Fritz Koenig, Artist of Iconic WTC 'Sphere,' Is Dead at 92

In March 2002, Fritz Koenig displays the maquette of his "Sphere" that became the reference for reassembling his sculpture (behind him) in The Battery. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Feb. 23, 2017

Fritz Koenig, best known as the sculptor of the Sphere,” the centerpiece of the World Trade Center’s Austin Tobin plaza that became an iconic remnant of the Sept. 11 attacks, died on Wednesday at age 92. He had been living near the Bavarian city of Landshut, Germany.

Koenig’s death comes as the “Sphere” awaits transfer from The Battery to its permanent home in Liberty Park, across Liberty Street from the World Trade Center Memorial Plaza. That move is expected sometime in the third quarter of this year, according to the Port Authority.

The 25-ton orb has stood in The Battery since March 2002, where it was installed to great fanfare on the six-month anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The Sphere endured the attacks and now is a stirring tribute to the courage of those we lost and a reminder of the resiliency of the American people,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the March 11, 2002, ceremony.

Two days before that event, Koenig was at The Battery, maquette of the sculpture in hand, to help direct the reassembly of his creation.

“Now people know the piece better than before,” Koenig told the Trib as iron workers labored nearby. “Before, it was just a sculpture.” He paused a moment. “It’s not just a piece of art because it has history. Bad history.”

The Port Authority’s executive director, Pat Foye, said in a statement:  “Fritz Koenig’s Sphere is an iconic work of art that stood on the World Trade Center site prior to 9/11 and miraculously survived the tragic attacks that day.  His memory will live on in the Sphere that will soon stand in the World Trade Center’s Liberty Park.”

Last August, following the Port Authority board’s approval to move the sculpture to Liberty Park, the Trib called Koenig for comment. Stefanje Weinmayr, of the Fritz and Maria Koenig Foundation in Landshut, Germany, spoke for the artist, who was with her during the call but said he was unable to speak on the phone himself. She quoted Koenig as saying that Liberty Park was “quite a good solution” for a final home for the Sphere because “the place no longer exists” where it had stood. But Weinmayr added that he was upset that he had not been consulted and only learned about the decision through the media. “When we heard about the movement to Liberty Park he was quite irritated about the fact that he wasn’t informed before,” she said. “He wasn’t asked before and it would have been necessary.”

Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman, responded in an email: “We plan to have contact with the Koenig Foundation once all the plans for the move and for a dedication ceremony are finalized.  Previously, we would have had none of these details to provide.”

Although the Sphere” had been smashed and gouged by the collapse of the south tower, it remained largely intact. Koenig found it among the debris, still standing, and his hopes of its survival soared. But three days later, when he returned, he found the huge piece on its side, and in their fervor to remove debris, ironworkers were taking it apart. Koenig and Percy Adlon, a filmmaker who had been making a documentary on the artist, managed to stop them before it was too late.

It is often reported that Koenig viewed his sculpture, which stood at the World Trade Center for 30 years, as a symbol of world peace. But in 2002 he told the Trib, in no uncertain terms, that it had no such meaning for him. “It was never meant to symbolize world peace,” he said as his 26-foot-high creation stood once more. “It’s too small for that.”