As One World Trade Center proudly claims its place in the New York City skyline, Andrew Hubbard speaks to construction director Steven Plate about how his team is working to meet the project’s unique challenges.
The world knows what happened in New York on 11 September 2001. The worst terrorist attacks ever witnessed on American soil saw 2,977 victims lose their lives and the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) destroyed – reduced to rubble. Several other buildings around the complex were damaged and eventually demolished as the internal structures weakened.
The ground smoldered for months after the dust settled. Then followed eight months that were spent removing thousands of tons of debris from the 16-acre Ground Zero site. This finally paved the way for a project that today sees a new iconic structure dominate the skyline.
One WTC towers a magnificent 1,776-foot above ground level – a height that surpasses the original twin towers by about 400 feet. It is the tallest building on the new WTC complex, a project that aims to restore culture and pride to Lower Manhattan and the United States of America.
Behind the impressive tower and the wider regeneration of the WTC is a team lead by Steven Plate, director of World Trade Center construction and deputy chief of capital planning at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He explains the scope of the project. “The project consists of the construction of four major commercial office towers – two of which are nearing completion – a world-class transportation hub, the National 9/11 Memorial, a vehicle security center and a restored street grid on a 16-acre site in Lower Manhattan.
“The signature building on the site is One World Trade Center, which, when complete, will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The tower will consist of three million square feet of commercial office space, more than 55 per cent of which is already leased. It will also contain an observation deck and a broadcast facility.”
As part of the multi-billion dollar project, the instantly reconisable and already iconic One WTC is joined by several other emblematic buildings.
Designed by London based Foster and Partners, Two WTC will consist of 88-floors and will be the second-tallest skyscraper in New York City. It will rise to 1,349 feet and be topped by an 80-foot antenna.
The third-tallest building on the WTC site is Three WTC. It will be situated at the center of the various buildings around the memorial, with Four World Trade Center facing directly on to the WTC Memorial Park from the west. Five WTC, a 42-story building, will be located on the new WTC complex, but not fully part of the main 16-acre plot of land as the other four buildings.
Completed in May 2006, the rebuilt 52-story, 1.7-million-square-foot Seven WTC was the first building in the complex to have been opened and serves as flagship for the site.
Stephen Plate, director of World Trade Centre construction and deputy chief of capital planning at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
The complex will also benefit from a new transportation hub capable of handling the 250,000 daily passengers, which corresponds to the projected passenger numbers for 2025. The WTC Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) Transportation Hub will significantly improve mass-transit connections throughout the region. The transportation hub's design features a retractable 150-foot-high, glass-and-steel "wings" that will allow natural light to pass through to the rail platforms 60 feet below street level. A temporary station in place at present is capable of handling up to 50,000 daily pedestrians.
In the heart of the complex, two giant pools lay in the footprints of the original twin towers. Thousands of gallons of water cascade 30 feet down the dark granite walls into a dark abyss. Black, waist-high walls stretch around the perimeter of these remembrance fountains. Etched into them are the names of all of those that lost their lives more than a decade ago.
More than a project
The WTC redevelopment costs for all of the Port Authority-controlled projects are approximately $14.8bn (£9.46bn) including for One WTC, the transportation hub, the Vehicle Security Center, Greenwich Street and other common infrastructure.
Construction manager Steven Plate says that the project is much more to the country than just a replacement for an iconic set of buildings.
“The World Trade Center project employs 3,500 workers on the site each day, indirectly supporting more than 26,000 people who benefit from the ongoing work such as truckers, steel manufacturers and concrete producers,” says Steven. “Overall, the project supports more than 62,000 people during an extremely economically challenging period of time.”
The project is being completed in phases. Greenwich Street, which runs through the site, is expected to fully reopen in 2016. One WTC is scheduled to be completed by the first quarter of 2014 and the WTC Transportation Hub will be completed in 2015.
Steven explains that the project is already a success on several levels. “With a year and a half to go before the building is completed, One WTC is already more than 55 per cent leased. Through ingenious engineering feats, we kept both the PATH train and New York City subway lines running uninterrupted through the middle of the site. Our innovative team has accomplished great things at the WTC site and is raising the bar for construction standards around the world.
“Engineering feats aside, every day I see Lower Manhattan residents, commuters, and tourists from across the globe coming to the WTC complex to marvel at One WTC. The building is the heart of a vibrant, thriving community, and a symbol of success and resiliency to the world.”
Building the WTC isn't a project that any practitioner would have wanted to undertake in these circumstances. It is, without doubt, the most sensitive and complex stakeholder environment in the history of project management. Steven has been tasked with leading a diverse team through the project. “I have everyone focused on what we must accomplish, on schedule and within budget, while setting aside the emotions and politics as best we can,” he says. “The men and women on our team are here to build and that is what we do, and do very well. This is the ultimate example of how project management can deliver more than just a building.”
With stakeholders ranging from the New York City mayor, governors, senators, police department and the Department of Transportation, to The National September 11 Memorial and Museum, the community and the families of the victims of the attacks, the WTC rebuilding effort is a project of unparalleled complexity, magnitude and significance. The Port Authority is working together in partnership with the community and all of its stakeholders to get the job done.
“Of course the WTC project presents us with many unique challenges every day,” explains Steven. “Our project management style has allowed us to stay ahead of these challenges by enabling us to be flexible and engage on every issue that comes up with creative solutions.”
He says that nothing rivals this particular project when it comes to using experience to deal with such challenges. His previous mega project responsibilities included both private sector experience constructing oil refineries and public sector work with the Port Authority on the highly successful JFK AirTrain project. He adds: “Every day I draw from my experiences and build upon them.
“One key to project management for me has always been the use of metrics. I have the team break the project into its components and then develop the building blocks that we can track on a much more manageable basis. We track everything from the number of pieces of steel being placed daily at One WTC to the number of cubic yards of concrete needed to keep the transportation hub on schedule.
“Using metrics helps to keep the project from becoming unwieldy. I know each day if we are on schedule or if we are falling behind and need to make a correction. I don’t wait until I get a monthly update to check the schedule because by then it is simply too late.”
The culture that Steven has worked hard to encourage throughout the team, each is empowering each project team member to learn from one another and draw on their collective experiences to improve the project every day.
“The key is never to stop improving,” says Steven. “We’re writing the book on project management here at the WTC, while also realising that we must never stop learning from the experience of others.”
Of the multitude of challenges Steven has to tackle, keeping his team focused and in control of the enormous emotion involved in working on Ground Zero is close to the top of the list. He concludes: “It’s impossible to completely take emotion out of this project. Everyone on my team has a deep connection to the WTC. That is why we are so focused and so dedicated to redeveloping this site.”
The world knows what happened in New York on 11 September 2001, but they also know what Steven and his team is doing to restore an icon, a community and a symbol of freedom in the heart of Lower Manhattan.
52,000 gallons of recycled water pass through the two memorial pools every minute
13 subway lines will be constructed as part of the new transportation hub
320,980 sq m The total area of the One World Trade Center (WTC) plot
104 floors in One WTC
1,776 feet high is the total building height of One WTC
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