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For years after the 9/11 attacks, nearly all the activity at Ground Zero was downward—digging through the piles of debris, excavating a vast pit to restore the ruined transit lines, preparing the foundations for the new buildings that would emerge there.

Even the memorial that opened in 2011 was an exercise in the poetics of descent—two vast cubic voids, each with water cascading down all four sides, carrying grief to some underground resting place.

The memorial has turned out to be a lovely thing, but what the site still needed was something that climbed, something that spoke to the idea that emotional burdens might not only be lowered into the ground but also released into the air.

As the years passed and the delays mounted, it was impossible not to wonder, What’s taking so long? The answer, in part, was just beneath the surface: 10,000 workers attempting one of the most complicated construction projects ever in one of the most densely populated places on the planet.

The design, almost entirely Childs’, called for a 104-story tower that includes a bomb-resistant 20-story base set on 70-ton shafts of steel and pilings sunk some 200 ft. This unseen subterranean structure would support 48,000 tons of steel — the equivalent of 22,500 full-size cars — and almost 13,000 exterior glass panels sheathing a concrete core crowned by a 408-ft.

spire whose beacon would glow at the symbolic height of 1,776 ft.

It is the tangible expression of a people forced quite literally to dig deep for new footings after an unspeakable blow, and there were many dark moments when it was hard to believe that anyone would stand here again.

“I’m like everybody else, looking at this place in amazement,” says Murphy, who leads the team of ironworkers that has pieced together the skeleton of this skyscraper.

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