“Above All This”, opening Friday, September 12

On May 1981, I made my first and only visit to the observation deck of the World Trade Center. I was there on account of friends who had also never been “on deck”, and wanted me along. Naturally, I decided to bring a camera or two in tow.

Interestingly, the view “from there”, impressive as it was, only held my interest momentarily. The two things I found more interesting, in order, were the people observing the view (and their interaction with one another), and the space itself, and I found in interesting relationship, or tension, of you will, between the two. Unlike, say, the Empire State Building, where the very architecture of the observation deck seems to celebrate the event of observing from on high, the Trade Center’s deck seems designed to reinforce the notion that you are up there for one thing and one thing only: The View. With all the decorative forethought of a hastily-constructed fashion catwalk, this observation deck was simply a square, blue-surfaced superstructure, supported some twenty feet or so above the building’s roof, dutifully fenced-off, and allowing an unobstructed, 360-degree view of New York, New Jersey and beyond (on a clear day)

This sort of minimalism also lent a feeling of vulnerability I had thought about, off-and-on, ever since, and was one reason I never made a return visit. Some people thought, and said, that you could actually feel the building sway in the breeze; I didn’t but the sense of sheer exposure was enough to make me stop and pause more than a few times in the several hours I spent up there.

Hours…what to do while being up there so long? It really was the people that kept me captivated. Mostly far-flung tourists, but also a few home-grown city people like me milling about, stopping to group together for a quick snap, then breaking up again to gaze and wander.

(To be Continued)

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