The 9/11 Memorial Museum strikes the right chord
Ever since the twin towers fell, setting into motion the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, much of the press about the rebuilding effort has been on what's gone wrong rather than what's gone right, and rightly so. From the selection of the design team, to the unveiling of the designs for buildings there to the wrangling over control of the site, the rebuilding project has been mired in politics, countless delays, and endless battles.
For all the time and money spent on rebuilding Ground Zero, what the public got in return is a compromised vision and a group of mostly bland and uninspiring buildings that are not the best work of the practices that designed them. The saving grace in all of this was Michael Arad's moving 9/11 Memorial. With the opening last week of the 9/11 Memorial Museum and the announcement of a new access policy at the site that will allow the public to freely navigate the Memorial grounds, there is once again hope that this site's legacy will be that of dignified place of remembrance and reflection and a great civic space for New York.
Designed by Davis Brody Bond with an elegant entry pavilion by Snohetta that is the public face of the below ground museum, the September 11 Memorial Museum is a vast and soaring volume housing 110,000 square feet of exhibition space that tells the story of 9/11 through multimedia displays, personal narrative and a collection of monumental and personal artefacts. The experience of the building and the exhibitions is orchestrated to give visitors a sense of what happened on that day, in all of its chaos and raw emotions, as well as a sense of the enormity of the tragedy - the great personal and physical devastation that took place.
The museum, which sits beneath Arad's Memorial, is accessed through a long ramp that descends 70 feet below grade and is lined on both sides with images of the 2,983 people lost in the terrorist attacks. At the base of the museum, visitors are standing at bedrock. Here they will see the original foundations of the Twin Towers and the slurry wall that miraculously held back the Hudson River, when many feared it would collapse. Also here are many of the large-scale artefacts such as the towering steel ‘Trident' beams from the Twin Towers façade and the survivors' staircase. Together with smaller personal effects of lost loved ones, responders, and survivors, the museum is a moving experience - at times difficult and at times inspiring.
Describing how his firm approached the design of the Museum, Steven M. Davis, FAIA of Davis Brody Bond said: "We relied on four principles to guide our work: memory, authenticity scale and emotion, hoping to provide the most sensitive, respectful and informative experience for visitors.
The powerful and sombre experience of the museum is balanced by the uplifting experience of the entry pavilion, which through its transparent and reflective façade reflects the site's tranquil and natural surroundings while allowing passers-by to see into the museum and glance at key artefacts making them ever mindful of the events of 9/11. "The Museum pavilion we designed serves as a bridge between the memory of the past events embraced by the Memorial design and the trust in the future signified by the neighbouring office towers," said Craig Dykers, founding partner of Snohetta. "Visitors are connected by the many reflections of themselves, of others, and the surrounding architectural features emphasizing the value of the present moment in time. Its unique reflective facade and dramatic atrium seem to grow light providing orientation to all those who visit the site and a sense of optimism for the future."
With the completion of the September 11 Memorial Museum all that remains of the rebuilding effort is the opening of the Calatrava-designed transit hub. Its completion will mean that a vital part of Lower Manhattan will be made whole again and that workers, visitors and residents can finally have a sense of normalcy restored at this hallowed ground.
We will never forget but we must live on and heal our city in the face of such enormous tragedy. This site is a place of a great loss and great hope for the future.