The 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is the first that will see One World Trade Center, formerly known as Freedom Tower, topping out at a symbolic 1,776 feet. After years of missteps and inaction, the building’s completion, now scheduled to take place in early 2014, will be a welcome end to a fraught project that has long weighed on the national consciousness. Yet just as construction costs have ballooned to nearly $4 billion, making this by far the most expensive new office building in the world, its developers—the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, along with the Durst Organization—have decided to cut one last corner, blunting the building’s most prominent and important symbol.
In 2005, once David M. Childs of Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) took over the design of One WTC, he devised a brilliant solution for balancing the building’s monumental and memorial demands with its practical and commercial needs. He took a chaotic jumble of ideas left by Daniel Libeskind, the site’s quixotic planner, and compressed them into a shimmering crystal, one that reflected the scale and volume of the original Twin Towers while also recalling the tapered facets of the Washington Monument. From a solid, cube-shaped base (regrettably made more bunkerlike over time), the edges of Mr. Childs’s One WTC chamfer in so that halfway up it becomes a perfect octagon and, at its top floor, the building faces 45 degrees off its base.