WTC: A Real Estate Gamble

The ideology behind David Rockefeller and Austin Tobin’s vision was to transform the World Trade Center into the largest financial districts ever. They wanted the real estate prices to rise and for tenants to feel pride at having an office in the WTC. Partly, this was the reason why they fought against so many obstacles to achieve the WTC. But sadly, not all wars can be won.

Minoru Yamasaki, a young and talented architect, was brought from Japan to build the tallest buildings of the United States. The original plan was to make the WTC 70 stories high, but Tobin wanted it to be bigger. He was obsessed with gigantism and somewhere along the way, he got so involved with his obsession that he could not see even the most visible flaws of the WTC:

Too much Supply, Too Little Demand

The envisioners of the WTC wanted the whole of lower manhattan to transform into a neighborhood that everyone would want to come into. However, what they forgot was that while they were adding to the supply of office spaces by building the WTC, there was still no demand. According to Paul Goldberger, an architecture critic,” It was not a particularly appealing neighborhood in a general way, in that there were no places to eat, few places to shop, no cultural facilities to speak of, no places to live. All the things that make a neighborhood interesting and varied and meaningful as a part of the city, weren’t there” Even when studies showed that there would be modest demand for such a big structure, nobody cared. In fact, they increased the floor size of the WTC TO 10 million square feet, five times the size of the Empire State Building.

Bad Timing

“The Trade Center’s finished at a time when the economy is in the toilet — I think that’s the best way to put it.” (Robert Stern)

The main reason why the WTC could not live up to its expectations was it enticed people with office space that no one wanted to move in. New York was in a slump. There was the fiscal crisis, the energy crisis and all other kinds of crisis. Real Estate values were dropping, and no one was willing to hire the office space in WTC. A day after the project was completed, there were only two tenants in the building.

Architectural Flaws

People did not like working in the WTC because of the huge failure that its architectural design was.

  • The question of safety                                                                                                                         More than 40 fires had been reported in the buildings (Glantz and Lipton, 208).
  • Time Consuming                                                                                                                                        The elevators were a nuisance. It consumed a lot of time to go up and down the elevators and people had to plan before leaving their office and take the factor of time under consideration.
  • The plaza was dead                                                                                                                                    Tobin had envisioned the 25 acres plaza to be filled with people and activity. The reality was the opposite. According to Paul Golderberger, an architecture critic, “The plaza in front of the World Trade Center was a concrete football field. It was not an appealing place at all.”

“By the early 1970s, the World Trade Center, whose final price tag had soared past a billion dollars, was losing $10 to $15 million a year, with no end in sight”(The Center of The World, Episode 8)                                                                                                                                                        

And Finally, the Tables Turned…

Only after a few decades, the WTC gained momentum in terms of real estate. In 1975, the observation deck atop the south tower was opened to the public for the first time -and almost overnight became one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city (The Center of The World, Episode 8)

Through the 1980’s to 1990’s business was booming and people needed all that 10 million square feet of office space. Revenues were pouring in and so were tourists. Guy Tozzoli, the President of the World Trade Center Association said that in 1987, the WTC made $133 million a year. The WTC had finally become a symbol of economic globalization.