Looking Back 2002: The Day They Put the 'Sphere' Back Together Again

In Battery Park, the largest of the dismembered pieces of the Sphere is returned to its rightful place. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Sep. 10, 2017

Editor’s note: On March 9, 2002, in Battery Park, workers reassembled the battered and torn Sphere, the Fritz Koenig sculpture that had been the centerpiece of the World Trade Center Plaza for nearly 30 years. Two days later, at a much-heralded ceremony marking the six-month anniversary of 9/11, the Sphere would stand as a symbol of survival and resilience. For the next 15-and-a-half years, it remained in temporary residence in Battery Park. This month, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey moved the sculpture to its permanent home in Liberty Park, overlooking the World Trade Center Memorial Plaza. The following article recounts the day it was put back together in consultation with its creator, Fritz Koenig. The story originally appeared in the April, 2002, edition of the Tribeca Trib and is one of an ongoing series from our archives.

There is so much that can't be mended. The shattered dreams and broken lives; the towers turned to dust; the way it was before that terrible September morning.

But as Lower Manhattan tries to put itself back together, a battered brass-and-steel orb, once the centerpiece of the World Trade Center plaza, now stands as a testament to hope, healing and survival.

Just two days before the solemn March 11 dedication of the sculpture as the focal point of a temporary memorial in Battery Park, Fritz Koenig's 45,000-pound Sphere sat on a flatbed truck like a giant partly peeled onion. Separated from its base and several big, severed flakes of its enormous skin, the work seemed too hopelessly wrecked to ever stand again.

But with the help of 10 ironworkers, six engineers, assorted laborers and its nervously pacing artist, Sphere was hoisted, nudged and welded into one piece.

“I have no doubts, only worries,” said Richard Garlock, one of the key consulting engineers on the project, as ironworkers prepared to rejoin the sphere to its newly fabricated base. Garlock had inspected the sculpture in storage at Kennedy Airport—still filled with Trade Center debris—to see whether it could be reconstituted to stand again. Although a new steel pipe support would have to be fabricated inside the base, Garlock determined that the internal support in the globe itself would not need restructuring. With just a week to go before installation, the complex base support was designed, steel was acquired and fabricated, and the city's whirlwind plans to resurrect the sphere for March 11 went forward.

[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 spirit, Mayor Bloomberg would proclaim at the dedication ceremony that bitterly cold morning.  

For all its symbolism, the sculpture had special meaning to the men who put it back together. Drawn from the contractors and city agencies overseeing the recovery effort, they are builders who have lived with destruction since the first day.

“We’re putting something back together as opposed to taking it apart,” said Peter Rinaldi, engineering program manager for the Port Authority. “This is personal with us.”

Rinaldi, who helped engineer the sculpture’s foundation when it was installed at the World Trade Center in 1973, has overseen the removal of the towers where he had work for 30 years. He knew 20 people killed in the attack, and two of his closest friends and co-workers were among them.

“Of all the things we’ve been doing, this is a good piece of work,” he said simply.

Although the Sphere had been smashed and gouged by the collapse of the south tower, it miraculously remained standing, and mostly in one piece. Following the disaster, the artist, who lives in Germany, resigned himself to the belief that his sculpture had turned to rubble. But when he came to the site with friends and saw it standing, his hopes soared—if only briefly. Three days later he returned with his close friend Percy Adlon, a filmmaker who has long been documenting the artist's life. His Sphere was on its side.

We were shooting and I zoomed in to the body and I saw the sparks flying, and I called to the man and he said now they're cutting it up. In their fervor to remove debris quickly, recovery workers were disassembling the sphere and carting it away. The all-important support structure within the base was already gone. Now, on this balmy March Saturday nearly six months later, Adlon watched the meticulous efforts of iron workers piecing the giant globe back together.

Our crucial moment was when we saw thai it survived upright, and you put it back upright,” Adlon said to engineer Richard Garlock. You have achieved something extraordinary.”

It's the way it needs to be, Garlock replied quietly.

Koenig, in the meantime, was like an expectant father, a bundle of euphoria and nerves as he stood, sat, paced, talked to workers in indecipherable English, and scrutinized the dawn-to-dusk resurrection of his work. All the while he fingered a tiny but crucial maquette of the Sphere, which served as the only three-dimensional reference for realigning the dismembered pieces.

By late afternoon the Sphere had been joined to its base, cigars passed out, a group photo taken. The artist relaxed. He was clearly pleased when he sat down with a Trib reporter to talk about what had been accomplished.

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

Asked about the sculpture's meaning when he created it, Koenig spoke only in aesthetic terms, saying its spherical shape was meant to create a dialogue with the tall vertical towers.

But it is said to symbolize world peace, he was reminded.

Koenig shook his head and smiled. It was never meant to symbolize world peace, he said, a shock of white hair blowing in the late afternoon breeze. It's too small for that.”