It doesn’t matter how many times I see footage of the planes striking the Twin Towers, the sight never fails to shock. It is the unsteady angle of attack, terrifying speed and devastating impact, especially of the second plane as it scythes through the South Tower.

Liz Hamson leader

Liz Hamson

On 11 September 2001, I was in the Property Week office at Harbour Exchange in Docklands when a colleague alerted the team to a major incident unfolding in New York. We all promptly crowded around the TV.

Like everyone else, we initially thought the first plane to strike the North Tower of the World Trade Center complex was a prop-plane and that it was all just a horrible accident. We could not believe our eyes when the second plane, which was clearly a commercial airliner, was seemingly deliberately flown into the South Tower. It was beyond comprehension.

I flew out to New York a couple of weeks after 9/11 for Property Week and can still vividly recall looking down as we descended into New York on the still-smouldering site of Ground Zero. It was my first visit to the US and I stayed with Trinidadian relatives in Queens who I had not seen for 14 years. They were reluctant to come with me to Downtown Manhattan, so I walked as far as I could up Broadway on my own. It was a surreal experience. The terrible smell is something I will never forget. Neither will I forget the incredible spirit and friendliness of the New York people, who in their darkest hour showed such solidarity and strength.

I was never in any doubt that New Yorkers would recover. I cannot say the same about the New York office market, 14m sq ft – or more than 10% – of which was wiped out that day. I certainly did not imagine that the existential fear of skyscrapers would be assuaged – or perhaps more accurately defied – to the extent that a 541m-tall, 94-storey tower would eventually replace the Twin Towers. Yet 13 years after the destruction of the iconic towers, I was lucky enough to be able to take a tour of One World Trade Center just before it opened.

The building is an architectural triumph and, as Property Week columnist and New York Post reporter Steve Cuozzo notes in his brilliant feature on the tortuous journey that led to its delivery, it is testament to the sheer bloody-mindedness of Larry Silverstein, who in Mitchell Moss’s words “has outlived all the critics”.

One WTC is just one, albeit hugely emblematic, element of the wider transformation of the World Trade Center site and Downtown Manhattan. Not only has the atrocity led to the creation of more sustainable, hi-tech office towers in the precise location where at one point people wanted anything but office towers, it has also acted as a catalyst for the revitalisation of the district’s residential offer.

Now, however, the city faces a fresh dual threat, as do all global cities. Covid has forced a revaluation of people’s office space needs, with the jury out on whether the workforce will ever fully return to the office. In the cruellest twist of all, just before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, the crucible of terrorism where the attacks were masterminded.

As fears mount over a possible new wave of terror, many of those working in office towers – wherever they are – will be feeling a creeping sense of unease. We didn’t give into it last time. Neither should we this.