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The Man Who’s Rebuilding Ground Zero

Daniel Tishman remembers when his dad built the Twin Towers. John Tishman was the chairman of Tishman Construction, the family-owned, New York-based construction company contracted by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to build the World Trade Center. It was the 1960s, and Dan would accompany his dad to the site. He remembers the excavation process best, when the towers’ foundations were carved out of the Lower Manhattan coastline around the PATH train system, a rail-based public transit line between Manhattan and New Jersey that had been established years before. “There was a time when they were building all of the foundation walls and the trains were sort of suspended in thin air in the hole. … It was like looking at these tiny little tubes that acted as bridges suspended across the site,” he recalls.

Actual construction on the seven-building complex began in 1966. The site opened officially to the public in spring of 1973, debuting the Twin Towers – the world’s tallest buildings. The last building, 7 World Trade Center was completed in 1987. Once finished, the huge 16-acre project’s cost was nearly $1 billion,according to a report by the New York City Comptroller, and the more than one million cubic yards of fill were used to extend Lower Manhattan’s coastline and create the Battery Park City neighborhood.

After terrorists flew two hijacked planes into the buildings on Sept. 11, 2001, the city, the Port Authority and Larry Silverstein, the real estate developer that had signed a 99-year lease for the World Trade Center six short weeks before the attacks, set to work assessing damage and deliberating over what to do with the smoldering ruin.  Years of political, legal and financial battles later, a plan emerged for a memorial plaza, a museum, a new transportation hub, and five new state-of-the-art office buildings. The team called in Tishman Construction, now headed by Daniel Tishman, who was and still is chairman and chief executive of the company, despite selling it to AECOM Technology for $245 million in 2010.

More than 40 years after the original Trade Center’s ground breaking, the young man who had accompanied his dad to the construction site was back there again– this time as the builder. As construction on the new One World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower, began, he found himself staring once again down into a familiar-looking hole: a renewed excavation site dissected by train tracks. “Never in my or anyone’s wildest imagination did we think we would be rebuilding the towers, let alone that I would have the opportunity to be the builder of something my father had built 40 years before,” reflects Tishman, a native New Yorker.

Tishman Construction is overseeing construction for all but one of the new structures. The company is construction manager for 1 World Trade Center (Tower 1), 4 World Trade Center (Tower 4), 3 World Trade Center (Tower 3), and World Trade Center Vehicle Security Center and Tour Bus Parking Facility (VSC). It acts as a joint venture partner for construction management on the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, a mega terminal designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, as well. And Tishman himself is the chairman of the building committee for the 9/11 Memorial, which opens Sunday for the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The memorial is a tree-dappled, eight acre tribute to those nearly 3,000 people lost at the site through the use of reflecting pools in the original Twin Towers’ footprints.

The first building rebuilt and completed on the site was 7 World Trade Center.  Construction started in 2002 and it opened for business in 2006. It was the first building to open on the site since 9/11, and it was New York City’s very first gold LEED-certified building. Now 90% occupied, tenants include Moody’s Corporation, Ameriprise Financial and the New York Academy of Sciences.  “As the developer of that building, Larry Silverstein, so often likes to comment, he gave John Tishman the opportunity to build 7 the first time and Dan Tishman the opportunity to build 7 the second time,” Tishman wryly remarks, noting that the new building, a 52-story high rise designed by David Childs, is very different from the original with its red granite facade.

Four World Trade Center is under way, the steel framing running nearly 50 floors high. Construction on 1 World Trade Center, which will stand 1,776 feet high (49 feet higher than the original) over 101 stories and claim the “tallest building in America” title, is emerging on the Big Apple skyline as well. The $3.1 billion office tower, for which construction didn’t commence until 2006, already stands more than 80 stories high. Tishman says that project is on track for completion by the end of 2013, despite a short-lived union strike earlier this summer and new design stipulations granted to Conde Nast, the building’s newly signed anchor tenant.

“What’s very hard to see on the site visually is that just under Tower 1, there’s a roughly 7,000 square foot building that fills up the hole just to bring it to grade — and then the building starts to climb up from there,” explains Tishman. That foundation was constructed around six active Path trains that cart anywhere from 300,000 to 400,000 passengers per day: Tishman calls the building’s foundation a “surgical procedure,” proudly asserting the fact that the train system has experienced no construction-related disruptions since his team started. His crew also had to carve out delivery paths for the hulking high-rise that cross under the 2, 3 and 4 World Trade Center plots.

Trains aside, the site has posed a plethora of challenges for the many players involved and the construction process has not been exempt. Catering to the stakeholders involved, from the victims to the Port Authority to city officials to Silverstein to potential tenants, has been a timely and delicate process that has delayed construction over the years; Silverstein spent years embroiled in a legal battle over insurance money allotted to the site as well.

The commercial construction industry has evolved dramatically in 40 years, too. For example, 1960s buildings operated on fossil fuel-fired electricity – a cheap, plentiful energy option at the time.  Today, new construction focuses on energy efficiency and LEED certifications, a green construction process that can take significant time and money. All of this in a high-profile site of multiple construction projects where security measures both around the acreage and built into the buildings’ structural layouts have been in effect (though Tishman and others remain mum about those security details).

Even so, Tishman remains optimistic about construction and excited about the Memorial’s debut: “My expectations are high – we’ve worked long and hard on what the public will see on the 11th and it will be a remarkable outcome after a number of years of extremely hard work by a large number of people.”

via Morgan Brennan, Forbes


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