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20 years after: The transformation of Ground Zero

The transformation of ground zero
The transformation of ground zero 03:10

Healing never happens as fast as the hurt. The smoldering bramble of concrete and steel at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan took only minutes to amass, but it took years to decide just what to put in its place.

Leave it empty, out of respect? Rebuild, as an act of defiance?  "I think they should do something that kind of preserves the other towers, like, the memory of them," one woman said.

The stakes for stitching up Ground Zero's gaping wound were monumental.

"There's been no project in our lifetimes that's had the combination of an emotional component like Ground Zero, and the physical size of it," said Paul Goldberger, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his architectural criticism in The New York Times. He kept a watchful eye as a host of different plans were proposed for those 16 acres – land that was as hallowed as it was valuable.

"To have just rebuilt and not to have commemorated in some way would have been callous and cruel and stupid," Goldberger told correspondent Lee Cowan.

Which is why, at its heart, sits the calm of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The sound of falling water drowns out the chaos of the city.

Water falls in the footprint of the Twin Towers.  CBS News

The names of those lost encircle footprints seemingly made by the ghosts that once stood there.

Chaplain Khalid Latif of Manhattan takes a moment during memorial observances held at the site of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2014 in New York City.  Robert Sabo/Getty Images

The public space around it is open, and bright, and living.

The rail station that once lurked beneath all of this was replaced with an above-ground cathedral of sorts – a soaring structure known as the Oculus, meant to resemble a dove leaving a child's hands.

The Oculus transportation hub.  Daniel Jones

GALLERY: Oculus, the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub

Goldberger said, "It aims higher, it strives higher, it's trying to uplift all of us, and that's what great architecture should be doing."

But like anything that makes a grand statement, there are those who don't like what the Oculus' pointy spikes have to say.

The skyscrapers that sprouted from Ground Zero (including all 1,776 feet of One World Trade Center) haven't always risen above criticism, either. One man said, "It's too modern. I would appreciate it being similar to what it looked like originally."

GALLERY: One World Trade Center

Still, for all the competing interests, what we're left with, while not perfect, has succeeded where the terrorists failed. The souls lost on September 11th won't be back, but the city that so many have called home has risen anew.

A view of Lower Manhattan, during the "9/11 Tribute in Light" projection.  CBS News

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Story produced by Robert Marston. Editor: Karen Brenner. 

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