In my embarrassingly large photo collection in a box somewhere, there is a photo of me on the observation deck of Two World Trade Center – one of what is, or was, known as the Twin Towers.
On that visit in the late 90s, who could have foreseen the tragic events of 20 years ago tomorrow, 11th September.
On September 11th, 2001, I was working for the London office of Gensler, the US architecture practice. Our office of more than 300 people was made up of many nationalities, but obviously always had strong links with the US – whether in the form of visiting US colleagues, or US nationals working with us either temporarily or long term. Many of us had families and friends living in the US, and many of us made regular business trips there.
That afternoon, as my meeting at a local university was reaching a close, the meeting leader returned from his office and said, ‘it seems that New York is under attack’. My two associates turned to me, knowing that my husband at that time was in New York on a business trip. I was asked if I wanted an escort back to the office. I declined and instead chain smoked the less than half a mile to Roman House from Moorgate. I was met by my husband’s senior colleague who simply said: ‘he’s OK, we’ve heard from him’. The relief was enormous, but there was still much to do.
The atmosphere in the office was unforgettable. People were trying to reach friends and family in the US to check if they were OK. People were calling our office in New York to check on colleagues. A TV was set up in the IT department so the drama could be seen unfolding – and that was before much of the coverage was censored so it was there in all its horror when people began jumping from windows in the towers. My husband called me having watched the collapse of the second tower whilst rescuing the company’s hard drive from their downtown office.
All we could do that afternoon was keep going round the office asking if people were OK. Eventually, it was decided to close the office and send people home so that they could focus on their friends, family and colleagues without any expectation of having to work.
As it happened, all our colleagues and their families remained safe. But it is impossible to explain the impact of that afternoon. New York itself had never been attacked directly in such a way before – unlike the London blitz, for example. To watch it unfolding on the media was also of such an effect that had never been seen before in such a way. The reminders of that day which are being broadcast 20 years later, prompted me to write these few words.
These are personal and somewhat distant reflections on an event that reverberated around the world – obviously, those reverberations are still with us today.
My thoughts and well wishes go out to those who lost friends, family and colleagues during the attacks and in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and also the subsequent attack on the Pentagon and the hijacked plane (Flight 93) that crashed in Pennsylvania.
We will never forget.