Fritz Koenig, WTC Sphere creator, dies at 92

Associated Press / Beth A. Keiser Artist Fritz Koenig, who died last month, stands next to his sculpture “The Sphere” after the 2002 dedication ceremony at The Battery, where the iconic artifact that suvived the collapse of the Twin Towers was dedicated as a temporary memorial six months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Associated Press / Beth A. Keiser
Artist Fritz Koenig, who died last month, stands next to his sculpture “The Sphere” after the 2002 dedication ceremony at The Battery, where the iconic artifact that suvived the collapse of the Twin Towers was dedicated as a temporary memorial six months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

BY DENNIS LYNCH

German sculptor Fritz Koenig, whose iconic work “The Sphere” gave Lower Manhattan a symbol of hope and solidarity when it survived the collapse of the Twin Towers in the World Trade Center plaza after the 9/11 attacks, died in late February at age 92.

Koenig passed away in his hometown of Landshut, Bavaria, where he created most of his abstract, geometric works, according to the German outlet Deutsche Welle.

Koenig’s 25-ton sculpture stood in the plaza between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center from 1971 until 2001 and miraculously survived the Twin Towers’ collapse with only dents and holes. Photos of The Sphere standing amid a sea of rubble following the attacks spread around the world and quickly made it a symbol of Downtown’s — and America’s — resilience in the face of terror.

The Sphere was left unrepaired and moved to The Battery following the attacks, where it was dedicated on the six-month anniversary of the attacks as a temporary memorial with an eternal flame. It has remained there since, but in a long-awaited decision by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last summer it will be moved to the newly opened Liberty Park — much closer to its original home, but outside the official 9/11 memorial, where many Downtowners and Ground-Zero responders hoped it would one day be returned.

That decision wasn’t made easily. The debate over where to permanently locate The Sphere was heated, and at sometimes pitted survivors, family members of victims, local residents, and officials against one another.

Some argued that placing it in Liberty Park would draw too many people to the elevated green space and spoil the respite from tourists many locals thought the park would become. Others wanted to see the sphere moved back to the base of the towers in the 9/11 Memorial plaza, although the memorial foundation’s leadership reportedly opposed that idea because it didn’t fit into the plaza’s design.

Michael Burke, who’s firefighter brother died in the attacks, started the Save the Sphere group and advocated for moving it back to the plaza. When the Port Authority made their decision to move it to Liberty Park instead of the plaza, Burke said he was happy that it was at least moving back closer to Ground Zero.

Soon after the decision, Burke received an email from Koenig’s foundation that the man himself was “ecstatic” to see it moved to Liberty Park. Burke said it was a good thing that Koenig knew his sculpture would return to Ground Zero before he passed.

“It was in a state of limbo. It wasn’t going to stay in Battery Park, it would disappear to who know’s where,” he said. “To know it would find a permanent home was, I’m sure, a comforting thing for him.”

Soon after the attacks, word spread that Koenig had created The Sphere as a symbol of world peace, further cementing its post-9/11 legend, but Koenig later denied that interpretation. Burke said that regardless of its intent, the sculpture was an “expression of a human endeavor,” and thus no less of a poignant symbol in the wake of the attacks.

“That’s what the terrorists hate — the notion of an expression, a recognition that there is such thing as a human endeavor — a humanity that matters,” he said. “So it’s very fitting that his work of art survived that, and will go on after him. I guess what else can artists hope for?”

The Sphere became an accidental memorial here, but Koenig was known in his native country for memorials to tragedies there. He designed a massive, beam-like sculpture to honor the victims of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre, and another memorial at the Mauthausen concentration camp. He also established the Sculpture Museum in his hometown, where he showed his works, he and his wife’s extensive collection of African art, and works by other artists.

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