I can just picture Howard Roark ascending to the top:
To get to the top of One World Trade Center as it stands in mid-August, just shy of 1,000 feet above Lower Manhattan, higher than anything else on the island’s southern end, first you walk to the middle of the blast-resistant concrete cathedral that will become the building’s lobby. From there, a hoist takes you to the 39th floor, whose perimeter has already been glassed in. A sign spray-painted in screaming construction orange — “EXPRESS ALL DAY” — directs you to a second hoist, inside which Don McLean is singing, “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie . . .” and men in hard hats decoupaged with flag decals are bobbing their heads to the beat.
On the 70th floor, the end of the line for the hoist, you emerge and climb five more stories inside a cage staircase attached to the outside of the building’s south face before taking a final flight of stairs. At the top of these you see — disconcertingly, even though you have known where you were heading all along — brilliant sunshine. Above you is blue sky and two floors of skeletal steel not yet covered in decking. The only other thing overhead, on the bare beams, is the remarkably small tripartite crew of workers doing jobs that have remained virtually unchanged since steel-frame construction began a little more than a century ago: guiding the steel into place as the cranes lift it up (the raising gang), securing it permanently (the bolting gang) and ensuring that all of it is vertically true (the plumb-up gang).
It is like arriving at one of Earth’s extremities — the Tibetan plateau, the Antipodes — except that you somehow feel as if you have been here before. And in a sense you have, because this scene is deeply embedded in the image bank of the 20th and 21st centuries. In fact, it sometimes seems as if the very existence of the men who build skylines by hand has been inextricably linked to the existence of the men (they have mostly been men) who have photographed them — first lugging their wooden view cameras, with tripods and dark cloths, then their Speed Graphics and Leicas — to the places where steel meets sky, giving flesh and bone to ironworkers who otherwise would have been phantoms of progress, risking their lives, unseen, hundreds of feet above the city.