WATCH

The breathtaking elevator ride to the top of One World Trade Center sweeps through 515 years of history

Obsession
Glass
Obsession
Glass

The main attraction is at the top, but the journey there is spectacular in its own right. One World Trade Center, the tallest building in North America, will begin shuttling visitors to its observation deck next month in elevator cabs that offer an immersive, panoramic history of Manhattan from the year 1500 to the present.

Click play on the video above, published by the New York Times, to get a sense for yourself. It’s a breathtaking ride.

The 515-year history lines three walls of the elevator, which have been fitted with nine screens, each measuring 75 inches (about 2 meters). In 47 seconds, while traveling 23 miles (37 kilometers) per hour to the top of the building, visitors will have an elevated vantage point over the southern tip of Manhattan, with animation showing its development from Native American villages to Dutch trading settlements to the American Revolutionary War to the original street grid to the slums of Five Points to the first skyscrapers—including, in 1973, the Twin Towers, which vanish from the landscape a few seconds later. (Some of the history, however, appears to be off.)

Critics, myself included, have argued that the new tower has little to say about its surroundings. The 9/11 museum below it has been called a confused memorial. That all may be, but this elevator ride to top of the building is a strong statement about the World Trade Center and 9/11’s place in history. In the final seconds of the video, visitors are enclosed by the tower’s construction, before arriving on the 102nd floor, 1,268 feet (386 meters) above the ground, securing their place on the island.

It’s also a great example of how art can expand as more surfaces become digital displays. The screens in these elevators transform a drab journey into a virtual reality experience that’s all the more powerful for its specific time and place.

One World Trade Center’s observation deck opens to the public on May 29. Tickets cost $32 per person.

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