Thursday, November 25, 2010

The World Trade Center Survivor -- Fritz Koenig's "The Sphere"

The Sphere, rededicated as a memorial to the victims of The World Trade Center - photo by Alice Lum
From the earliest conception of The World Trade Center, art was to play an integral part. Works by esteemed artists Louise Nevelson, Joan Miro, James Rosati, Masayuki Nagare, Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, Cynthia Mailman, Germaine Keller, Romare Bearden, and Kenneth Snelson were displayed in the two soaring silver towers. In addition to the works commissioned for the buildings, the Cantor Fitzgerald offices housed some 300 sculptures and drawings by Auguste Rodin.

In the plaza, a fountain by Elyn Zimmerman served as a memorial to the victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The World Trade Center buildings were not only a place of business, but a place of beauty and art.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 it all came to an end.

In the five-acre plaza, prior to that morning, there stood an abstract sculpture by Bavarian artist Fritz Koenig titled “Kugelkaryatide” or “Great Spherical Caryatid.” The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, owner of the World Trade Center, commissioned the piece five years before the buildings were completed.

Koenig cast the 25-foot high bronze and steel piece in 52 segments. He intended for the 45,000-pound sphere to symbolize world peace through world trade. Ironically, when finished it was installed amid a circle of fountains designed by Minoru Yamasaki, simulating the Grand Mosque of Mecca with the Kugelkaryatide standing in place of the Kaaba.

The Sphere as it appeared before the morning of September 11, 2001

Over the years World Trade Center workers who gathered around the sculpture to eat lunch or relax gave the sculpture the unofficial name “The Sphere.”

On the morning of September 11 when the enormous Trade Towers fell, the artwork inside and around them was obliterated. Of the priceless bronze Rodins on the 104th Floor, nothing remained. Masayuki Nagare’s black granite sculpture “Cloud Fortress” and James Rosati’s stainless steel “Ideogram” were reduced to unidentifiable particles. “Commuter Landscape,” “Path Mural,” and “Fan Dancing with the Birds,” three decorative murals by Cynthia Mailman, Germaine Keller and Hunt Slonem, respectively, were lost forever.

But amazingly, as workers slowly removed tons of rubble and twisted steel beams, Fritz Koenig’s Sphere began to emerge. Although damaged, the sculpture that was meant to symbolize world peace had survived.

Inside a gaping hole ripped open at the top of the sphere, workers found a Bible, an airliner seat and documents from one of the upper floor offices. Koenig said later “It became its own cemetery.”

The Sphere was carefully dismantled and sent to storage near JFK International Airport. Almost immediately, the prospect of re-erecting the sculpture as a memorial was discussed. The artist was opposed. It was, he said, “a beautiful corpse.”

Yet as it was the only remainder of the World Trade Centers left essentially intact, Koenig relented. He personally supervised the re-erection of the sculpture in Battery Park. Fifteen iron workers and four engineers worked to create a new base for the Sphere. Six months to the day after the barbaric attacks on the Towers, The Sphere was rededicated on March 11, 2002.

Koenig remarked, “It was a sculpture, now it’s a monument. It now has a different beauty, one I could never imagine. It has its own life – different from the one I gave to it.” An eternal flame was lit on September 11, 2002 to the victims of the attack.

Upon completion of the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero, The Sphere will go home again.

1 comment:

  1. As reported yesterday the Sphere is not "going home" but back into the dark, in a hanger out at JFK airport. This is a disgrace; an affront to truth and memory. Please see my online petition, Save the Sphere and facebook under causes, Save the Sphere. Contact me at
    Mike Burke, brother, Capt. William F. Burke, Jr., E-21