New York Memory on 9/11

September 11, 2017

Today is the 16th anniversary of terrorists taking four passenger aircraft and using them as missiles. Two were flown into the World Trade Center in New York. One targeted the Pentagon in Washington DC and one crashed in rural Pennsylvania. In the four attacks, 2,996 people died. The memory of those events still seems as bright and clear as the weather on that morning of September 11, 2001. The shock, horror and fear has faded with the distance of time although the scars (emotional, cultural, economic, and political) are deep and permanent. The world, and all of us in it, changed forever that morning and this day will always be a sad anniversary. Hungry for answers, I read the 9/11 Commission Report when it was released in 2004 and now, 13 years later, I am reading it again. Its reading is worthwhile and, in a small way, comforting. Physically holding the thick book to read is best but It is also available free and on-line at

A Memory of the Twin Towers

Justine and I had moved from New York to Charlotte a month and seven years before the attacks, but the feeling of New York as our home had not worn off. We had returned to visit frequently to introduce our then small children to the city with the hope that they would grow to love it like we did and perhaps one day live there like we had, too. In the nearly 10 years that the city was our home, the World Trade Center was a very familiar place. Living just across the river in Brooklyn, every day we could look on the towers from a distance (they looked best from a distance) as well as experiencing the towers from within them and around them in their shadow. Especially as a young architect in New York, I knew very few people who actually liked, admired or approved of the twin towers; at least, very few who would admit to it. The towers together were the unrivaled, super-scaled, signature landmark structures of New York. From a distance they were powerful and romantic, almost geological in their presence. Up close, they were monstrous. The open plaza at their base was a vast, frequently wind-swept, uncomfortable and usually underpopulated desert hardscape. Perversely, the masses swarmed underground by the thousands. Below the plaza in the fluorescent lit labyrinth known as the “Concourse” was a beehive of shops, restaurants, and subway and commuter train stations. For many New Yorkers, the daily experience of the Concourse was neither pleasant nor unpleasant; it was just a fact of existence. For me, like them, it was usually just a place to quickly move through on errands or my way to see Justine at her Solomon Brothers office at 7 World Trade Center, across the street north of Tower 1. In contrast to the Concourse, the tower lobbies were wonderfully bright and grand in scale, if not in detail. The South Tower lobby was a frequent destination for the many airline ticket counters located there as well as the place for tourists to go for access to the observation deck on the roof. The North Tower was topped by Windows on the World, a favorite destination for expensive drinks and unsurpassed views. Some floors down from there were the headquarters offices of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, where we on the JFK Airport Redevelopment design team from I. M. Pei & Partners met with our client occasionally over the course of the huge multi-year project. A particularly strong memory is that of our sleep-deprived design team barely meeting yet another crushing deadline and then giving a final presentation in the north tower, very early one late spring Sunday morning, to the full Port Authority Board and senior staff. From the cavernous loading docks to the Port Authority Board Room to Windows on the World, I knew the towers, admired them and learned a lot from them and their place being part of my daily life.

So, what is the point of this little memoir? I think if only to look back, recollect and reflect on very important times, places and people that shaped my life. Try to let go of the evil and painful things and leave them behind. Hold on to the good and positive things and carry them forward.

-David Tobin