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GIANTS: The Twin Towers and the Twentieth Century

Upon their completion in 1971 and 1973, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were the tallest and largest skyscrapers in the world. Innovative engineering carried the structures to 110 stories – 1368 and 1362 feet (417 and 415 meters) – creating floors an acre in size, with more than 4 million square feet per building. Except for the contemporary Sears Tower in Chicago, nearly 100 feet taller, but slightly smaller in total area, no skyscraper has ever matched their scale.

To be both big and tall was a phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s, the climax in the evolution of skyscraper size. The World Trade Center epitomized the ambitions of an era when faith in technology and a fascination with monumentality spurred designs for megastructures and urban master plans. New York’s skyline was on the rise, and modernity seemed to matter more than history. Still, considerable conflict surrounded the towers. Writing in The New York Times in May 1966, architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable noted, "Who’s afraid of the big, bad buildings? Everyone, because there are so many things about gigantism that we just don’t know."

September 11, 2001 defines our memory of the Twin Towers, and the profound proportions of that tragedy continue to reverberate in New York and beyond. The question of size in the urban scheme remains a complex issue for the future of tall buildings everywhere. As new spires around the world exceed the sheer height of the supertalls of the seventies, none have surpassed the overall scale of the giants of the twentieth century, nor likely ever will.

"A New Kind of Building"


  2006 The Skyscraper Museum.