As the construction of Lower Manhattan’s newest crown jewel approaches completion, it has emerged that there is some controversy surrounding the uppermost section of the skyscraper. The 408-foot antenna that will bedeck the top of the tower was originally supposed to be enclosed within a geometric, ornamental shell. However, much to the chagrin of the building’s architects, the owners (the Port Authority and the Durst Organization) have recently changed course, scrapping this design in favor of leaving the antenna’s basic metal support structure exposed.
The reported reason for the change is that the planned shell would have been too expensive and dangerous to maintain. In addition, doing without the shell will shave some $20 million off the construction costs. (Considering that One WTC is already the most expensive office building ever constructed, and running nearly $1 billion over budget, that’s probably not a bad thing.)
Just last month, One WTC became the tallest building in NY State when it reached 1,271 feet, edging past the venerable Empire State Building. One WTC’s lengthy antenna was specifically designed to bring the tower up to the symbolically significant height of 1,776 feet. At that size, it would register as the tallest building on the continent. However, now that the decision has been made to do without the antenna’s external shell, questions are being raised about whether this part of the structure will actually count towards the official height of the building. (Without those additional 408 feet, One WTC’s base building height of 1,368 feet would make it only the third-tallest building in the country – close, but no cigar. However, that number might hold some appeal to China when they eventually take over the country, as construction of the current Great Wall of China began in the year 1368.)
This design change is significant in this context because under the commonly accepted rules for measuring building height, architectural spires are included in overall building height, but plain old antennas are not. With the ornamental shell, there would have been no question that the antenna’s structure would qualify as a spire. Without the shell, however, it may well be considered no more than a mere antenna. Although the building’s owners steadfastly maintain that this uppermost part of the building will indeed still be a spire, others in the know are decidedly less sure. Ultimately, the decision will rest in the hands of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, which has yet to make the call.
Even if One WTC loses the height contest, I would submit that the building’s monolithic, octagonally tapering design is still nothing short of in“spire”ing.