One World Trade Center isn’t just the tallest building in New York – it’s a monument to resilience, hope, and the character of New York as a city. Opened in 2014, on the original spot where the Twin Towers once stood, it rises above the rest of the iconic New York skyline. At its very top, you’ll find One World Observatory.
Known for the best views you’ll find anywhere in New York (as you might expect from the Western Hemisphere’s tallest tower), the Observatory is a must-do for sightseeing tourists and locals alike, providing an unparalleled bird’s-eye perspective of the city and its surroundings.
How can you make the most of your visit to One World Observatory? What should you order from the menu? And why does it smell so good up there? To answer these questions and learn some fascinating One World Trade Center facts, we spoke with the General Manager of One World Observatory, Delfin Ortiz.
Meet your insider
Tell us a bit more about your role at One World Observatory – what does your position involve?
Well, I lead an incredible team of associates who really demonstrate pride, each and every day, in the Observatory we work at. The fact is that we represent New York City to the world; half of our customers are from overseas, and we have the opportunity to welcome them each and every day. My statement to the team is always that we need to display pride – in the place where we work, as well as in the city that we represent.
I think it’s important to continue creating the level of experience that you would get at a high-end hotel; our role is to service customers, and part of my job is ensuring that everyone here receives a first-class experience. My associates serve one entity: the customer. I serve two: the associate, and the customer.
You already touched on it a bit there, but what do you enjoy most about working at One World Observatory?
I love being involved with the team, and the excitement we get from trying new things and the interactions that we create with the customers who visit us. I get most excited when the team is happy, and looking forward to providing the best experience possible. That’s a daily driver for me: I love having people here. I’m a big fan of togetherness, whether that be with our customers or associates. That definitely is what wakes me up in the morning and gets me excited about coming into work each day!
Nice! In terms of the building itself, can you tell us a bit about the architecture of One World Trade Centre? What’s the story behind the design?
So I’ll preface it with this; we have some incredible tour ambassadors that are not only well-versed in the building, but well-versed in the city around us. They spend an incredible amount of time educating. People often have questions like “How tall is the building?” – then we can say, for example, that the reason it’s often called the ‘Freedom Tower’ is because it’s 1776 feet tall; with 1776 being the year that we gained our independence.
Our architect was Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and they were involved heavily in the process. There’s a lot of significance in the building itself; the height of the actual building is the same height as the original Twin Towers, for example.
I would say that a key part of the design is that when you get to where we are – up in the sky – you really get incredible views of the city and the area around us.
On a clear day, you can see fifty miles, which is absolutely incredible. It’s not just the unique views that are close to us, whether it be the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island, or the famous bridges like Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, but also beyond – you can see the hills that extend out into Jersey, or into upstate New York.
When you have the opportunity to look around 360 degrees, you’ll always find something that makes you go “wow, that’s incredible!”. Whether it’s locals trying to find where they live, or those that are not familiar with the city who are trying to learn about the place where they’re about to venture.
We have to ask, if you had to pick one view, what would be your favourite view from the Observatory? An unfair question to have to pick one!
It is! There are so many. For example, the other day I found the arch of Washington Square Park, and it just seemed magical that I could see it from here. For me it’s always those unique findings; you start searching and you’re like “Can I see this?” or “Can I see that!?” One time someone asked me ‘’What are all those flashing lights in the distance?” and I said it’s Times Square!
I think for me it’s about finding something unique to you – I’m a big New York Giants fan, and from here we can see the stadium where they play. I always make it a note. For example, if you were to visit me, I’d say “That’s where the Giants play!” Have to give them a little shoutout.
Do you have a favourite story relating to the construction of One World Trade Center? Is there anything that happened during the process that stands out to you?
I’m a born and bred New Yorker, but I was working outside of NY as the tower was being built. I am very emotionally attached to this campus and this building, though. I worked at the original location in the late ‘80s, at a hotel that was actually right in between the two towers. That’s where I started my career.
I left prior to 9/11, but for me it’s unique, because I’ve had the opportunity to come back to the place where I started my career in my early 20s. Now coming back, to me it almost feels like things have come full circle. I feel so proud of being part of something so important for the city, the country, and the world.
