Inside One World Trade Center’s Stunning New Observatory

Courtesy of One World Observatory

Joining the ranks of the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock, One World Observatory, the $100 million, three-story attraction atop One World Trade Center, offers breathtaking views of New York City and beyond. But there’s more than just views here—and there should be, given the $32 ticket price—from dazzling, high-tech elevators to fine dining. The observatory opens to the public on May 29, but we got a sneak peek inside what will certainly be one of the city’s most-visited sites, expected to attract between three and four million viewers annually. Read on to see some of the observatory’s unique features and, yes, more of those incredible views.

By Michael Alan Connelly

Courtesy of One World Observatory

One World Trade Center

Formerly known as the Freedom Tower, One World Trade Center stands 1,776 feet tall (including the spire) and is the main building of the still-under-construction World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan. It is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere, and the fourth tallest in the world. The 104-story structure officially opened in November 2014, but its observatory has only recently been completed, and will open to the public on May 29, 2015. The observatory occupies floors 100–102 of One World Trade Center, making it the highest scenic viewing point in the city.

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Courtesy of One World Observatory

Lobby

The observatory has its own dedicated entrance on West Street, where visitors can buy or pick-up pre-purchased tickets before taking an escalator one level down to the lobby. (Tickets cost $32 for visitors ages 13–64, $26 for children ages 6–12, and $30 for seniors; children age five or younger visit for free but must have a ticket to enter.) Here, tickets are scanned, and everyone goes through security before proceeding to the welcome center.

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Courtesy of One World Observatory

Global Welcome Center

Once past security, guests will see a global map that shows detailed statistics about how many visitors have been to the observatory, which countries they come from, and so on. (Information from the ticket scans is used to populate the map in real time.) There’s also a screen that welcomes guests in ten international languages while showing scenes from the city.

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Courtesy of One World Observatory

Voices

Beyond the welcome center, there’s a fourteen-minute video installation called “Voices,” which is broadcast in two adjoining rooms. Featuring moving interviews with the men and women who built One World Trade Center, “Voices” was culled from nearly 25 hours of interviews with 48 people. The main video wall is made up of 144 monitors.

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Courtesy of One World Observatory

Foundations

A somewhat strange part of the experience is the Foundations room, which has been made up to look like a cave. Facts about the bedrock that the building sits on are displayed on the walls, but the walls themselves are not made of real bedrock. The room seems to exist only to stress that the rock (and the 45,000 tons of steel rising above it) makes One World Trade Center a very safe building.

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Courtesy of One World Observatory

Sky Pods

Among the neatest features at One World Observatory are the Sky Pod elevators, which ferry guests up to the 102nd floor in a mere 47 seconds. There are five Sky Pods in total, and each one is decked out with floor-to-ceiling LED screens that create an immersive experience for elevator riders. On the ascent, the screens display a virtual time-lapse of the city’s skyline from the 1500s to the present; the Twin Towers appear briefly, but given that more than 500 years flashes by in less than a minute, you’ll miss them if you blink. When you leave the observatory, the elevator screens show the exterior of One World Trade Center as you descend, making for what feels like a virtual helicopter ride to the bottom.

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Courtesy of One World Observatory

Dining

After arriving on the 102nd floor, visitors watch a two-minute video on screens that ultimately lift to reveal the amazing view, after which they’re ushered down one floor to the dining level. There are three distinct dining options here: One Café sells soups, sandwiches, and baked goods; One Mix offers small plates inspired by New York City’s five boroughs; and One Dine (shown here) operates in the fine-dining model. All three spaces, which are connected, offer great views, and all require diners to purchase an observatory ticket

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Michael Alan Connelly

City Pulse

The 100th floor is the main area of the observatory, where you’ll enjoy 360-degree views of the city and beyond. This is also the floor where you’ll see City Pulse, an interactive system that allows presenters to entertain and inform guests with a wide array of topics and visuals, from architectural landmarks to neighborhood histories to local sports teams. There are two City Pulse stations on the floor, and presenters can customize each presentation and alter it on the fly based on the interests of the group they’re speaking to.

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Courtesy of One World Observatory

The View of Manhattan

Pictures can’t really do the views justice, but the vista is breathtaking. Looking north, you can see the East and Hudson Rivers, downtown Manhattan’s neighborhoods, the Empire State Building, and so much more. Just be sure to visit on a clear day, as the top of the building can disappear into low-hanging clouds, which would make for a disappointing experience.

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Courtesy of One World Observatory

The View of New York Harbor

Looking south, you can see the southern tip of the Financial District, Battery Park, Brooklyn, Governors Island, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor, Staten Island, and New Jersey.

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