projects, there are submittals and reports and ongoing coordination and it’s easy to forget that, in New York, it’s anything but just another construction project. Underneath the new four towers is a multi-level retail space as well as parking for the towers and the subway station.

Going Underground

Site visits are an important part of my work and recently I was able to schedule a meeting and tour of the retail section. The subgrade project has many of its own unique challenges as I learned when the head of the subgrade construction team took me on a tour. The complexity of what’s happening above the surface pales in comparison to the intricacies of the below grade development.

As I was led around by a man who has spent 35-plus years in the New York construction industry, I was in awe of the 3,000 plus workers, the teams, the equipment, and the reverence being paid to what many feel is a sacred site.

It’s also a clean site, and it’s an organized site, and my tour guide was eager to point out the construction waste separation area. The entire development is currently tracking the total percentage of construction waste being diverted away from landfills; monthly reports hover around the 90% mark, which is especially significant in New York City where trash management is an ongoing challenge.

As I was taking photographs of indoor air quality management activities and peering over temporary railings, it was apparent that this site is being managed with the highest level of professionalism. Materials were stored properly and it was evident that hard work was the rule and not the exception.

Then we descended into the lowest level, and as we turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs, my tour guide turned to me and said, “this is part of the original foundation that was salvaged.” Hit like a ton of bricks isn’t a phrase that folks on a construction site like to use (obviously) but that’s what it felt like to see his giant hand gently pat the concrete wall. So I patted it, too.

A Time to Celebrate a New Legacy

This is a very special project. This is a project that will outlive me and probably my kids and probably even my grandkids and will be seen the world over as a symbol of the American spirit. I was thankful that as we walked past the old foundation wall that there was silence because at that moment it was no longer just another green building project, or a project that I could casually talk about at parties. It became a project bigger than my team and me. We’re committed to fulfilling all the challenges because of the significance of the World Trade Center’s rebirth.

Millions of people will visit the observation decks on the 100th, 101st, and 102nd floors and more will visit the museum and memorial pools at the center of the site. My team and I will take photos when the LEED plaques go up in the lobbies and shake hands and share hugs with our colleagues for a job well done. There will be champagne toasts and news stories around the world.

But for me, my project success will always be about being in the basement level and reaching up to touch that original foundation wall because that is when I realized the profound legacy of the World Trade Centers as a lasting symbol of regeneration, renewal, and true sustainability.

Rachel Sowards is a Practice Area Manager, LEED® AP, with Paladino DC, the East Coast office of Paladino and Company.

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One Comment

  1. Very excited to be working with you on this amazing project Rachel! Let’s make it happen!


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