Many people have a similar emotional connection to this space. I work with many around me who were here on that day [9/11], and feel a great pride for their ability to still be here. It’s just incredible what changes have occurred.
During construction, there were a lot of milestone moments; when Hurricane Sandy hit, it flooded the campus area which really slowed down the construction of the building. Putting the spire up as well – that’s no easy task, to get this spire up top of the building! Those are a couple of memorable moments.
One thing that I do find really special is the signatures on the beams that were left by construction workers during the building process. If you go to any place in the building and you open a door where you can get to seeing where the steel is, you’ll see signatures from the workers, from political figures, from a lot of individuals that were part of the building of OWTC.
On that topic, for you personally, what is your favourite part of, or exhibition at, One World Observatory?
I’m a foodie at heart, and we just have an incredible food and beverage team. I don’t know if it’s the altitude, but the food just tastes better up here. The chef and his team create some incredible cuisine.
My wife and I have been married for quite some time – I took my wife to Windows on the World for her 21st birthday, when we were just going out. Windows on the World was a restaurant in one of the two towers; white table cloths, incredible service, a great dining space. Some time later, celebrating another birthday, I asked her “Where would you like to go?” – and she said she wanted to have dinner at the observatory again, to celebrate this next milestone together.
There are many people who have that same experience. Whether they come to have an incredible meal or to celebrate a milestone like a birthday or anniversary, we have an amazing team ready to welcome them.
But yes, I always think of food – maybe it’s just me!
We understand! Another unfair question… if you had to pick, what would you order from the menu?
Oh my goodness… I thought the earlier question was tough! I’ll tell you, the fan favourite, and no matter what we do, we have this burger that’s always #1.
It’s got two patties on a brioche bun, and we actually burn the logo of One World Observatory on there. It just looks incredible. It’s absolutely a fan favorite. Every time we go through and review our menu, that’s #1 and everything else is a far second.
I’d also say that we have this braised short rib that is just… well, you can eat it with your fingers, it just tears right off. I could eat that all day long.
And we have this gnocchi mac and cheese that the chef just came out with; I just want it kind of intravenously injected into me! The flavors are just incredible. And the list goes on! I could keep going. The calamari, the ribs, oh the branzino! Oh my god, the branzino is incredible.
But we’ll start there: the burger as the fan favourite, the braised short rib as my personal favourite.
That was a perfect description. And now we’re extremely hungry. The next question is: what would be your advice to someone who’s visiting for the very first time? Is there something they should pay attention to or focus on?
There are some incredible exhibits. We have this Welcome Wall, which is the largest LED curved wall in the world. When you come to scan your ticket, it’s like a digital sign-in to the Observatory. As you approach the welcome wall, it sort of embraces you; it acknowledges your presence. There’s a spectrum of colors that bring you towards the LED wall, and it follows you as long as you’re walking along it.
As you continue on the journey, we also have these different places where you can learn not only about the building, but about the history around us. What happens is that many people are so excited to get to the elevator that they may miss these things, but it really helps prepare you! It’s almost like an orientation.
When people get up to the Observatory and they look out the windows, the first thing they say is ‘’Oh my god, that is the most incredible view!” And then the second statement is ‘’What am I looking at?” !
We want to prepare you, so as you go through the experience, I’d say really embrace the different areas we have where we can educate you and give you some interesting knowledge of the building – then, when you get up there, if you have any other questions our tour ambassadors can provide you with a wealth of information.
We also have what we call the City Pulse Show, where the tour ambassador becomes part of the show and really gives you knowledge of the city. If you’ve just come to New York, let us help you on your journey – you’ve come to the right place. Not only can you see the city, but we want you to learn about it as well, so it can be a much more meaningful visit.
One World Observatory has obviously hosted a lot of special memories, whether it’s people celebrating anniversaries, proposals, or other milestones. You shared one of your special stories earlier! I’m sure that you’ve also seen a lot more of these – are there any other stories or memories that stand out in particular?
