Architecture Planning and Preservation World Trade Center
Dale Allen Gyure
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0086


The original World Trade Center was commissioned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1962. The Port Authority envisioned the Trade Center as a new architectural symbol for New York. After soliciting ideas from many of the leading American architects of the time, the Port Authority selected Minoru Yamasaki and Associates over such notable architects as Philip Johnson, Walter Gropius and TAC, and Welton Becket and Associates. Yamasaki’s proposal included a “framed tube” construction technique that used closely spaced exterior vertical supports to carry the buildings’ loads; the system was first utilized by engineers Worthington, Skilling, Helle & Jackson (later Skilling, Helle, Christiansen & Robertson) in Yamasaki’s IBM Building in Seattle—designed just months before the World Trade Center. When the Port Authority asked Yamasaki to design the world’s tallest building, he responded with a proposal for two 110-story towers looming 1,350 feet over a five-acre public plaza ringed by secondary structures, with an underground city of shops, restaurants, and train tracks beneath. The architect unveiled the first model in January 1964 to favorable reviews; however, after a slightly modified version was presented to the public in 1966, the critical attitude toward the project switched from positive to negative, as some prominent former admirers of the initial scheme like Ada Louise Huxtable and Wolf Von Eckardt now became vehemently opposed. By the time construction was completed and the buildings occupied in the early 1970s, a few publications celebrated the World Trade Center’s technical achievements, but it mostly disappeared from the architectural literature. Aside from an ill-fated 1993 bombing attempt, the Twin Towers drew little attention from the architectural or popular press until their tragic destruction by terrorists on 11 September 2001. The subsequent rebuilding campaign, fraught with political and economic conflicts, became one of the most celebrated architectural projects of the early twenty-first century. (Note: This annotated bibliography concerns the architecture of the World Trade Center and its replacement, One World Trade Center, and will not include material about the 9/11 attack, the Twin Towers’ collapse, emergency responders and the site cleanup, or the design and construction of the 9/11 memorial.)

General Overviews: Skyscrapers

Skyscrapers have fascinated the public since their invention in the late nineteenth century. They became a particularly popular topic in the 1970s and 1980s, as architects erected well-publicized marquee towers in cities throughout the world and competed with each other to design the tallest office building. The general lack of interest in the World Trade Center can be seen in publications devoted to skyscrapers and their history. Goldberger 1981 is typical; writing less than a decade after the Twin Towers opened, they held no interest for him, and almost thirty years later Goldberger 2009 explained his continuing disregard for the design. Flowers 2010 assessed the Twin Towers on ideological grounds. The project fared better in Stern, et al. 1997, where the authors contextualized it as part of a broader history of the city. Smith 2006 took a different approach, analyzing the Trade Center as a symbol of contemporary architecture’s engagement with global politics in the late twentieth century. In an article comparing the plaza with three other outdoor spaces in New York, Allen 1974 withheld judgment but foresaw potential problems with its use.

  • Allen, Gerald. “High-Rise Office Buildings—The Public Spaces They Make.” Architectural Record 155 (March 1974): 127–142.

    Allen’s focus is on public plazas in New York, comparing the World Trade Center with the two Rockefeller Center projects and the Chubb Building plaza; he envisions a lack of public engagement due to design errors.

  • Flowers, Benjamin. Skyscraper: The Politics and Power of Building New York City in the Twentieth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.9783/9780812202601

    Flowers focuses on the disjunction between the rhetoric and reality of the buildings, and argues that Yamasaki’s design successfully adopted the “banal corporatism (or General Motors-ness)” of his clients. On the World Trade Center, pp. 169–180.

  • Goldberger, Paul. The Skyscraper. New York: Knopf, 1981.

    New York Times critic Goldberger presents a history of the skyscraper as a building type and its impact on urban development since the nineteenth century, including a critique of the World Trade Center’s appearance and lack of architectural innovation; does recognize the buildings’ technical achievements. On the World Trade Center, pp. 128–129.

  • Goldberger, Paul. Why Architecture Matters. New York: Yale University Press, 2009.

    In a book intended to explain architecture to the general public, Goldberger explains the evolution of his views on the World Trade Center from resentment to grudging acceptance, although it remains “too big, too dumb, too indifferent to the needs of the urban context . . . .” On the World Trade Center, pp. 17–18, 174–177.

  • Smith, Terry. The Architecture of Aftermath. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

    Smith uses the September 11 terrorist attacks to launch an investigation of contemporary architecture, based on the idea that the “culture of aftermath” has changed the way we interpret the symbolic content of modernist landmarks. Critical of the World Trade Center. On the World Trade Center, pp. 97–123.

  • Stern, Robert A. M., Thomas Mellins, and David Fishman. New York 1960: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Second World War and the Bicentennial. New York: Monacelli Press, 1997.

    The authors present the planning, design, and construction of the World Trade Center in context, as an example of Historicist Modernism in corporate architecture, and are critical of its size and composition. On the World Trade Center, pp. 54–56, 198–206, 1023.

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