No, not the original World Trade Center that was destroyed by terrorists on September 11, 2001. And no, not the much lesser known World Trade Center in Portland. I'm talking about the building most of its pre-construction life known as the Freedom Tower. That's the one that is being constructed with a glass facade fabricated by Benson Glass in Portland.
Benson's rise as a world-class architectural glass manufacturer is quintessentially Portland in numerous ways. This is a city making its name in the 21st century on craft alongside design and sustainability. And Oregon's gray climate makes it a region where innovation and extensive use of glass are particularly important.
"Though you might not know Benson by name, you've certainly seen its handiwork," writes James Meyer in a profile of the company in Monday's Oregonian. "The company is responsible for the facades of many prominent buildings in Portland, including the U.S. Bancorp Tower, the new Port of Portland headquarters at the airport, the Rose Garden arena, the KOIN and Fox towers, as well as several condo towers."
Wait, there is glass on the Rose Garden arena? I thought it was all concrete.
Even so, Benson is a giant in the industry, and not just in Portland. Founded in 1926, the company is now one of the pre-eminent curtain-wall manufacturers in the world, with offices in Singapore, Manila, New York City, Chicago, Singapore, South Korea, and California.
The company won the $160 million contract for One World Trade Center in 2007, designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill with Daniel Liebeskind, then spent a year designing and testing components, including the ability to withstand explosions. Although the glass itself came from Minnesota, the pieces have been assembled in Gresham over the past two years, with about 1,000 left to go.
Restoration work has also become a major part of Benson's business. In the 2000s, Benson worked on a lot of towers, such as the Metropolitan Condos in Portland for BOORA Architects. Now that the economy is not nearly as conducive to big condo towers, Benson has turned its attention to retro-fitting and sustainable solutions.
Somewhat ironically, the company is working on restoring the facade of the United Nations Secretariat Building in New York City, co-designed by two of the top architects of the 20th Century: Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer. That building, when it was constructed beginning in 1947, lost out to the Pietro Belluschi-designed Equitable Building in Portland as the first major glass curtain-walled building in the United States (as did New York's famed Lever House).
Portland has made a sizable push in recent years to establish itself as a hotbed not only of design and sustainability, but contemporary craft - both at the hand made end and the manufacturing end. Benson embodies manufacturing as fine craft. And given that Portland is home to one of the most special midcentury glass buildings in the world, Memorial Coliseum with its one-of-a-kind, 360-degree glass view, designed by the same architect as One World Trade Center, perhaps that's fitting. Regardless, we know the WTC glass itself will be.