In addition to having the Observatory, we have an event space, which we call Aspire. We’ve had many special occasions up there – the space has even been turned into an apartment for people who wanted to invite guests and make them feel like they’re coming to their home. Not only do you have a great set-up with this apartment look, but also the most incredible view in the world.
For me, I remember one birthday party where this individual invited A-list musicians to come in. It was just famous musician after famous musician. Then he surprised everyone, because he had planned his own fireworks show – so everyone went to the windows and then this fireworks show began. There’s just no better place to watch fireworks than from up there! I’ve been fortunate enough to see quite a few fireworks shows, from all parts of the city, but this by far is my favorite.
Our event space really allows those special memories to happen. Whether it’s a birthday celebration, an anniversary, a wedding, or a birthday like this one was. Those moments are special to us in many ways – something that was unique, that we had the chance to host and be a part of.
On the topic of unique things, we came across a fact, and can think of no better person to confirm or deny this: One World Observatory has a unique smell that can’t be found anywhere else.
It does! It does. And actually, I have it at my desk right here! We call it the One World Scent. The reason this came about is because we were looking to impact senses. Our food and beverages focus on the sense of taste; our experiences throughout the space and the sound of the collective group impacts the sense of hearing. So we were looking to see what senses we had not yet touched at One World. We looked at scent as one of those.
It was interesting when I was going through this process with International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) to develop this! They said to us: ‘’Describe what you want the scent to be.’’ We first said we want it to smell like citrus, or lemon, and they said “No, no, no, describe what the scent should be.’’
We said it should be uplifting, it should be heavenly, right? We said it should be like New York City, but maybe not the real New York City smell, or some of those unique smells you have in any major city. In the end we found it, and the scent throughout the space is very subtle. They take immense pride in their product, and made sure nothing in the air would have any sort of harmful particle; it’s completely pure.
Then we created the candle – we didn’t think there’d be interest, but we actually sold out of it for a time! People just saw it as a unique offering, especially now during the holidays. It’s an incredible scent, and working with them was definitely a pleasure.
So yes, we were trying to impact the senses, and we figured that was one way to enhance the overall experience.
So the Observatory has just re-opened recently – first of all, congratulations!
Thank you! I really appreciate that.
Now that the Observatory has re-opened, are there any interesting new exhibitions or experiences that people can look forward to?
Yes! The Welcome Wall that we talked about earlier is brand new, an immersive experience we only just unveiled recently. What we call our Horizon Grid is also new, and allows you to spend about 3 minutes admiring memorable moments, famous faces, and iconic places that exist around the Observatory.
Really, we place a high emphasis within the space on the idea of a compass. When people come to One World, we feel that they wanna know where they’re looking. Actually, when you get to the Observatory, you’ll notice that the compass is laid out on the floor, so when you’re standing you can see exactly what direction you’re looking in.
We make sure we tie that in by saying – when you’re going through the orientation experience I mentioned – that the compass helps navigate. When you’re coming up and going through the experience, you need to navigate the experience – and what better tool for anyone to use than a compass?
One final question for you: the Sky Portal. We’ve seen pictures of it and it looks absolutely fascinating – but also just a little terrifying! Have you tried standing on it and is it as scary as it seems?
Oh, it’s a lot easier than expected! You know, the ones who have the greatest time on the Sky Portal are the kids. Not only are you looking (100 stories) down onto ground level but there are steel girders that separate you and the view, and anytime I’m walking by there’s a kid trying to walk along the steel girder as if they’re pretending to be a high-wire act! It definitely leads to many photo ops, and it’s interesting how that gained so much popularity for everyone who comes to visit – especially people who are looking to see things a bit differently.
One World Trade Center Facts
1. One World Trade Center is often referred to as the ‘Freedom Tower’ by locals
2. It is 1776 feet tall, referring to the year the U.S. gained independence
3. One World Observatory is located on the 100th, 101st, and 102nd floors of the building
4. The views from the top will let you see as far as 45 miles (72.5 km) in every direction
5. It’s the tallest building in New York (and the entire Western Hemisphere)
6. The building’s unique SkyPod elevators can climb 102 stories in just 47 seconds