New York's latest architectural wonder is being built to replace the Twin Towers but has not exactly gone according to plan.

As a symbol that the United States could bounce back from 9/11 and regain its global mojo, the Freedom Tower hasn't exactly worked as planned. Possibly the only “freedom” now associated with New York's Twin Towers replacement is budgetary: it is unofficially the most expensive office tower ever built, having now cost approximately $3.8bn, almost twice the original estimate. And it's not finished yet.

Displacing the Empire

This week, the Freedom Tower at least became Manhattan's tallest building, eclipsing the Empire State Building, which regained the position after 9/11. The comparison does it no favours. Opened in 1931, the Empire State Building is everything the Freedom Tower isn't: cost-effective (eventually), elegant and universally adored. It took weeks to design and less than two years to build.

Simply deciding on an architect for the Freedom Tower took longer than that. Legal wrangles between the public competition winner, Daniel Libeskind, and the developer's choice, David Childs, got things off to a bad start in 2003. They pledged to work together, but Libeskind later compared the relationship to border negotiations between North and South Korea.

The tower's aspirations have been shackled from the outset. How could one building both symbolise the U.S.' comeback and honour the dead of 9/11? Libeskind's initial scheme ramped up the “freedom” aspect, paying tribute to the Statue of Liberty and setting a symbolic height of 1,776ft (541m), a nod to the year America declared independence. Somehow, that turned into the paranoid corporate obelisk we see today. There were security issues that called for fortified stairwells, blast-resistant glass and an impregnable concrete base to protect the building from street-level attacks.

If the Freedom Tower represents anything, it's that bygone era when Osama bin Laden was public enemy number one, and the fear was that Wall Street would be occupied by al-Qaeda rather than students protesting about financial mismanagement. The Empire State Building was also built during a recession, but back then the greatest public enemy was Al Capone. Prohibition was about to end, the New Deal was on the way, and everyone was too busy thinking about making money to agonise over the past. In retrospect, that looks like freedom. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012

Keywords: Twin Towers9/11

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