The Sphere is a large metallic sculpture by German sculptor Fritz Koenig, displayed in Battery Park, New York City, that once stood in the middle of Austin J. Tobin Plaza, the area between the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan. After being recovered from the rubble of the Twin Towers after the September 11 attacks in 2001, the artwork faced an uncertain fate, and it was dismantled into its components. Although it remained structurally intact, it had been visibly damaged by debris from the airliners that were crashed into the buildings and from the collapsing skyscrapers themselves.
Six months after the attacks, following a documentary film about the sculpture, it was relocated to Battery Park on a temporary basis—without any repairs—and formally rededicated with an eternal flame as a memorial to the victims of 9/11. It has become a major tourist attraction, due partly to the fact that it survived the attacks with only dents and holes.
The Sphere is 25 feet (7.6 m) high and cast in 52 bronze segments. Koenig considered it his “biggest child”. It was put together in Bremen, Germany and shipped as a whole to Lower Manhattan. The artwork was meant to symbolize world peace through world trade, and was placed at the center of a ring of fountains and other decorative touches designed by trade center architect Minoru Yamasaki to mimic the Grand Mosque of Mecca, Masjid al-Haram, in which The Sphere stood at the place of the Kaaba. The structural engineers who took a part on this project was Leslie E. Robertson Associates (LERA), who helped make the globe possible to rotate once every 24 hours.
The piece was commissioned by the owner of the World Trade Center, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), in 1966. The Authority’s original choice had been Henry Moore, but Koenig was chosen after architect Minoru Yamasaki saw some of Koenig’s work at the Staempfli Gallery in Manhattan. Koenig started work in 1967 in his barn in Bavaria, while the WTC was in the planning stages, and finished it four years later in time for the opening of the towers. Officially titled Große Kugelkaryatide (Great Spherical Caryatid) by the artist, the sculpture was soon referred to as The Sphere.
Immediately after 9/11:
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, upon recovery from the rubble pile the sculpture was dismantled and sent to storage near John F. Kennedy International Airport. Its extraction had been widely covered in local news media in the New York metropolitan area. As it was a memorable feature of the Twin Towers site, there was much discussion about using it in a memorial, especially since it seemed to have come through the attacks relatively unscathed.
German film director Percy Adlon, who had twice previously devoted films to Koenig, made Koenigs Kugel (Koenig’s Sphere) at a time when the sculpture’s fate was still uncertain. In the film, the artist and the director visit Ground Zero five weeks after the attacks as the former retells the story of its creation. At first, Koenig opposed reinstalling The Sphere, considering it “a beautiful corpse.”
Relocation and proposed exhibition in 9/11 Memorial:
The sculpture was eventually returned to Manhattan, and on March 11, 2002, six months to the day after the attacks, it was re-erected in Battery Park, near the Hope Garden, several blocks away from where it once stood. Koenig himself supervised the work; it took four engineers and 15 ironworkers to create a new base. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, his predecessor Rudolph Giuliani and other local officials spoke at a ceremony rededicating it as a memorial to the victims. “It was a sculpture, now it’s a monument,” Koenig said, noting how the relatively fragile metal globe had mostly survived the cataclysm. “It now has a different beauty, one I could never imagine. It has its own life – different from the one I gave to it.”
According to NYC Parks spokeswoman Vickie Karp, the city was looking to relocate The Sphere in summer 2012, when construction began to restore the park’s lawn, requiring the sculpture to be moved. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), which owns The Sphere, is considering placing the sculpture in Liberty Park, located between the 90 West Street building and the World Trade Center Memorial site. Liberty Park wasn’t to be constructed until at least 2014, so a location was needed to place The Sphere until Liberty Park was completed. By February 2011, PANYNJ had not made an official final decision on where to place the sculpture once Battery Park construction commences, forcing the sculpture to move. The Sphere may have gone into storage.
An online petition created by 9/11 families demanding the return of The Sphere to the 9/11 Memorial gained more than 7,123 signatures as of July 23, 2011. Officials from the 9/11 Memorial have stated that they do not want any 9/11 artifacts cluttering the 8-acre memorial plaza. There are no plans to place The Sphere on the 9/11 Memorial site, but Liberty Park, which is south of the 9/11 Memorial, is not part of or on the site of the 9/11 Memorial. On June 28, 2012, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey expressed support for the effort to move The Sphere to the plaza of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. After a public comment by Michael Burke during a meeting of the Board of Commissioners, Executive Director Patrick J. Foye stated:
The point that Mr. Burke made resonates with many people in New York and New Jersey and many people here at the Port Authority, especially given the fact that 84 members of the Port Authority family were killed on 9/11. This is an artifact that survived and was affected by the horrors of 9/11, and placing it on the memorial plaza, we think, is entirely appropriate.
— Patrick J. Foye, head of Port Authority, who supported making The Sphere a part of the 9/11 Memorial, The Washington Post
When Liberty Park opened in June 2016, the question had not been resolved. On July 22, 2016, the Port Authority voted to move the sculpture to Liberty Park.
The Sphere is located in Battery Park, near the Hope Garden, and stands as a 9/11 memorial.
A plaque alongside The Sphere reads as follows:
For three decades, this sculpture stood in the plaza of the World Trade Center. Entitled The Sphere, it was conceived by artist Fritz Koenig as a symbol of world peace. It was damaged during the tragic events of September 11, 2001, but endures as an icon of hope and the indestructible spirit of this country. The Sphere was placed here on March 11, 2002 as a temporary memorial to all who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.
This eternal flame was ignited on September 11, 2002 in honor of all those who were lost. Their spirit and sacrifice will never be forgotten.