Rebuilding an iconic structure on the NYC World Trade Center site
Skanska’s history at the World Trade Center site in New York City goes back to the late 1960s when Slattery Skanska built the foundations for the Twin Towers.
After foundations were complete, Skanska Koch constructed the steel and exoskeleton for the Towers. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing caused significant damage in the below grade parking garage. The blast from the bomb impacted several stories of the parking garage structure and the chiller plant.
Skanska was called in to reconstruct the damaged areas, construct two temporary chiller plants adjacent to the World Trade Center site, and repair and construct a new redundant source for chilled water from the Hudson River.
Then, 9/11 happened. A few days later, Skanska was brought in to assist in stabilizing the collapsed structures and provide support in locating some of the utility lines feeding Ground Zero.
“We knew the location of the utilities, and where the Hudson River water line was feeding the chilled water plant since we repaired that service back in 1993. We had knowledge of the structures which helped us to assist in stabilizing the site. It was critical to continuing both the rescue and recovery efforts,” explains Gary Winsper, senior vice president of business development at Skanska.
In 2006, Skanska was awarded a joint venture contract to create the East Bathtub, which would eventually support the foundations for Towers 2, 3 and 4. We were also responsible for stabilizing and supporting the existing subway line that cut through the site.
In 2010, Skanska built the PATH Transportation Hall and renowned architect Santiago Calatrava’s vision that eventually connected to the Oculus, another contract we won in 2012.
“We’ve had a long run of projects at the World Trade Center—over $2 billion of work there since we started. Under several projects, we built critical portions of the original Twin Towers, responded to 9/11 impacts, and then helped rebuild iconic portions of the site as we now know it today,” says Gary.
A beacon on a hill
The original Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks. In November 2022, we celebrated the completion and opening of the new 12,000 square-foot Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center (Saint Nicholas Church), designed by Calatrava.
Sitting 25 feet above street level, the church overlooks the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. This symbolic structure is the last and final building to be completed that was destroyed from 9/11.
The entire church is made from Greek Pentelic marble—the walls, ceilings, floors, exterior and interior. This marble comes from the same vein of the marble used for the Parthenon in ancient Greece—a homage to Greek culture in New York City. The interior includes glass-reinforced gypsum, stone floors, and iconography.
“One of the most unique features is the exterior glazing on the building. It's a sandwich system with a thin piece of marble that sits between two pieces of glass. During the day, it looks like solid stone. At nighttime, it's backlit and it creates a glowing effect. They call it a ‘beacon on a hill,’ because the whole stone structure emits a warm glow,” says Conor Devine, senior project manager.
The church’s design presented a unique challenge for our team members.
“There are very few square corners in this building. If you walk through the church, everything is a series of circles and radiuses that compound and work together. Next to nothing in the church is flat, which is difficult to construct. There's also hardly any sheet rock in the building. Most of what is installed is either prefabricated stone or plaster. Due to the intricate carving pattern on the stone, if you're off a quarter inch or a half inch, it would be immediately visible. There were very minimal tolerances, and the backup structures had to be built with extreme accuracy,” says Conor.
To meet this challenge, our team conducted modeling and coordination in 3D.
“Typically, when we’re talking about 3D coordination, we’re referring to mechanicals, pipe and duct. But this was at a whole new level. All the architectural finishes had to be coordinated in 3D. We worked closely with our virtual design and construction (VDC) team and our trade partners when it came to 3D laser scanning,” explains Conor.
Our team’s past work at the World Trade Center site benefitted us during the reconstruction of this iconic church.
“From the start, we understood what Calatrava’s vision was for this church. We weren't going to go in there and just do routine construction. From our previous experiences with Calatrava’s designs and materials selected for the Oculus and PATH Hall substructure, we understood the uniqueness and significance of what Calatrava was trying to achieve,” says Gary.
Our team’s efforts have resonated with the owner throughout the construction of the project.
“From the first days of the rebuilding efforts, we have seen the commitment of the men and women who are shaping Saint Nicholas Church into a reality which will embody its spiritual essence. Skanska has dedicated as much as 22 hours a day to bring the church to completion. They have been a true partner on this project, with all its complexities, which is a testament to their skill and dedication,” adds Andrew Veniopoulos, project executive for the Friends of Saint Nicholas.
Rebuilding a piece of history
Our team members are incredibly honored to reconstruct this church that means so much to the New York Community.
“I remember exactly where I was on 9/11—that's something you don't really forget. To come full circle and be personally and professionally part of that rebuilding is amazing. We talk about building for a better society, and what better way than to rebuild from a disaster or tragedy,” explains Conor.
Last year was the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and our team members got to be a part of that anniversary, and the first time that the church was lit.
“We build a lot of things, and they serve a lot of good purposes. But this project is special to me. People on the street will come up to me and say how much this building means to them. It's a unique experience to work down at the World Trade Center. To be a part of this rebuilding is incredibly personal,” recalls Conor.
Now that this project is complete, the owner sees Saint Nicholas Church leaving a lasting impact on both locals and visitors to New York.
“As the only house of worship that was destroyed on 9/11, the completion and opening of the Saint Nicholas Church is very symbolic. It will be a place of healing and remembrance, and allow individuals to come together as one with our non-denominational meditation room. This beacon of light at the World Trade Center site will shine as a symbol of good vs. evil and provide a prayerful peace for the many people who visit the 9/11 Memorial,” adds Andrew.