An office with a view
By Lucas Jackson
Everyone knows that moving into an office with a view is a sure sign of status at your job. If it’s a corner office with a view in two different directions you have managed to place yourself within the upper rungs of the corporate ladder. If your office has a 360 degree view of the financial capital of the world, New York City, you must be a legend. Or, you could be an ironworker putting together the iron skeleton of the new One World Trade in downtown Manhattan.
One World Trade, previously known as the Freedom Tower, has in the last several years quietly grown taller and taller. Today it stands a few stories below being the tallest building in New York City. It is still rising too, at a rather rapid rate and after visiting the top floor I met first hand the group of dedicated ironworkers who are piecing it together, one bolt at a time.
Their commute to work is as vertical as ours is horizontal. Because the interior of the building is not yet finished, the quickest way to get to their workplace is via several different elevator systems and a couple of steel ladders. One external freight elevator (running express for the beginning of the daily shift and at lunch hours) took us to the 39th floor where one must catch another elevator that took us to within a couple stories of the top of the building. In this case it took us to roughly the 90th floor. Here we left the elevators behind and took two open steel ladders to the 92nd and 93rd floors where the steel skeleton of this building is being installed whenever the weather allows. One of these ladders is two stories tall and a little bit wobbly, it was climbing this ladder that I realized I am glad that I’m not afraid of heights.
On this clear Friday the weather on the ground was warm with a light breeze; up almost 1000 feet above the ground that small breeze was a little more intense and the temperature dropped accordingly. However, the view was incredible. At this height the building had risen far above any of its neighbors that either withstood or have risen since September 11, 2001. Unfortunately for the view, but for the very necessary reason of safety, there is plastic mesh surrounding these open floors to keep both workers and their equipment from falling off the side to cause chaos below. Even with this mesh the sense of height above the city is incredible and the view that you can see through the mesh is amazing.
Inside this mesh a few dozen iron workers work busily to connect the beams that make up the massive iron infrastructure of the building together. Two cranes, whose massive bases take up almost the entire interior of the building, work in unison to lift the massive steel beams into place and to help make the minute adjustments to these beams that will allow the bolts that hold them together to be placed. The workers seem to have the balance of gymnasts as they move back and forth on the beams to both guide the beams that hang from the cable of the crane and then to come and attach them to the existing framework with large bolts and pointed wrenches. Safety is an obvious necessity at this height and when working with such heavy materials. Every worker in the air seems to have a partner below who is constantly watching to make sure that things look okay and everyone is strapped up, in some way or another, to the beams they sit, walk or stand upon.
For me it was difficult to keep an eye on everything moving around all at once while photographing. The safety officers and representatives from the Port Authority who organized this trip helped to make sure that we did not stand below workers attaching bolts since we were standing two floors below them on the highest finished floor in the building. We also stayed away from the areas where the cranes were lifting and placing the steel beams and where the workers used ropes attached to the beams to guide them into place. The repercussions of being in the wrong place at the wrong time in that area were too dire for us to get near, mostly because no one wants to be in the way or to distract any of these workers while they move thousands of pounds of iron beams through the air.
It was a dream to photograph though. It was like a dance I didn’t know the steps to, but was mesmerizing to watch. Everything was as coordinated and precise as it could be when dealing with these beams. In the one hour we were able to spend up there it seemed as if half a dozen beams were attached. It was great watching one worker sit on top of a beam as he and another used a massive weight hanging from a crane to move the beam inches to the right so that the bolts would line up with the holes drilled for them. We were also lucky enough that one of the massive beams placed in the interior of the building to enhance the structural integrity was being guided into it’s final destination by an ironworker’s outstretched foot. It felt like another world to be up there.
The view, the height, and the magnitude of the building that these workers have built were all amazing to see firsthand. I took as many pictures as I could to try and show the difficulty of the work as well as the amazing visual scene it made when combined with the openness of the sky all around these men. It was exciting to take photographs that are now a part of the record of these workers and this building that they have built above the site known to most as “Ground Zero.” It was also exciting to see the inside of this building that is soon to become the highest in New York and will house thousands of workers in it’s future. I now feel connected to this building by seeing it’s skeleton, it’s hard iron soul, even though I was only there for an hour. I cannot imagine the pride and connection that the ironworkers must feel and I don’t think any of them are going to be able to keep a straight face when someone talks about “an office with a view.”